Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Fall Faves, August - October 2019

It's been a great few months of reading.  Trust me that the books above are just the cream of a very rich crop of recent reads.  What's great about this collection of titles is that except in a few cases, these are books written by authors I love so if you can't get your hands on the title in the collage, there are other great books to be found.  If you want to know more about what I'm reading, follow me on Instagram and Goodreads, where I am @booksandcarbs and booksandcarbs. 

In order of the photo collage (which was random), I present:

The Islanders by Meg Mitchell Moore:  This book was a perfect (end of) summer read for me.  I really liked the Block Island setting, the fact that some of the main characters were writers, and the book's familial/romantic relationships.  Book clubs could find plenty to discuss.  Speaking of book clubs, The Admissions by Meg Mitchell More is a PERFECT book club selection.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett:  My heart was full to bursting by the time this book ended.  It exceeded my (very high) expectations.  I loved the brother-sister relationship in this book and loved that it was another forgiveness story (I've read a lot of strong ones this year).  Ann Patchett is one of the finest living American writers and she outdid herself here.  Highly, highly recommend the audio version as the narration of Tom Hanks is exquisite.  I wanted to live in this book.  Other favorite Ann Patchett titles?  All of them, but especially State of Wonder, This is The Story of a Happy Marriage, and Bel Canto

Red at the Bone by Jaqueline Woodson:  Woodson's writing is beautiful.  The way she shifted between past and present and among family members really worked.  Aubrey's story (and his mother's) will stay with me most powerfully. 

Conviction by Denise Mina:  This mystery checked all the boxes for me ... quirky, interesting characters who were not caricatures and who had real issues and pasts, cool locales, just the right mix of humor and absurdity with this pair of unlikely buddies/amateur detectives.  I liked the timeliness of the true crime podcast angle of this story.  Bonus points for melodious Scottish narration.

A Better Man by Louise Penny:  I'm all caught up in the Chief Inspector Gamache series now and it feels both satisfying and sad as now I have to wait for what's next.  And wait I will.  This latest trip to Three Pines was all about how we read and perceive others and the courage required to admit when we're wrong.  To see Gamache's relationships with "his people" and the loyalty, respect, and love binding them is a beautiful thing.  It's interesting to see Gamache up against a new regime of doubters and insecure higher ups.  This series starts slow but it is SO WORTH THE INVESTMENT.

Marilou is Everywhere by Sarah Elaine Smith:  I can't promise you'll love this one, but I did.  I've not read a book quite like it and couldn't stop reading to try and understand Cindy.  This one was sad and strange and sometimes funny and ultimately hopeful.  Different in a refreshing way.  Unique (to me) rural setting.

The Likeness by Tana French:  Tana French, like Louise Penny, is able to infuse her mysteries with true insight into human nature and writes so beautifully.  I like how her detectives, especially in this book, are flawed but compelling.  I love the Irish settings.  Allegedly you don't need to read her books in order, but I would.  Start with In the Woods.

Reasons to be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe:  I "met" Nina Stibbe when I read her letter collection/memoir Love, Nina -- one of my favorite books of 2014.  I've since read all of her Lizzie Vogel novels as soon as I could get my American hands on them.  Reasons to be Cheerful is the latest of them and thoroughly delightful.  Who doesn't like reading about amateur dentistry?  These books are funny and smart, tons of wit and humor in the details.  Quirky but complex characters in an odd but loving family.  Stibbe's books are just my cup of tea.  The Lizzie Vogel series starts with Man at the Helm.

Just Kids by Patti Smith:  I went into this book with limited knowledge of the life and art of Patti Smith nor that of Robert Maplethorpe (aware of reputation and controversy but not familiar with the work itself).  Even lacking prior knowledge and passionate interest/curiosity, I was still blown away by Just Kids.  Smiths' writing is gorgeous (and I was completely charmed by her narration -- she adds an "l" to "drawing" and drops the "g" in all "ing" words, for example).  This is a story of friendship, love, and art that spans decades.  Struggles and shared joys.  Smith doesn't sensationalize or spin; she shares moments and memories thoughtfully.  The moment inspiring the book's title is mentioned early on and got to me.  Readers interested in music and art in the late 60s and 70s will appreciate Smith's interactions with other creatives.  Really glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to read this one.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee:  I waited so long to read this one.  I'm not sure why as I loved Lee's Free Food for Millionaires.  This family saga was wonderful.  I was very interested in all the relationships and in the way family was interpreted so expansively.  Plenty to discuss in terms of love, generosity, service, courage.  This is the second book I've read that has enlightened me about the the experiences of Koreans living in Japan.  Long book, but I would happily stick with this family for decades more.

What are your Fall Faves?  Please share in the comments!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Five Faves -- July 2019

Surfacing to share my five favorite reading experiences from the past month ...

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo was everything I wanted and needed it to be.  It included the most moments of heart-bursting joy I've experienced in a book in recent history.  You're invited into the lives of a family over decades.  They are flawed and funny and loving and sometimes selfish and sometitmes lost and it was just wonderful to be there with them for the highs and lows.  Bonus for me was the Chicago/Oak Park setting.  Favorite characters?  Jonah and Wendy.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Aker is perfect for book clubs.  Anyone who only reads the first quarter or so of the book will be saying how the guy seems okay if only he would stop with all that swiping.  Then, those who read on will be thinking that actually, he's a pretty good dad.  But that mom?!  You'll want to judge that mom.  Keep reading.  Then, you're ready for a really good discussion about marriage, gender, power, societal norms, and more.  Very interesting narrative frame for this novel with Fleishman's college friend connecting the stories.

Call It What You Want by Bridget Kemmerer is a solid and satisfying YA novel.  I've loved all Kemmerer's non-fantasy YA novels (I may indeed love her fantasy ones as well, but I haven't tried them as that's typically not my bag).  It's been almost twenty years since I was a high school teacher so I can't accurately judge how realistic it is for kids on the fringe or the outs (for various reasons) to find each other and connect.  I love the idea of readers seeing more expansive possibilities for friendship on the pages of the books they read -- that's my kind of fantasy, I suppose.

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center is a breezy read that still has heft.  I enjoyed Cassie's journey and liked learning about life as a firefighter, the station scene, etc.  This novel is a forgiveness story and we can always use more of those (well, most of us can).  I think I've read all of Center's novels and they are all reliable reads.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong is beautifully written.  I listened to the audio version, narrated by the author, and I'm glad I did as his lyrical, poetic style lends itself to being read aloud.  Content wise, this book is not easy to read:  the inheritance of war, abuse, opioid addiction, the loneliness and challenge of the immigrant experience.  There's also love and friendship and some beautiful moments of generosity ... a young man finding his way and his words (and with his words).  Not easy to read but worth reading.

Honorable mentions ....
Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey -- There was a time (long, long ago) when I had time to watch rom coms, some of them over and over again.  This book brought me back to that time and I just inhaled it.  Fans of Meg Ryan movies ... treat yourselves!

Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle -- I found this thriller via Hoopla Digital and listened for free because my library subscribes.  Couldn't wait to find out how the two women's stories overlapped and didn't find it predictable nor overly twisty (getting weary of books with twist after twist after twist).

If you follow me on Instagram (I'm @booksandcarbs), some of these blurbs will sound familiar.  If you don't follow me on Instagram, please find me! 

Saturday, July 13, 2019

If You Like It, Then You Should Put a Glue Gun On It

This 'Lil Project has been a long time coming, not because it was tricky or time intensive but because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do.

I've been saving our wine corks for at least five years, probably longer.  I'm not a obsessive wine drinker myself, but the latent hoarder in me didn't want to throw them out.  However, the corks were starting to take up valuable real estate in a kitchen cupboard, falling out each time the door was opened.  Since I've been on a kick with reading de-cluttering books (and actually doing some de-cluttering), I decided it was time to get the cork on with it.

There are some Pinteresting ideas for wine corks out there, but nothing was exactly what I wanted.  I was in Michael's earlier this week and saw this long narrow box for 70% off and felt inspired. 

I did some laying out and selecting (for variety in corkage) in advance.  Maybe you are supposed to soak, clean, or treat them somehow first?  I didn't do that.  I got out the glue gun tin and went to town.

There were still plenty of corks left when I finished the sides so I covered the bottom as well.

I just moved the flowers I already had out in my kitchen into the box.  If I had staged this better, I'd maybe look for more vases or possibly lower ones.  I'll change it up in the future.

My husband's attitude toward most of my 'Lil Projects is somewhere between indifferent and lukewarm, but he was quite interested in this one and seems pleased to have these corks displayed.  Proud of himself for drinking most of that wine himself perhaps.

I'm pleased with the final result and pleased that I've freed up some cupboard space.  Of course, now I'll throw away any future wine corks.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Five Faves -- June 2019

Happy Summer!

Here are my favorite books from the first month of summer break...

You Me Everything by Catherine Isaac
What seals this one is its setting -- a gorgeous family resort in the French countryside.  I liked these characters and rooted for them as they reconciled past with present.

Summer of '69 by Elin Hilderbrand 
This one is Hilderbrand's first historical novel and it was great visiting Nantucket in the past (since I've "been there" so many other times more recently) and during such a historic moment (Vietnam, moon launch, Chappaquiddick, Woodstock on the horizon).  I just loved Kate's family and want to check in on them again in future summers.  Teared up at the beginning and the end.

For Everyone by Jason Reynolds 
Jason Reynolds is a YA author with whom I was unfamiliar, but this book was featured at Joseph Beth Bookstore when I was visiting Cincinnati and so I picked it up.  Short but powerful ... truly a title for everyone who needs inspiration and motivation to keep going, keep dreaming, keep creating, keep doing.  Just loved it.

The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary
I've read so many books that reference Bridget Jones's Diary on the cover blurbs that have been so very, very disappointing.  Finally, a book that is worthy of the comparison!  Humor and heart.  Strong friendships.  A heroine you can really care about and root for.  The Flatshare also tackles some serious topics in addition to its very endearing love story.  Thoroughly satisfying.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
Two families whose lives intersect over several decades -- love, challenges, changes, and, especially, forgiveness. 

Honorable Mentions...
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren -- super fun and funny summer read!
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane -- slow but lovely story about nurturing friendships
Into the Woods by Tana French -- my first Dublin Murder Squad book, won't be my last
The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay -- fresh start story featuring books and friendships

Monday, June 3, 2019

Finds & Buys -- Searching for Sunshine Edition

I can't speak for every corner of the Midwest, but I'll take a stab at summarizing the past several months in my corner:  longest winter ever, followed by the wettest and coldest spring.  I don't know if official weather data confirms my summary, but I can say that with the exception of a handful of glorious days (or at least parts of days), it's been fairly miserable.  I admit to medicating with some retail therapy in the form of unnecessary but not super expensive perk-me-up purchases. 

I've written about my love of Nora Fleming products before.  I couldn't resist the rain boot mini Nora Fleming came out with this rainy spring.

Grocery store flowers are always a good perk-me-up purchase.  I perked up a tube vase from Dollar Tree with some colorful spring washi tape. 
My kids don't need sunshine to enjoy popsicles.  We love the Wyler's Italian Ice ones.  They have the perfect texture and come in lots of delicious flavors (the orange is the best).  They're always available at Walgreen's, but I also bought a huge box at either Sam's or Costco.  Apologies that I can't remember which spot.  One warning -- if you don't clarify expectations with your popsicle eaters, you'll find abandoned popsicle tops throughout your house and every pair of scissors you own glued together with fruity goodness.
Good smelling cleaning products are a real perk-me-up purchase for me,  I am loving the Vetiver & Tea Tree scent from Home & Planet.  Really fresh, clean unique scent.  No, I don't know what Vetiver is either.

I was at Wal-Mart in search of a baby gate for our new puppy when I spied this giant insulated jug.  So far, I have used it to keep Diet Coke chilled and it has worked like a charm (even over several hours).  Actual goal is to drink more water this summer and this bottle will serve me well.  It was $14.95.  

Knock on wood, but it seems we are finally entering a season of reliable sunshine.  Best news?  Sunshine is a free perk-me-up and you don't have to de-clutter it later.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

LFL -- YMCA Nostalgia Edition

When visiting my parents a couple years ago, I noted that the YMCA near their house had a Little Free Library in front.  I imagined that one day I would walk down there and check it out, but in my recent visits I've never found the time to make that half-mile journey on foot.  This evening, after securing some local food favorites at Kroger to take back to Pleasantville, I parked in front of the Y and my oldest and I finally checked out this LFL.

First off, I love the idea of a LFL in front of my childhood YMCA.  As a girl, I spent what in hindsight seems an inordinate number of hours at the Y.  Back in the 80s, one didn't languish in Pike for session after session.  You could actually learn to swim and advance through the classes Pollywog, Pre-Minnow, Minnow, Guppy, Pike, Fish, Flying Fish, Shark, etc.  Don't quote me on the progression or the class names, but I took them all, not because I had a huge passion for swimming so much as because my next youngest sister had a real passion for swimming and so we all had our "own stuff" to do at the Y.  That being said, more than half of my YMCA visits were spent outside the pool while my sister was practicing or competing.  With no cell phone or tablet to turn to, I had a rotation of things I did to while away my time at the Y:  visit the "new' water fountain near the racquetball courts, watch adults play racquetball from the upper viewing area, hope for a turn with the pool table or foosball, test the dryers in the locker room, pester my mom for change for the gumball and vending machines, read every scrap of paper on every bulletin board, read every plaque on the walls, review the posted swim team records (my sister had one, NTB), and, of course, if I came prepared, read a book.

Had an LFL existed in those days, checking its offerings would have been my most savored ritual of each trip to the Y.  Without a doubt.  Fast forward thirty-plus years.

This LFL is a fairly basic model.  The wood is a bit faded, but I like the red-tinted glass.  I'm a big fan of the message:  Travel the world starting with books.  Don't we all want young readers to expand their worlds through books?  I've visited so many cool places in books and can't imagine my life without those "travels."  Side note:  I was interested to note that the phrase "Young Men's Christian Association" is emphasized on the front of the LFL since the word "Christian" has completely disappeared from the Y where I live now.

 Perhaps it's the time of year, but the pickings were slim when we opened it up.

As is my tradition, I look at the offerings and play a little "game" of If I were desperate for a new book to read and had to choose one from this LFL, what would I choose?  Since the selection wasn't vast, especially for an adult reader, I decided to think ask myself what 1983 or 1984 Megan would choose.  I think that 80s Megan would be excited to check out Allergic to My Family.  I didn't look inside to the year of publication but the cover illustration took me back and made me nostalgic for the time in my life when I had endless hours to fritter away at the Y (though it was a necessity, not a choice).  I wonder if my daughter will feel similarly some day when she thinks of all the ways she  entertained herself in the hockey area of our Y during her brothers' games.  I will tell you that on our way out the door, I usually remember to remind her to bring a book and some vending machine money, evidence that even in the pre-LFL days, I did learn a thing or two at the YMCA.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Dog Gone It

Meet Dandy.  He was born in February and joined our family on April 7th.  It's no coincidence that I haven't posted on this site since April 3rd.

Until last month, I had never had a dog in my life.  I grew up without one and my siblings and I were all nervous/afraid of most dogs (stemming in part from an incident when my brother, as a toddler, was bitten by a stray dog).  As I grew up, I was less afraid of dogs but still not that comfortable around them.  Thus, I was very anxious about welcoming a dog into our family.  My husband and kids eventually wore me down.  My oldest put together two different Power Point presentations about why we should get a dog -- the earliest of which he created five years ago as a second grader.  As a fifth grader, he wrote up a proposal pitching alternative family pets (mostly small rodents and reptiles) artfully intended to make me view a dog more favorably.  Two years later, I caved.  I wanted my kids to have the experience of loving and caring for a dog and prayed that I could open my heart as well.

I'm glad I didn't write about Dandy earlier because a puppy post in the early days would have been a doozy.  The first week gave me major flashbacks of my days as a new mom (short summary of early motherhood for me was that I was an anxious, lonely, decidedly un-breezy mom of a restless baby).  The similarities were unsettling:  getting up multiple times in the middle of the night to take Dandy out so he wouldn't pee/poop in his crate and thus hate being in there going forward; weeding through all the advice out there in books, YouTube videos, blogs, etc.; feeling like I was "on the clock" every time I left the house (similar to when you are newborn's food source) because I didn't want to leave him in crate too long; reckless willingness to buy gear, gadgets, treats -- anything I thought would make things easier; whispering and tiptoeing around the house when he was asleep; a feeling of fear/hopelessness that my life would never be the same again (it won't, but seems less bleak now); and a overall sense of anxiety and uncertainty about what to do and whether I was doing it wrong.  At one point, I was standing in the front yard practicing having him on a leash when I found myself praying that the person walking down the side walk would pause to chat with me -- this was a major flashback to the kind of loneliness and desperation I felt as a new mom.

All of the above sounds dramatic, but welcoming a dog (especially when you are brand new to the experience) is a HUGE adjustment.  And that first week, my husband was out of town for several days (on more of a boondoggle than a command performance), my kids were at school, and I was home just bumbling through the day and trying to figure out how I was going to accomplish basic life tasks in addition to puppy care.  Lots of things happened:  roundworm, vomit, nipping, accidents in the house, and more.  When my sister called me one morning late in the week, I started sobbing.  My husband eventually got home, and my kids figured out that I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown and stepped up their helpfulness.

The adjustment still feels HUGE, but things are getting easier and I am getting more comfortable and confident as a dog mom.  We have a dog trainer who has helped us a ton.  Dandy is able to take short walks, which I really enjoy and which give me hope for longer walks in the future.  We've successfully helped him through roundworm and two other parasites.  Good times.  We no longer wake up in the middle of the night to take him out (though waking at 6am for an hour of rowdy/crazy puppy time is not a major improvement).  Any of the kids can handle being on "Dandy duty" if I need to go somewhere, run errands, etc.  Seeing my husband and kids playing and cuddling with Dandy warms my heart.  I have appreciated my own quiet moments just relaxing with and petting Dandy. Pre-Dandy, I can't tell you the last time when I have sat outside in the sun on a weekday and just, you know, sat there and felt the breeze without trying to read something, check my phone, etc.

One of the coolest things to experience since welcoming Dandy is the way other people react to puppies and the reminder of how kind people can be.  We've gotten to know our neighbor's granddaughter and her two dogs and had a chance to better know another neighbor who also has a dog.  Bringing Dandy to the sports fields, I've had conversations with other parents of my kids' teammates that I would not have had if not for my furry conversation starter.  People pet him and talk to him (in hilarious baby voices).  Friends have given us gifts of treats, dog toys, and gear.  I sent an email about a month before Dandy arrived home asking local friends with dogs for advice and recommendations, and the thorough, wise, encouraging, practical feedback and wisdom I received was unbelievable.  Dog people are really good people.  I don't think I am a dog person yet but I can see it happening and aspire to the designation.

Until then, I'm trying my best to love and care for this puppy while figuring out how to proceed with the rest of my life -- writing, reading, exercise, laundry -- as well.  I'm sure it can be done, dog gone it.

P.S. -- It was very hard to choose just one cute puppy pic for this post, but you can see others on Instagram:  @ourdoodledandy  Also, I spent an embarassing amount of time curating a Spotify playlist with songs that feature "Dandy" (or "candy" and "Mandy" which can be easily adjusted) in them -- playlist is titled @ourdoodledandy

P.S. #2 -- At any earlier moment in my life, I would be shocked to discover I authored the sentences in the first post-script.  Times, they are a-changing.