Friday, July 20, 2018

A short break...



We're off on a summer adventure!
Let's catch up at the end of the month...

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Book Brief: A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler


by Anne Tyler
Knopf, 2015
358 pages

narrated by Kimberly Farr
13 hours and 23 minutes

Motivation for reading: A book blogger's recent review prompted me to click over to my library's website and discover both the ebook and audiobook were available. Sure wish I could remember whose review it was. Might it have been yours?

Source: ebook and digital audio borrowed from the library

Publisher's summary:
"It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon." This is how Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture. Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets. from Red's father and mother, newly-arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red's grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their anchor.

Brimming with all the insight, humour, and generosity of spirit that are the hallmarks of Anne Tyler's work, A Spool of Blue Thread  tells a poignant yet unsentimental story in praise of family in all its emotional complexity. It is a novel to cherish.

Opening paragraph:
PART ONE
Can't Leave Till the Dog Dies 
1
Late one July evening in 1994, Red and Abby Whitshank had a phone call from their son Denny. They were getting ready for bed at the time. Abby was standing at the bureau in her slip, drawing hairpins one by one from her scattery sand-colored topknot. Red, a dark, gaunt man in striped pajama bottoms and a white T-shirt, had just sat down on the edge of the bed to take his socks off; so when the phone rang on the nightstand beside him, he was the one who answered. "Whitshank residence," he said.
My thoughts:

I've been reading Anne Tyler for decades... starting back in the 1980s with An Accidental Tourist, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, and Saint Maybe. In the mid 90s, our playgroup morphed into a book club (the kids started school, but the moms wanted to keep meeting) and Ladder of Years  was our first selection.

Several years later, I discovered audiobooks. Tyler became my first "audio author" as I listened to The Amateur Marriage, Back When We Were Grownups, and, my favorite, Digging to America.

After joining the book blogging community in 2008, I started reading more classics and nonfiction, and somehow never got around to Anne Tyler's next new novel. Or the one after that, and maybe even another. I really meant to read A Spool of Blue Thread  when it was released in 2015, especially after it was nominated for several awards. Now here we are, midway through 2018, and Tyler has written two more  novels.

So I finally picked up A Spool of Blue Thread  and found myself back in familiar Tyler territory... Baltimore. I found familiar themes and wonderfully complex relationships.
I still love Tyler's description of families, her character development, and they way she delves deep into relationship dynamics. Why did I wait so long?

A note on the audio production: Kimberly Farr's narration was, as always, excellent. Her pacing and tone were just right, and I especially appreciated how she conveyed Nora's (annoyingly) calm, placid demeanor. I was happy to learn she narrated Clock Dance, too.

Bottom line: A Spool of Blue Thread  is a wonderful novel. If, like me, you've been away from Anne Tyler for a while, it's time to go back. Pick up A Spool of Blue Thread  now. I'll bet you'll want to read her new novel, Clock Dance  right away, too.  If you've never read Tyler, this is a great place to start!

My rating:

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

This Week's Read: The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

Chapter One 
The moment I decided to leave him, the moment I thought, enough, we were thirty-five thousand feet above the ocean, hurtling forward but giving the illusion of stillness and tranquility. Just like our marriage, I could have said, but why ruin everything now? Here we were in first-class splendor, tentatively separated from anxiety; there was no turbulence and the sky was bright, and somewhere among us, possibly, sat an air marshall in dull traveler's disguise, perhaps picking at a little dish of oily nuts or captivated by the zombie prose of the in-flight magazine. Drinks had already been served before takeoff, and we were both frankly bombed, our mouths half open, our heads tipped back. Women in uniform carried baskets up and down the aisles like a sexualized fleet of Red Riding Hoods.
The Wife
by Meg Wolitzer

Wow. That opening stopped me dead in my tracks. This is my third Meg Wolitzer novel of the year  and my respect for her talent continues to grow. This is a short novel (224 pages) and I'm reading it now before the film, staring Glenn Close, is released next month.

After quoting the first portion of the passage above, the goodreads summary continues:
So opens Meg Wolitzer's compelling and provocative novel The Wife, as Joan Castleman sits beside her husband on their flight to Helsinki. Joan's husband, Joseph Castleman, is "one of those men who own the world...who has no idea how to take care of himself or anyone else, and who derives much of his style from the Dylan Thomas Handbook of Personal Hygiene and Etiquette." He is also one of America's preeminent novelists, about to receive a prestigious international award to honor his accomplishments, and Joan, who has spent forty years subjugating her own literary talents to fan the flames of his career, has finally decided to stop. 
From this gripping opening, Wolitzer flashes back fifty years to 1950s Smith College and Greenwich Village -- the beginning of the Castleman relationship -- and follows the course of the famous marriage that has brought them to this breaking point, culminating in a shocking ending that outs a carefully kept secret. 
Wolitzer's most important and ambitious book to date, The Wife is a wise, sharp-eyed, compulsively readable story about a woman forced to confront the sacrifices she's made in order to achieve the life she thought she wanted. But it's also an unusually candid look at the choices all men and women make for themselves, in marriage, work, and life. With her skillful storytelling and pitch-perfect observations, Wolitzer invites intriguing questions about the nature of partnership and the precarious position of an ambitious woman in a man's world.
What do you think? Are you tempted to continue?


First Chapter/First Paragraph/Tuesday Intro is now hosted by Vicki at I'd Rather Be At The Beach.
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Saturday, July 14, 2018

Weekend Cooking: New Recipe Trifecta


Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.





It's been quite some time since I've written a Weekend Cooking post. Instead, my weekly update now features an "In the kitchen" section. That gives me the opportunity to share new recipe successes (or the occasional failure) and include a link to the recipe. However, this was an unusual week. In a shockingly adventurous turn, I experimented with three  new dishes.

The first was so  good, it really deserves a post of its own. The recipe is from the New York Times   and, unless you have a subscription, you will not be able to view the recipe online. I took the liberty of copying it here... hope they don't mind. You can find the other two recipes by clicking on the links.


Swordfish BLT
recipe by Florence Fabricant, New York Times

There must be something to that saying "everything is better with bacon." This is, hands down, the best swordfish recipe ever! Several times during dinner, my husband proclaimed the meal "restaurant-worthy"... an expression I've never heard him use before. Swordfish BLT will certainly be the main course for my next dinner party!



Swordfish BLT
recipe by Florence Fabricant, New York Times

Ingredients:

  • ½  pound thick-sliced bacon, about 9 strips
  • 1  cup halved grape tomatoes, about 30
  • 3  tablespoons lemon juice
  • ¼  cup extra-virgin olive oil
  •  Salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 ½  pounds swordfish steaks, in 6 portions
  • 1  cup packed, finely chopped arugula

Preparation:

  1. Fry bacon to medium doneness, remove to drain on paper towels and reserve fat. Place tomatoes in a medium-size bowl. Add lemon juice and olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Break up bacon into small pieces and mix in. Set aside until ready to grill swordfish.
  2. Heat a grill or broiler. Brush swordfish on both sides with remaining bacon fat and season with salt and pepper. Grill or broil fish until just cooked through, about 4 minutes per side, more or less, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove fish to a serving platter.
  3. Fold arugula into tomato mixture, then spoon mixture, including its sauce, on top of the fish. Serve.



The other two recipe successes include:


from Smitten Kitchen

This recipe was just as easy as it was delicious... no surprise because I've never gone wrong with Smitten Kitchen. I followed the recipe as written, except I didn't have quite enough fresh basil. Along with a salad, this was a complete meal for my daughter and me. My husband may have grilled a small steak to go with his dinner ;-)

Thank you, Audrey, for sharing the recipe on twitter. It has earned on spot in the regular dinner rotation!




from Budget Bytes (their photo, too!)

I chose this recipe because it incorporates so many flavors my daughter loves. Plus, we had an exceptionally busy day planned and I knew it would be a treat to come home to a crockpot meal. Add the pineapple, steam some snow peas, cook the rice... and dinner is ready.

I used low sodium soy sauce, but would probably opt for regular next time. My daughter loved it and has already asked me to make it again!



All in all, a very successful week in the kitchen. Have you discovered any new recipes lately?


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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Book Brief: The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer

by Meg Wolitzer
Riverhead, 2008
351 pages

narrated by Alyssa Bresnahan
13 hours and 43 minutes

Motivation for reading: Personal project - I've decided to read my way through Meg Wolitzer's backlist.

Source: hardcover and digital audio borrowed from the library

Publisher's summary:
For a group of four New York friends, the past decade has been largely defined by marriage and motherhood. Educated and reared to believe that they would conquer the world, they then left jobs as corporate lawyers, investment bankers, and film scouts to stay home with their babies. What was meant to be a temporary leave of absence has lasted a decade. Now, at age forty, with the halcyon days of young motherhood behind them and without professions to define them, Amy, Jill, Roberta, and Karen face a life that is not what they were brought up to expect but seems to be the one they have chosen.

But when Amy gets to know a charismatic and successful working mother of three who appears to have fulfilled the classic women's dream of having it all-work, love, family-without having to give anything up, a lifetime's worth of concerns, both practical and existential, opens up. As Amy's obsession with this woman's bustling life grows, it forces the four friends to confront the choices they've made in opting out of their careers-until a series of startling events shatters the peace and, for some of them, changes the landscape entirely.

Opening paragraph:
All around the country, the women were waking up. Their alarm clocks bleated one by one, making soothing or grating sounds or the stirrings of a favorite song. There were hums and beeps and a random burst of radio. There were wind chimes and roaring surf, and the electronic approximation of birdsong and other gentle animal noises. All of it accompanied the passage of time, sliding forward in liquid crystal. Almost everything in these women's homes required a plug. Voltage stuttered through the curls of wire, and if you put your ear to one of these complicated clocks in any of the bedrooms, you could hear the burble of industry deep inside its cavity. Something was quietly happening.
My thoughts:

I'm beginning to think Meg Wolitzer can do no wrong.

The Ten-Year Nap takes an intimate look at the lives of  four Manhattan friends. While they're taking a break to stay home with young children, some long for their old careers, while others dream of forging a new path. Relationship dynamics - with spouses, children, friends - as well as internal conflicts and struggles fill the pages of this novel.

Meg Wolitzer understands women's lives and she's able to infuse her novels with an authentic NYC vibe. Reading her books is enjoyable and rewarding... every time.

This was a read/listen combination for me. The audio production was fine, though unremarkable. There's nothing to especially recommend it, nor any reason to dissuade you from going that route.

I'll read The Wife  next, hopefully before the movie is released next month.

My rating:



Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Listen to This!


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This was originally an open week (bloggers choose their own topic) but was later updated to "the best books I've read in 2018."  Since I posted my list last week, I'm going to share some audiobook love instead.

These are all books I've listened to or experienced as a read/listen combination in last year or so. In each case, I feel the audio version enhanced my overall experience. Links will take you to Audible where you can listen to a sample.


Forty Autumns: A Family's Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall by Nina Willner, narrated by Cassandra Campbell (nonfiction)


by Jennifer Wright, narrated by Gabra Zackman (nonfiction)


by Annie Spence, narrated by Stephanie Spicer (nonfiction)


by Bianca Bosker, narrated by the author (nonfiction)


by Lindy West, narrated by the author (nonfiction)


by Meg Wolitzer, narrated by Rebecca Lowman


by Gail Honeyman, narrated by Cathleen McCarron


by Anne Tyler, narrated by Kimberly Farr


by Amor Towles, narrated by Nicholas Guy Smith


by Nathan Hill, narrated by Ari Fliakos

Bonus: The audio version of my current read/listen combination is excellent.

by Min Jin Lee, narrated by Allison Hiroto


What's the best audiobook you have listened to lately?

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Monday, July 9, 2018

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? - July 9, 2018


It's Monday... or at least I think it is. The past week has been a 4th of July holiday blur! Twin A was home for the opening weekend, while Daughter #1 arrived Tuesday and returned to NYC yesterday. We had multiple family gatherings, spent time on the boat and in the pool, watched fireworks, shopped, celebrated birthdays, and even spent a few hours reading.

Finished this week//

Anne Tyler never disappoints! Book brief coming soon.


Current reading//

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
A read/listen combination, I'm completely immersed in this multi-generational family saga.



Up next//

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer
My plan is to read this before the film, starring Glenn Close, is released next month.


On the blog//

My Summer Reading List
Midyear Musings and a List of Favorites


In the kitchen//

During last week's heat wave, most of the serious cooking happened outdoors on the grill. For the 4th, I went with cold appetizers - Caprese Skewers with balsamic drizzle and shrimp cocktail.


I also prepared a couple of cold side dishes - Fresh Corn Tomato Salad (recipe from Food Network) and Chilled Lemon-Dill Cucumber Noodles from kitchen. Yes, I'm still using the spiralizer. I did heat up the oven for desserts - Classic Cherry Pie and Blueberry-Ricotta Cake. The original cake recipe from Bon App├ętit Magazine calls for raspberries, but I often use blueberries instead.


The week ahead//

Another trip to the dentist... I have to have a crown replaced. The weather is supposed to be gorgeous, so I'd like to take a long walk or two in some of our nearby parks. I'm also hoping for a relaxing afternoon or two reading by the lake.

How was you week? What have you been reading?

Hosted by Book Date

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Friday, July 6, 2018

My Summer Reading List



What is it about summer reading lists? It's almost impossible for me not  to make one and then equally impossible to stick to it! Ah, well... no matter. Lisa and Ti recently shared their lists, so I figure it's not too late to post mine.

I hope to read these book by Labor Day.


It will be a small miracle if I actually read all of these books. I typically pick up other titles on a whim or won't feel like reading like reading a few of these by late August, but at least it's a starting point.

Do you make summer reading lists? More importantly, do you stick to them?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Midyear Musings and a List of Favorites


Halfway. How is that even possible? But because that is indeed the case, and this is supposed to be a book blog, I though I'd share a few reflections on my 2018 reading.

Observations:
  1. Compared to last year, the numbers are down. I've only read 23 books, but that's still fairly close to my one book per week average.
  2. I'm not reading as much nonfiction - only 26% as compared to nearly 50% last year. 
  3. Female authors comprise 75% of my reading this year. It's usually about half.
  4. I've spent much more time in my "comfort zone" - reading favorite authors (Anne Tyler, Anna Quindlen, Frances Mayes, Meg Wolitzer, Laura Lippman) and literary fiction.
  5. What happened to classics? I've read a grand total of two - one Trollope and one Henry James.
What will change in the next six months?
Probably not much. I seem to be reading more for comfort these days (what a world!) and will likely continue to do that... at least through the summer.

Goals:
  1. I would like to finish Trollope's Palliser novels this year - two more to go, The Prime Minister   and The Dukes Children.  
  2. I want to read more nonfiction this summer and fall. Nonfiction November is coming!
Bottom line: 
Keep it simple; keep it real.



2018 Midyear Favorites 

Fiction
(in no particular order)


Women in Sunlight by Frances Mayes


The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman


Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller


The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer


Sunburn by Laura Lippman


A read/listen combination, the audio version is excellent


Modern Lovers by Emma Straub


A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler



Nonfiction 




What are your favorite books so far this year? Have you made a list?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Summer Sundays: July 1, 2018


And now it's July.  We had a good week... lots of appointments, dinner out with friends, Twin A home, and beautiful sunsets by the lake. I'll take it!

Finished this week//


Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Emma Straub creates characters so real and interesting that you just can't help reading one more chapter. This story, set in Brooklyn, is centered around a group of now middle-aged college friends and bandmates and there teenage children. As the parents strive to maintain their youthful identities, the children push their way into adulthood in a very 21st-century world.

Like her previous novel, The Vacationers, this was a pleasure to read. I especially appreciated how Straub wrapped up the novel. Part 4, Epigraph, consisted of a series of newspaper clippings, stories, and articles. It struck just the right note for me. I'm already looking forward to her next novel.

My rating: I considered giving this 4.5 stars, but will go with 4... for now.



Current reading//



I've been reading Anne Tyler's novels for decades, but somehow never got around to her last two or three. I hope to finish this one today... expect to see it on my midyear list of favorites coming later this week!



On the blog//
Book Brief: Kitchens of the Great Midwest  by J. Ryan Stradal
My Current Read: Modern Lovers  by Emma Straub


Around the blogosphere//

Paris is July is officially underway!



After more than five years, The Classics Club is looking for a new group of moderators




In the kitchen//
A couple of new recipe successes this week:


Maple Rosemary Grilled Chicken from Damn Delicious ... so simple and so good! It might be a good addition to your 4th of July menu. (This is obviously not my photo!)

For reasons I cannot figure out, My Fitness Pal Blog started emailing me recipes last week, including this one for Slow Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup. Instead of using a slow cooker, I followed their stove top alternative. I haven't had great luck with chicken noodle soups in the past but, since my daughter specifically requested it and this recipe was handy... Turns out it was really good. I used rotisserie chicken (such a great shortcut!) and the recipe called for a half cup of salsa added at the end. An interesting twist, but surprisingly delicious!


The week ahead//

The 4th of July is midweek, so that means an entire week of festivities. Our oldest daughter will be home Tuesday evening...I can't wait!

How was your week? What are you reading?


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