Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Mixing it Up: Late June Mini-Reviews

Deciding what to read during a pandemic is not easy. Heavy issue novels just weren't working for me, but neither was anything too fluffy. I seem to have found a nice groove by mixing things up... an audio memoir, a short story collection, a classic, and a beach read.

Let's get right to my late June mini-reviews...

by T Kira Madden, narrated by the author

This beautifully written coming-of-age memoir, told through a series of short vignettes, is brutally honest, raw, gritty, and sad... yet somehow achingly tender, too. It's a memoir of trauma, loneliness, confusion, families, and forgiveness.

Madden grew up in a loving household in Boca Raton, FL, yet her parents continually battled alcohol and drug addiction. She was often left alone to deal with the constant barrage of pressures inflicted upon preteens/teens in our society.

Hearing the author narrate her own story was especially impactful. I'm glad I decided to listen!

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

I don't read many short story collections, but it may be time to start! This was one of the many books I grabbed off the library shelf just prior to the pandemic shutdown. It took several months to finally read it - wish I'd picked it up in April.

The stories, mostly about relationships, all managed to draw me in immediately. They show average people as they really are... which isn't always flattering. The writing is excellent - sharp and without an unnecessary word. I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite. Now it's time to try one of Sittenfeld's novels. Do you have a favorite to recommend?

Passing by Nella Larsen

This classic novella of the Harlem Renaissance was originally published in 1929.  It's a story of two childhood friends who reunite after many years. Irene is shocked to discover her friend, Clare, has been "passing" as white. Clare misses her old community and is eager to reestablish a connection, but must do so behind her husband's back. Irene, afraid of the consequences of such actions, is reluctant to rekindle their friendship. The conclusion of the book is startling, to say the least.

Larsen's writing seemed ponderous at times, but still completely readable. The reader is allowed into Irene's head enough to make it reminiscent of The Awakening, at least for me. Larsen's autobiographical first novel, Quicksand, is now on my reading list.

28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand is the queen of the beach read and, now that summer is here, what better way to round out the month? Her latest novel is a Same Time, Next Year story spanning 27 years, 1993 to 2020. There isn't much more to say other than I loved it.... set aside a sunny weekend and give it a try.

Bring on July!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

This Week's Read: Passing by Nella Larsen

It was the last letter in Irene Redfield's little pile of  morning mail. After her other ordinary and clearly directed letters the long envelope of thin Italian paper with its almost illegible scrawl seemed out of place and alien. And there was, too, something mysterious and slightly furtive about it. A thin sly thing which bore no return address to betray the sender. Not that she hadn't immediately known who its sender was. Some two years ago she had one very like it in outward appearance. Furtive, but in some peculiar, determined way a little flaunting. Purple ink. Foreign paper of extraordinary size.

by Nella Larsen

Here's another book that's been on my wish list for years. My reason for picking it up now? The podcast Novel Pairings  - a podcast dedicated to "making the classics readable, relevant, and fun" - will discuss it on their next episode. An interesting feature of each podcast episode is the pairing of a classic with contemporary novels with similar themes. I have a feeling they'll be pairing Passing  with Britt Bennett's new novel The Vanishing Half... which I plan to read shortly.

This classic from the Harlem Renaissance is described as "an electrifying story of two women who cross the color line in 1920s New York." I'm halfway through this short novel and wondering why I've waited so long.

What do you think? Would you continue reading?

First Chapter/First Paragraph/Tuesday Intro  is hosted by Yvonne at Socrates' Book Reviews.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A Father's Day Sunday Salon: June 21, 2020

It's a sunny Father's Day here is southwest Florida. We'd hoped to go out for a celebratory (outdoor) brunch or dinner but, after a week of rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases, we decided against it. My 92-year-old father-in-law has requested pizza instead. He hasn't had it since before the lockdown began, so it looks like a pizza party is Plan B!

As I watched the numbers rise all week, I spent more time reading, blogging, cooking, swimming, and walking on the beach. I even finished two books! Look for a review post later this week...

by T Kira Gadded, narrated by the author

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

Current reading//

Passing by Nella Larsen

On the blog//

This Week's Read: You Think It, I'll Say It
Quick Thoughts on Four Recent Reads

In the kitchen//

I tried two new recipes and both were winners. First was a Berry Buttermilk Cake from NYTimes... so light and delicious! The flexibility of this recipe is a plus, too. It calls for buttermilk, but says you can use any type of milk. Any kind of berries if fine, too... even frozen. I'll try it with raspberries next.

This Sun-Dried Tomato, Spinach and Quinoa Salad from Cookie + Kate  was perfect for lunches! I made it on Sunday and enjoyed it for days. It will be a go-to recipe all summer long.

The week ahead//

Twin A will travel back to NYC this week, so we'll drive her to the airport. Other than that, literally nothing else is planned. There will likely be a trip to the grocery store late in the week, maybe a socially distant glass of wine outside with a friend. Also, more walking, reading, blogging, and cooking.

How was your week? What are you reading?

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.
It's Monday... What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Quick Thoughts on Four Recent Reads

All Adults Here by Emma Straub

Three for three! I've read three Emma Straub novels and they've all been winners. This contemporary family drama primarily focuses on the relationships between a mother and her three adult children. It's a quick, enjoyable read that also gives you plenty to think about. Be sure to add The Vacationers  and Modern Lovers to your list, too.  I'll continue to read anything Straub writes.

by Mary Pipher, narrated by Suzanne Toren

Mary Pipher, best known for Reviving Ophelia, now offers a "timely examination of the cultural and developmental issues women face as they age." I thought this was an interesting and engaging audio, but didn't find much in the way of new information or ideas.

A gem you can read in 20 minutes! I had this on my library hold list before everything shut down and was surprised when it appeared in my curbside pickup bag. Charlie Mackesy presents the reader with simple, life-affirming lessons which seem especially valuable during these trying times. My daughter also read it and immediately ordered two copies - one for herself and another for a friend.

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood

Cat's Eye  and The Robber Bride  are my favorite Margaret Atwood novels... at least that's what I've been saying since the 1990s when I read them. Recently I began to wonder if they'd stood the test of time.

Overall Cat's Eye  was darker, bleaker, slower, and more dense than I remembered. Some sections describing the main character's relationship with her grade school "friends" literally filled me with anxiety and dread. Atwood is a wonderful writer, but this was not a pleasant read. I gave it 5 stars way back when, but it certainly wasn't a 5-star experience this time around. Perhaps it was a bad choice of reading material during difficult times, so I'll wait until things are back to normal before I read The Robber Bride. I liked that one even more and don't want to be disappointed with two old favorites.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

This Week's Read: You Think It, I'll Say It

Gender Studies

Nell and Henry always said that they would wait until marriage was legal for everyone in America, and now this is the case - it's August 2015 - but earlier in the week Henry eloped with his graduate student Bridget. Bridget is twenty-three, moderately but not dramatically attractive (one of the few non stereotypical aspects of the situation, Nell thinks, is Bridget's lack of dramatic attractiveness), and Henry and Bridget had been dating for six months. They began having an affair last winter when Henry and Nell were still together; then in April, Henry moved out of the house he and Nell own and into Bridget's apartment. Nell and Henry had been a couple for eleven years.

by Curtis Sittenfeld

I haven't read many short stories in recent years, so this collection of ten is a welcome change of pace. After reading the first three, I'm impressed! A couple of Sittenfeld's novels are on my wish list... If the writing and characters are as good as they are in these stories, it won't be long before I finally pick them up.

Here's a portion of the goodreads summary:
Curtis Sittenfeld has established a reputation as a sharp chronicler of the modern age who humanizes her subjects even as she skewers them. Now, with this first collection of short fiction, her “astonishing gift for creating characters that take up residence in readers’ heads” (The Washington Post) is showcased like never before. Throughout the ten stories in You Think It, I’ll Say It, Sittenfeld upends assumptions about class, relationships, and gender roles in a nation that feels both adrift and viscerally divided.
Do you read short stories? 

First Chapter/First Paragraph/Tuesday Intro is hosted by Yvonne at Socrates' Book Reviews

Sunday, June 14, 2020

An Overdue Update

Well, it's mid-June and, unintentionally, a month has passed since my last blog post. Rainy season, with almost daily late afternoon storms, is here, Covid19 shows no sign of leaving, and life goes on...

Life in the time of COVID//

The state of Florida was just opening around the time of my last post and now we're seeing record numbers of COVID19 cases daily. Hospitalizations are also rising, so this is not just a result of increased testing... a very disturbing trend.

On the island, most residents are wearing masks while most visitors/tourists are not. Off island, I'm seeing a slight increase in mask use, but the majority still do not wear them. Sigh.

As for our activities, we are still restricting contact with the outside world. We have, however, cautiously extended our "close circle" to include my 92-year-old FIL and sister-in-law. We are not allowed to visit their retirement community, so they come to see us. I continue to grocery shop weekly in the early morning. The store is very quiet then, the aisles are one-way, and it feels fairly safe.

After several weeks of curbside service, our library is open again. It was a treat to browse the stacks with Daughter #1 and my SIL. Everyone wore masks, patrons were extremely respectful of social distance, and there were "stand here" decals around the front desk for checkout. I probably won't do this again as curbside service is still available and I prefer reading on my kindle.

We've dined at a couple of our favorite restaurants. We ate outdoors, the tables were well-spaced, and all servers wore masks. Since they were following CDC recommendations (many establishments do not) we will continue to visit occasionally.

Hair salons opened a month ago and I finally made an appointment. Tomorrow I will go in with clean, wet hair, get a haircut, and leave with wet hair. I'm not ready to spend extra time indoors to get my hair colored yet. I'll continue to hold off on the nail salon, too.

We've hosted a couple of socially-distant patio happy hours. Just one other couple attends and they bring their own beverages... it's good to catch up with friends in person!

Our oldest daughter returned to NYC this week. Twin A will stay with us another week and a half. In many ways, these past three months have been a bonus - we never expected to spend this much time with our adult children again!

Finished this week//

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

I loved this book! It's the type of multi-generational family drama that ticks all the boxes for me - complex, well-developed characters, complicated relationships, and long-buried secrets. Best of all, the writing is excellent. I still can't believe it's a debut novel. A read/listen combination for me, the audio version narrated by Emily Rankin was very well done. This book will surely appear on my year-end list of favorites. I hope Claire Lombardo is already at work on her next novel!

Current reading//

You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld

I read the first story in this collection last night and can't wait to pick it up again. It's been too long since I last read short stories.

Listening to//

by T Kira Madden, narrated by the author

I recently picked this up as an audible daily deal and started listening a couple of days ago. I'll likely finish later today.

Later this week//

More of the same... kind of sad that my haircut will be the big event. My FIL and SIL will come over for dinner at some point, too. The news has become even more disturbing lately, so I will continue to limit my intake to morning newspapers and some evening television. My afternoon reading time is a welcome escape!

We are finally in the home stretch of the remodel. Appliances were delivered last week and installation is in progress. I'm hoping it's done by this time next month... fingers crossed.

How are you holding up? What have you been reading?

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.
It's Monday... What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.


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