Friday, November 25, 2011

Catching up!

I’ve been on a streak lately of mannish books, for lack of a better word.
I just couldnt help but notice how many books Ive read recently with male main characters.

I started with Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman for an online book club at Every Day I Write the Book Blog. The book was smart and provocative, and full of dark humor. The main character, Tom Violet, is a father of two, not all that happy in his work and life, but puts on a good face regardless. Hes also living in the shadow of his lothario father, a prolific, award-winning author. I really liked Tom from the get-go - I envy those that have the snappy comebacks all the time. His HR memos and dark humor made me bust out laughing. I also thought in the back of my mind he was pushing it sometimes - especially in the big meeting. He was so past the point of caring at that point, but there's something to be said for there's a time and place buddy! He was also much too nonchalant about the relationship with his young co-worker. That was a train wreck waiting to happen and he never saw it coming until it was too late. I like the the father - he loved women, just couldn't make up his mind. I gave him loads of credit for stepping up to care for the daughter when Tom and Anna were seemingly falling down the rabbit hole of their own whims and self-obsessed urges. I liked that it was current and I really related to his corporate job - that was what really got me invested in his story to find out where the book would go.

Next up was Father-mucker by Greg Olear. This book came from Book Club Girl for her online book club and Authors on Air podcast. I felt this book started out the same as Domestic Violets, but as it went on, it changed. I found Father-mucker better reading  than Domestic Violets, but I cant pin it on one specific factor. I think Greg Olear put more into the father in Father-mucker than Matthew Norman put into Domestic Violets.

I just finished An American Unhappiness by Dean Bakopolous. I borrowed this book from my father-in-law. I don’t know why I put off reading it so long; it was a great read! Its set smack dab in Madison, WI for one thing. And the main character is an authentic Madison liberal, with a vague and ambiguious job working for a non-profit that awards grants to artsy, provocativehumanities and research projects. Nevermind that the non-profit started from an grant (obtained by one of those infamous earmarks attached to an unrelated bill) from a less-than-savory congressman, that reads more like a mobster than a government official. As I read further into the book, I got more and more frustrated with Zeke. Hes drinking more and more, in serious denial regarding almost everything in his life. He has been working on a project for years about why Americans are unhappy. He doesnt really have a plan for the results except MAYBE he can get his ultimate crush, Sofia Coppola, to make a movie out of them. Time to wake up and smell the reality buddy! He claims he has no idea that his non-profit is under a serious audit by the Department of Homeland Security (by not returning any of their inquiries or messages) and chooses to focus more on unattainable women. His admin assistant, the barista at the nearby Starbucks, his nearly-divorced neighbor and his sister-in-law all seem to think hes nice enough, but hes worse than a grade school boy with a crush on his schoolteacher. I started to find him pathetic and as the audit gets inevitably more serious, he gets more delusional. Maybe Im being cynical, but I found myself agreeing with the women in his life. He's in denial about his job, hes drinking more and more as both a distraction and a crutch, and living in a fantasy world if he thinks he can keep all of that going the rest of his life.
Ive also started The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian which I checked out from the library. Chris is way up there on my list of favorite authors. I have yet to read a book of his that I didnt want to read again the second that I finished it. Midwives and The Buffalo Soldier are my favorites. I find him similar to Jodi Picoult his books are extremely thought-provoking, and have a lot of meat to them.
The Night Strangers was a book I was looking forward to for months.  The main character, Chip Linton is an airline pilot recovering from plane crash into Lake Champlain. 39 passengers die on impact or drown. Chip and his wife and twin daughters move to a small town and buy an old house and Chip discovers a basement door that is held shut by 39 carriage bolts and no one knows where the door goes to or what may be behind it. There is also an underlying story about some of the women in the town with mysterious backgrounds, and they have a keen interest in Chip and his family.

I also found that I have a copy of The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings. I bought this from my favorite bookstore, Snowbound Books, in da UP at least two years ago. Im excited as it’s the book behind the new George Clooney movie, also called The Descendants. From the movie, the story seems to be about a father who finds out his wife is cheating on him while shes in a coma.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Pioneer Woman

The book is a memoir of Ree Drummond, big city girl swept away by a smoldering, handsome cowboy. I've never been a regular follower of her blog, but out of curiosity, I watched all her new TV shows on Food Network, She is obviously and understandably proud of her family and her life so out of curiosity, I picked up her memoir from the library.

Right off the bat, the flowery paper, page after page, got a bit...flowery. But it went with her writing - she's a VERY feminine woman. She likes pretty clothes, shoes, makeup and as a young woman in her 20's, she's very concerned about her looks - again, comes with the territory. As the book went, the writing became excessive and detailed and just plain redundant very fast. She comes home to her parents' house from Los Angeles, and never seems to get a job and gets to stay there while aimlessly wondering (and wandering) if she's going to move on to her dream job(?) in Chicago. I couldn't really figure out what she was actually going to do once she got there. Then one magical night she meets "the Marlboro Man." (She never reveals his name; he is "the Marlboro Man" through the whole book! It got old the second time she used the pet name!) She meets him, talks to him for a few hours, never gives him her name, and they part ways. Several weeks later he magically calls her. Allrighty then.
SO they date and all she does every night is go to his house and eat dinner, watch movies and make out. She's writing in the sense of days, after several pages, only a two weeks have gone by. *Sigh. And in the midst of all this, she can't make up her mind if she's leaving or not, and never gets a job either. That really bothered me; no wonder past reviewers felt this memoir got so self-obsessed and exaggerated - she wasn't doing anything except hanging around her house and waiting for him to call her and then come pick her up or send her out gallavanting in the country to find his house some other out of the way location.
I don't doubt that she was swept off her feet by "the Marlboro Man." I don't doubt he's a gentleman and a great cowboy. I just have a hard time taking her seriously with all the over-the-top, flowery (not just the paper), extremely detailed narration of her romance. Not even halfway through I was getting tired of her indecisiveness about whatever was in Chicago and all the details about all their "dates" at his house. I finished the book out of sheer curiosity, honestly. I very much wish that the publisher would have quit with the flowery paper either just after the prologue or forward the first chapter. I also wish that she would have dropped the whole "Marlboro Man" deal after he magically called her back. He's got a name - make up a name if you want to protect him, but jeepers he has a NAME.
After finishing the book (and all six of her Food Network episodes), I still just have a hard time taking her seriously.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Catching up

Its been beyond too long since I last posted - work, vacation, illness; yadda yadda yadda. I had a great vacation in Seattle watching my cousin get married, spending alot of quality time with my family, seeing Pikes Place Market and looking UP at the Space Needle. I forgot to bring back a good coffee mug darnit! What really surprises me now that I think back is that I didn't visit a single bookstore while I was out there. I had it in mind to visit the original Starbucks and at least a few other coffee shops, which I sorta accomplished. The wedding was so much fun and the time with family was irreplaceable which is all that matters.

I finished "Next to Love" by Ellen Feldman just after I got to Seattle. Its a great novel about three women during World War 2 and its aftermath. It goes back and forth in time with its vignettes, for lack of a better description - it took me a bit to figure out how to keep it all straight. I'm ashamed to say I'm not all that up and up on my WW2 history. The book was very satisfying and put a real human face to the women of that time, I thought.

I just started Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman. I'm almost halfway through and I stayed up pretty late last night since I didn't want to put it down. I also just got the new book by Tom Perotta called The Leftovers. Its not starting out too hot for me yet. I've loved all his books so far so I hope its not an omen. I'm hoping to start Miracle Beach by Madison's own Erin Cellelo as well.

Lastly I want to throw this out there - I recently read this on the Pioneer Woman blog. I'm not a regular reader of her blog but I am a regular viewer of the Food Network so with her new show, I was reminded of her books and blog. The post is over a year old but gave me alot to think about. I'm posting very regularly on this blog, I'm by no means a regular excerciser, and I'm just beginning to vary some of my blog posts outside of the Wisconsin boundaries. I'm not up to many followers but some of my fave followers are my family members and friends, Kathy (the reason I even wanted to start blogging about books), and definitely ANYone else that has stopped by, including the authors that were so kind to comment on my first few posts. I have to make a better effort to read even more and post more often. And possibly get up earlier than usual and start walking the dog around the neighborhood and use the Zumba DVDs I bought months ago.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Graveminder by Melissa Marr

The New York Times bestselling author of the Wicked Lovely series delivers her first novel for adults, a story about the living, the dead, and a curse that binds them.
Rebekkah Barrow never forgot the tender attention her grandmother, Maylene, bestowed upon the dead of Claysville, the town where Bek spent her adolescence. There wasn't a funeral that Maylene didn't attend, and at each Rebekkah watched as Maylene performed the same unusual ritual: three sips from a small silver flask followed by the words "Sleep well, and stay where I put you."
Now Maylene is dead and Bek must go back to the place--and the man--she left a decade ago. But what she soon discovers is that Maylene was murdered and that there was good reason for her odd traditions. It turns out that in placid Claysville, the worlds of the living and the dead are dangerously connected. Beneath the town lies a shadowy, lawless land ruled by the enigmatic Charles, aka Mr. D--a place from which the dead will return if their graves are not properly minded. Only the Graveminder, a Barrow woman, and the current Undertaker, Byron, can set things to right once the dead begin to walk. - Review
I found this book on an list while I was searching for something different. I got exactly that. The book was the perfect amount of creepy, gothic deliciousness that I haven’t read since I used to read Stephen King and even Patricia Cornwell about 10 years ago.  I was sucked into the book right away and had a hard time putting it down anytime I had to put it down (note to self: gotta turn off the TV more often!)
In the history of Claysville, there has always been an Undertaker and a Graveminder.  It’s a special duo of people that keep Claysville and its secrets safe. See if you are born in Claysville, you’ll go back, and you’ll die there. The Undertaker will carry out the funeral arrangements and the Graveminder will make sure you stay where you are laid to rest. Those who are born in Claysville but die elsewhere, may either be in danger or cause it. A young resident is murdered outside of Claysville and does the latter.  The Graveminder, Maylene, is murdered and her partner, the Undertaker must leave and passes the “business” on to his son without any other choice to either of them. Byron must protect the new Graveminder, Maylene’s granddaughter, Rebekkah.  Together they have to find the zombie, for lack of a better word, and get her back to where she should have been laid to rest.
I liked that there wasn’t a great amount of gore in this book. The elements of vampires, zombies and underworld gouhls and ghosts are there but I didn’t imagine buckets of blood and guts. There is an underlying tension between Byron and Bek and I just wanted them to get over it and be true to how they’ve always felt about each other.  I enjoyed the book overall. The cover and title are provocative and I had a great time talking about the book, especially to those who know I read books very much NOT like Graveminder.
Next up is a slew of 9/11 memoirs, Thunder Dog, Memory Remains, and Where You Left Me.  I also won an advance copy of Falling Together by Marisa De Los Santos and Mozart’s Last Aria from Library Love Fest and Harper Perennial, respectively.  Locally, I just purchased Miracle Beach, by Madison’s own Erin Celello.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Too many books, so little time!!

First time Sunday Salon post!

I’m coming clean with a problem, or what I like to call a compulsion that I can’t and don’t really want to stop. For several years, I’ve never been able to read just one book. OK I read one book at a time while I’m actually  reading, but when I actually consider the books I’m in the process of reading, I’ve found it hard to say I’m reading only one book at the moment.  (I still don’t know how to change the right side of my blog to show what I’m really reading right now, which would be several books, not just one!) I know its not unusual to check out several books at a time from the library, but to be in the process of reading all of them at the same time, doesn’t seem quite right. I know this because people ask me, “How do you keep all the books straight in your head?” And I don’t know how I do it, I just do.

Here are the books I currently have checked out at the library:

You’ll notice several of the library books have “14 DAY RENTAL” stickers on the spine. I have to try to read those books in two weeks and I usually can’t renew them because someone else has it reserved on hold to check out when a copy is returned. 14 Day rental stickers are placed on very new or continually popular books in the library system.  Part of the cause is I will read great weekly posts called “Waiting on Wednesday” (my favorite is from Breaking the Spine) and I’ll look for that book in the library system first, or I’ll put it on my wish list so I don’t forget it. What sometimes happens is 2 or 3 of these books will be available from my hold list at once and behold, I have 2 or 3 brand spanking new books to take home and try to read in TWO WEEKS! The initial thrill is fantastic; sometimes its been months since I’ve seen them online. And then the reality sinks in: I have to read ALL of them in TWO WEEKS!

And here are the books I’m reading currently:

Again, one of them has a 2 week sticker, but hold on, what’s that? A NON-Library book in the mix?! Yep, I’m attempting “Olive Kitteredge” for the second time in an attempt to participate in the monthly book discussion meeting at my local library. (Last month they read “Belong to Me” by Marisa De Los Santos. I had a borrowed copy of that paperback from a friend for over a year and didn’t finish it by the meeting.  The meetings happen on Thursday nights around seven and I always have good intentions when I start the books, but when it comes to that Thursday night, I’m already settled at home and don’t want to leave the house again. It goes this way several months in a row; I like the IDEA that I’m reading the same books as the others though!)
OK Back on the subject, too many books, so little time.

HERE is a picture of one of my bookcases at home - these are books of my own purchase, the TBR (to be read) shelves some would call them:

It doesn’t seem like many but both of those shelves have two rows each of books.  I’d like to think I've exercised some serious restraint in the last few years on buying books. (Hence the start of this blog and reading mainly books from the library too!)  Currently I’m only buying books from three authors: Michael Perry, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner. The list used to be a lot longer.  I’m not against any author or supporting bookstores or anything like that - I think the picture speaks for itself that I just have WAY TOO MANY books on the TBR shelves.  Contradicting myself here, but I’ll come clean and admit I enter book giveaways and participate in online book clubs as well, sometimes winning a copy of my own to read. Contradicting myself again, I forget my self-control and splurge in my FAVORITE bookstore once a year, Snowbound Books in Marquette, MI or I get frustrated when hold list is several holds long and buy the book anyways.

MY point? Do I have one? I’m not looking for help or anything.  I don’t see myself changing the habit or process anytime soon. It feels good to get it out though. The day I start getting stressed out by having TOO MANY BOOKS to read, is something I bet will never happen. Feels good to come clean and get it out there in the open!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Laptop woes

Hey all! I think almost everyone in my circle of friends, family, co-workers and Facebook friends knows by now that my laptop went down July 29th. The display went out as well as the keyboard going kaput and then it just refused to power up. I sent it back to the manufacturer and without any notice, it came back to my house this morning. I still have no idea what the diagnosis or repairs were, but it works and I'm back!

 While I was out, I found out that some of my family are reading my blog and gave me some suggestions for new reading. I'll be trying to broaden my horizons in the future. My husband is a big Clive Cussler fan so I have three of his early paperbacks. He also loves science fiction/fantasy fiction books. I'm trying to talk him into a guest post for The Dragonlance Chronicles which started him out as a big reading fan.

I finished Joy for Beginners which was another comfy and uplifting read about a group of women that faced some fears, challenged themselves and learned more about themselves through their experiences.

I'm in over my head with several library books, as well as the books my husband selected for me from his favorite books, my father-in-law lent me the new Dean Bakopoulos book "My American Unhappiness (Dean is a UW-Madison graduate), and I just found out I won a copy of "Falling Together" by Marisa De Los Santos from Library Love Fest. Stay TUNED!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

South of Superior

I started this blog to share new books by Wisconsin authors or books set in Wisconsin. I will use this post to say, I'm a BIG BIG fan of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It started over ten years ago, my mom and I drove to see my aunt Jenny and uncle Bill. They live on 40 acres in the UP, I like to say in the middle of nowhere but its actually about 40 minutes southwest of Marquette, MI. A short drive into Marquette or Munising and you get a wonderful view of Lake Superior. I've been in love with the UP ever since and I usually take a week off of work to spend up there; I call it my annual reset button. Its so beautiful in the UP, especially compared to what I'm used to in Madison. The air is cleaner, the trees are bigger, the nights are quieter, the days are also a bit cooler. I might be one of a few people who'd like to retire in the UP. Every year I have to stop at my favorite bookstore, Snowbound Books, which is also the best name for a bookstore. Who WOULDN'T love to be snowbound with great books? I usually have at least one pasty while I'm there. Mostly I spend alot of time with my aunt and uncle, do alot of reading and relaxing and get that feeling that I'm resetting myself and my life.  
Ok I've gushed enough; I knew when I saw early reviews of South of Superior by Ellen Airgood that I had to read it. Its set in the UP, a fictional town called McAllaster which is modeled after Grand Marais, MI
From the author's website:
When Madeline Stone walks away from her Chicago life and moves five hundred miles north to the coast of Lake Superior, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she isn’t prepared for how much her life will change. Charged with caring for an aging family friend, Madeline finds herself in the middle of beautiful nowhere with Gladys and Arbutus, two octogenarian sisters – one sharp and stubborn, the other sweeter than sunshine. As she is drawn into the dramas of the small, tight-knit town, Madeline learns that it’s a place where times are tough and debts run deep, but where friendship, community, and compassion run deeper.

A debut novel full of heart, South of Superior shows that there is a deep reward in caring for others, that one who is poor in pocket can be rich in many other ways, and that happiness often comes from the smallest gestures.

I felt right at home in the UP while reading this book. Take it from me, its an authentic experience. Just like the town in the book, there are so many little towns all over the UP that are rustic, worn, a bit forgotten, but most of them still have the same people that have lived there all their lives. The story goes on comfortably like a warm blanket and I empathized with Madeline as she tried to adapt to the town's way of life coming from the big city of Chicago. Its an adjustment just driving into the UP but its so worth it. The end of the book was wonderful and satisfying. I admired Madeline for sticking by Arbutus and Gladys. I've never stayed in the UP longer than a week myself. I think Madeline learned about herself and just humanity in general by staying there as long as she did and making the decision to put down roots as well. I've often wondered how I would change if I had ever moved to the UP when I was younger, when I thought about doing it after my mom passed away.

The author lives and works in Grand Marais, MI and she owns the West Bay Diner, which I fully intend to visit on my next UP vacation. I've never been to Grand Marais - its farther east than I've usually traveled while up in the UP.  I hope she writes again, especially if its set in the UP.
My other favorite UP books are by John Smolens, a professor at NMU: Fire Point  and Cold are two great suspense/thriller novels set in the UP. I'm looking into more local UP authors as well so stay tuned!

Long time no see...

Its been way too long since I've posted. I'm still reading though; I think I've finished a handful of books. Between work (gotta love storm season!) and some difficult family situations, I haven't had time to post as much as I wanted.
First off, I tried very hard to read and enjoy Barnstorm: Contemporary Wisconsin Fiction. I wanted to get a sample of some new Wisconsin authors. That said, I've never been a fan of short story collections. I like a novel and those kind of books with a longer running story. I did get a sample of WI authors that I was looking for so I'm looking forward to reading A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore, My American Unhappiness by Dean Bakopoulos and two books by Jane Hamilton in the near future. I also just picked up Whistling in the Dark by Lesley Kagen by her suggestion.
Secondly, I have to toot my own horn. I'm three for three on author comments on my blog posts!! I'm so thrilled to get their responses! I just got an email from Meghan O'Rourke after she read my blog post on her book The Long Goodbye. She was very grateful for my response - its exactly what she was looking for when she wrote the book.
To recap, I'm currently reading a few books:
Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister
Whistling in the Dark by Lesley Kagen
The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rassmussen
and I was so excited to get Until Tuesday by Luis Carlos Montalvan, about an Iraq vet and his therapy dog, Tuesday!
So hopefully I'll be here in a few days to post a new review!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tomorrow River by Lesley Kagen

From Publishers Weekly: Starred Review. Set during the summer of '69 in rural Virginia, Kagen's stellar third novel, her first in hardcover, chronicles the dramatic changes in the lives of 11-year-old Shenny Carmody and her twin sister, Woody, nearly a year after their mother's disappearance. Woody hasn't spoken since, and their father, a renowned judge, spends most of his nights in a drunken stupor at Lilyfield, their Rockbridge County estate, often turning violent and cruel toward his two daughters. Shenny, adventurous and bright, takes it upon herself to locate their beloved Mama and discover why she left them. In her quest for the truth, Shenny learns many heart-wrenching lessons, not least among them that first impressions can be dead wrong. Kagen (Whistling in the Dark) not only delivers a spellbinding story but also takes a deep look into the mores, values, and shams of a small Southern community in an era of change. (May)

When I emailed Karen McQuestion about starting my blog centered around Wisconsin authors, Lesley Kagen was on her list of recommendations.  I found Lesley’s writing descriptive, detailed and illustrative and provocative; I had a hard time putting this book down. I personally felt it close to a suspense novel. These girls were always on the run from their abusive, alcoholic father, a smart-aleck nanny,  and the prying eyes that come from living in a small town. To boot, their father was the town judge; the girls just couldn’t take a chance of being seen outside of their large home, Lilyfield,  and face more abuse from His Honor. (The girls don't even call him father, dad or daddy; they have to call him "YOUR HONOR!) Shenny and Woody are twins, but Woody is older says Shenny. They have their own twin language and they are as close as twins can be. Shenny is determined, spunky, and opinionated. She calls it like she sees it. But she doesn't always say what she means. More than a few times, she's felt remorse on shooting off her mouth in the heat of the moment. But to her defense, she's running out of time - she has to find out what happened to their mother! Woody has seen something horrifying regarding their mother’s disappearance, and its left her traumatized, mute and borderline catatonic. Shenny takes over and watches out for sister. But she also has to find out what happened to their mother, convinced she will return for the girls and maybe even to their family. There are clues throughout of the possible resolution to the story, but never assume until the very last page. I loved the story, I loved the ending. These girls were resourceful; they persevered and will always be survivors. Shenny sought out the truth and as it always does, it set her and her sister free ultimately.
I checked out this book from my local library, on the same day that I also picked up Land of a Hundred Wonders. Please check out her books and website: She resides in Milwaukee, WI and has a fascinating resume!

The Long Goodbye by Meghan O'Rourke

Disclaimer: this might be my longest book review. I found out about this book from one of my fave sources, Bookpage (look for it F-R-E-E in your local library!) I knew from just a few sentences into the review that I had to read it and it was some kind of divine intervention that I read it over the holiday weekend. I don’t just want to email this author and gush about how much this book meant to me. I want to meet her, give her a hug, weep with her and wax nostalgic about our mothers over ice cream and good coffee.

From Publishers Weekly: Starred Review. In this eloquent, somber memoir about the death of her mother and grieving aftermath, poet and journalist O'Rourke (Halflife) ponders the eternal human question: how do we live with the knowledge that we will one day die? O'Rourke's mother died of metastatic colorectal cancer on Christmas day 2008; the headmaster of a Westport, Conn., private school, she was only 55 years old, and left a stricken husband, two sons, and daughter O'Rourke, the eldest sibling. O'Rourke had shuttled back and forth from her life in Brooklyn and then job at Slate over the preceding year to care for her increasingly debilitated mother. The two were extremely close, and the shock of her mother's illness devastated the whole family (the author married her longtime boyfriend shortly after the Stage 4 diagnosis, then separated just as quickly). Over the last months, O'Rourke was bracing herself, "preparing" for her mother's death, by reading everything she could during the dizzying rounds of doctors' and hospital visits, until the family could take their mother home to die in a heavily medicated peace. Anxious by nature, secretive, often emotionally brittle, O'Rourke grew acutely sensitive to her mother's changing states over the last months, desperate for a sign of her mother's love to carry her through the months of bereavement. O'Rourke heals herself in this pensive, cerebral work, moving from intense anguish and nostalgia to finding solace in dreams, sex, and the comforting words of other authors. (Apr.)

My mother died on Wednesday July 4, 2001 of stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. She was 47. I’m an only child and I was 24 when she passed away. If that wasn’t sad enough, my father passed away suddenly seven years prior on Monday October 4, 1994 when I was 17. To say that I related to this book is an understatement. I can’t begin to even think of a metaphor to describe the understatement. I started placing post-it flags on the pages of profound statements, truths or those that just made me think, “OMG ME TOO!” Before long, I ran out. The only book that’s been significant prior to this was “Motherless Daughters” by Hope Edelman - its my grief bible. It’s going to be hard to narrow down the most important moments of this memoir but I will try to restrain myself. I’ll TRY.

“Nothing prepared me for the loss of my mother. Even knowing that she would die did not prepare me. A mother, after all, is your entry into the world…Waking up in a world without her is like waking up in a world without sky: unimaginable.”
I couldn’t have said it better. Losing my mother when I was 24 years old and she was 47 years old will never make any sense to me.

“A friend who worked with the terminally ill had told me about what clinicians call “anticipatory grief” - the fact that family members often grieve intensely while waiting for a loved one to die.  I thought of my anticipation a lot, picturing it as an invader come to rob me of my joy, a stealthy, quilled creature of the night, a fear that wouldn’t let me sit still”
I remember for weeks prior to my mom’s death, praying for so many things and feeling simultaneously and intensely lost and alone. I felt terrible for wanting her to pass and be relieved of all the pain and illness and yet intensely selfish and livid that I was losing my mother at such a young age. After all, it was only yesterday that I was pulled into the principal’s office to be told my father died suddenly of a heart attack.  “NOT FAIR” were two words I wanted to scream and wail as loud as I could. NOT FAIR that I had to make the types of decisions I made for my mother at 24. At the same time, I would NEVER LET ANYONE make those decisions for me or her. I protected her intensely, one night almost making a scene straight out of Terms of Endearment. What hit home after reading “anticipatory grief’ was remembering the night when I left my mother’s room to drive home and thinking she was no longer “A” mom to me. She would always be my mother, but after that night, she was too sick to mother me anymore. Meghan came that realization as well prior to her mother's passing. That was the beginning of the end for me and it also provoked me to tell my family that the reality was here and very near. We would most definitely have to say our goodbyes to her soon.

“I heard a lot about the idea of dying “with dignity” while my mother was sick. It was only near her very end that I gave much thought to what this idea meant.”
Towards the end, my mother was on a great deal of morphine, and she would alternate from lying calm and seemingly comatose, and then another moment writhing around, moaning: I was beyond confused. I had no idea if it was pain, or her body shutting down and she was fighting back. Sometimes  it would be in response to a family member entering the room and talking to her, and sometimes it was out of the blue. I was told over and over that her body would start shutting down, and it was always “just a matter of time” and that I would “see the signs.” I wasn’t a doctor; I still have no idea what they were talking about to this day. I’m still intensely grateful for the nurses towards the end. They were there for my mom and I and all of us. We were walking around dumbfounded, gob smacked and unable to fathom the pain at the time or what was to come; that this was happening to her. At the end, I had to let her go on her own terms, She was surrounded by 3 other women who prayed for her and over her and told her it was ok to go. They told her I would be ok, and I wanted her to go on her own terms.  She was not alone and I’ll never forget that.

What I also felt with the author is the need to understand the grief. We all hear about the steps to grief, but there are no orderly steps and afterwards you brush off your hands and move on. Grief comes in waves; its never done and over with.
“Grief is paradoxical: you know you must let go, and yet letting go cannot happen all at once. The literature of mourning enacts that dilemma; its solace lies in the ritual of remembering the dead and then saying, There is no solace, and also, This has been going on a long time.” Ten years later, I still have moments of weeping, of just plain wondering what she’d be like today or what she would tell me to do, and still moments where I’m blown away by how much I miss her and it can literally take my breath away.

“I also felt that if I told the story of her death, I could understand it better, make sense of it -- perhaps even change it. What had actually happened still seemed implausible. A person was present in your entire life, and then one day she disappeared and never came back. It resisted belief. Even when a death is foreseen, I was surprised to find, it still feels sudden -- an instant that could have gone differently.”
I still have no idea why my mother’s cancer was found at such a late stage. Even in 2001, they were emphasizing self-exams, mammograms, and on and on.  My attempt to research her medical records hit a brick wall financially, and I had to let it go. WHY and WHEN she was diagnosed will change nothing about her pain, suffering and passing.

“A death from a long illness is different from a sudden death. It gives you time to say goodbye and time to adjust to the idea that the beloved will not be with you anymore. Some researchers have found it is ‘easier’ to experience a death you know for at least six months that your loved one is terminally ill. But this fact is like orders of infinity: there in theory, hard to detect in practice.”
Comparing my parent’s death side-by-side is pointless. I was in a totally different world when my father passed. Senior year of high school, sheltered by two loving parents, and I had never been to a visitation or funeral prior. My dad was 6’7” and a big guy and a long-time smoker,  but I never imagined a world without either of my parents.
When my mother passed away, I was almost 2 years out of college, worked through years of counseling for my father’s grief and I’d been to a handful of funerals since. But it was my MOTHER. I was VERY close to both of my parents, but the fact that it was my mother that made it painful. There’s no way I could say which was worse, and no one knew me like my mother.

“Grieving is that process of reclamation. When you lose someone you were close to, you have to reassess your picture of the world and your place in it. The more your identity is wrapped up with the deceased, the more difficult the mental work”

A-MEN sister.  After 10 years, I’m finding more and more breakthroughs processing my grief. Just recently I let go of the whole “PINK RIBBON” thing with my mom. After she passed away, I sought out and devoured anything with a  Pink Ribbon and wore it proudly.  She DIED of breast cancer, but it wasn’t who she was. She loved Las Vegas, spicy food, provocative and thoughtful movies,  the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Eric Clapton and the British Rock Invasion, Renaissance Faires, cats and most of God’s creatures, and of course she loved my dad and I and our family.

The author writes about receiving a letter from a long-lost classmate of her mothers offering to talk to her about his memories.
“Just the week before, I’d read that the newly bereaved often crave more information about the dead -- stories that show sides of the person you didn’t know. Anytime I heard a new story about my mother, it was like she was alive again.”
AGAIN a moment of “MEE TOO!!” But even after 10 years, I find its still painful for my mother’s family to talk about her. I can ramble for days about my favorite memories, but I appreciate my mother’s siblings and parents grief - everyone handles it differently. One day I will tell them I CRAVE stories of my mother AN D my father.

You get the picture, this book spoke to me. I checked it out from my local library and I plan to purchase it for my personal library. It’ll go next to Motherless Daughters, The Last Speech by Randy Pausch, “ and Letter To My Daughter by Maya Angelou.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew

I love southern fiction. I can't remember which book started it. It might have been Velva Jean Learns to Drive by Jennifer Niven. Or it might have been the Big Stone Gap books by Adriana Trigiani. My love was solidified when I read The Help by Katherine Stockett. So when I read about the OKRA picks from Bermudaonion, I was intrigued and found this book. It has been on my hold list for several weeks and I finally got it over a week ago. 

From the publisher: 
In this beautifully written debut, Anna Jean Mayhew offers a riveting depiction of Southern life in the throes of segregation, what it will mean for a young girl on her way to adulthood—and for the woman who means the world to her…
On a scorching day in August 1954, thirteen-year-old Jubie Watts leaves Charlotte, North Carolina, with her family for a Florida vacation. Crammed into the Packard along with Jubie are her three siblings, her mother, and the family’s black maid, Mary Luther. For as long as Jubie can remember, Mary has been there—cooking, cleaning, compensating for her father’s rages and her mother’s benign neglect, and loving Jubie unconditionally.
Bright and curious, Jubie takes note of the anti-integration signs they pass, and of the racial tension that builds as they journey further south. But she could never have predicted the shocking turn their trip will take. Now, in the wake of tragedy, Jubie must confront her parents’ failings and limitations, decide where her own convictions lie, and make the tumultuous leap to independence…
Infused with the intensity of a changing time, here is a story of hope, heartbreak, and the love and courage that can transform us—from child to adult, from wounded to indomitable.

I know I was a decent student in school but personal stories of segregation in the south are so intriguing to me; it seems like there's so much I still don't know about that time in history. Jubie stole my heart right away. She's such a strong girl, holding up against her father's abuse, her mother's sometimes indifference and always wanting to do the right thing by Mary. There's nothing about this book I didn't like except for the tragedy that happens during the story. Jubie's loyalty to Mary just doesn't waver throughout. I admired Jubie's mother so much: four kids at home, even with Mary's help she still seemed so overwhelmed. By the end of the book, she's still on her own feet and still has a firm grip on her family. I can't say enough about the writing either, which alternates between present time and time before they took their trip to Jubie's uncle Taylor's house until the time meshes together until the end of the book. 

The copy I read from my library, had a great Q & A with the author as well as a reading group guide at the end of the book. The author took over 17 years to write the book. I loved this book so much and I only hope it takes much less time to wait for her second book!!

Sorry for the delay in posts here - we had a family emergency last weekend and my reading was put on hold for a few days. Life has stabilized, I think, so I hope to post another review this weekend which is another southern fiction book and local Wisconsin author, Tomorrow River by Lesley Kagen. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy Anniversary!

NO I know it's too early for my blog anniversary. Last night my husband and I celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary. His gift to me was two paintings commissioned by Wisconsin artist Paul Tourdot. The paintings are of two of our cats that we recently lost in December 2010 and January 2011. My husband gave him a flash drive of all sorts of photos and the paintings were the spectacular result. You can view Paul's work here: Tourdot Fine Arts
Here is a photo of the paintings that I just have to share!! The cat on the left is Booka and the cat on the right is Lexi. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tavern League

My sunday paper had a great article about a new Wisconsin book called Tavern League: Portraits of Wisconsin Bars by Carl Corey. Read the article here! Its mostly a photography book, telling stories of many old taverns in Wisconsin that go back farther than the local BW3's as the local hotspot. There aren't any Madison bars listed according to the article, which could be an opportunity for Mr. Corey, as I've "heard" some of the downtown bars have a rich history! I can't say much better than the article does for this book, but I'm intrigued because it sounds like many of these long-running taverns have avoided adding eleventy televisions and loud, LOUD music that are expected in so many sports bars and restaurants today These taverns are probably very different than walking into places like Applebee's, BW3's, Red Robin, and Hooters where you're afforded a TV from any view at almost every table, but you can't hear them anyways because of the loud music.
I'll digress as I'm in no way intending this to be any kind of social commentary - I'm looking forward to checking out this book mostly for the local color and history factors I hope it will contain. Here's a link to the book: Tavern League

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Name change

I received an email yesterday afternoon from another blogger, BookfanMary who alerted me of her blog with a similar name, and she's also from Wisconsin. I hemmed and hawwed, googled our blogs (mine never came up in a google search, kinda weird) and decided to change the name this morning. Its colorful and provocative in my opinion at least! It makes me a little hungry too!
I just started Lesley Kagen's book Tomorrow River yesterday She resides in Milwaukee, WI!  I'm also making my way through The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew. The Dry Grass of August I've emailed a few fellow bloggers and hope to get a side column showing what I'm reading for my next blog posts!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Easily Amused by Karen McQuestion

There's so many reasons I liked this book before I even read the first page. I discovered Karen McQuestion from her first book A Scattered Life when I checked it out at the library. I love that she's from Wisconsin and writes novels set in Wisconsin.

Easily Amused is set in Wisconsin, where 29 year old Lola Watson has settled in her new home, inherited from her great-aunt May. Lola has her dream job a writer at a small parenting magazine, a home of her own and is ready for the next steps in her life: finding a great guy to settle down with and start a family. Except Lola isn't dating anyone, and she's turning 30 soon, in fact her birthday is the same day her younger sister Mindy chose for her wedding day. Mindy thinks that fact is a riot and in her conniving way, also wants to exploit that fact for her own amusement. You get a real sense of the aggravation and rivalry between the sisters right away. Lola and her best friend Piper, decide to fabricate a story for Lola's date for the wedding and the story is off and running from there. Out of almost a dream comes Ryan Moriarty, handsome, charming, and classically dashing in the "knight on a white horse" fashion. Even more perfect is he happens to live in her new neighborhood, another cast of characters adding to the layers of the story in this book. Lola has several neighbors and all of them are attentive and available at seemingly at a moment's notice! Lola isn't used to this kind of intrusion on her life. She wanted to move into this neighborhood and blend in and keep to herself. As the novel unfolds, she begins to realize, one by one, how important these people are. They aren't just nosy neighbors after all!
Also adding to the story is Lola's best friend Hubert, who moves in with her after a bad break-up. Lola, Hubert and Piper have all been friends since their school days. He's a great layer to the story as he finds her neighbors one by one, and sees them as genuine people right away, not as the nosy that Lola finds them to be.
Easily Amused is a comfy read, with just enough layers to be light and but still thought provoking. Its the third book I've read by Karen McQuestion and they've all been comfy and they drew me in right away where I didn't want to put the book down. I related to Lola well, remembering when many of my friends started getting married and starting families, when I myself was still dating dud after dud. I live in a great neighborhood as well with attentive and friendly neighbors. I wanted to tell Lola to embrace her neighbors because they are such an asset to a neighborhood. Lola's just a solid character I wanted to root for from the first page and I was pleased how Karen wrapped up the novel by the last page.
I also love Karen's story as a writer. Her first book, A Scattered Life, was self-published as a Kindle e-book and readers soon saw the same thing I have - A GREAT WRITER! She's since published five books with AmazonEncore and resides in Hartland, WI. Her website is
I've also reviewed A Scattered Life  on my goodreads account:
I've read Easily Amused, A Scattered Life and Life On Hold by checking them all out at my local library in Madison, WI.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Its a great day in Wisconsin everybody! YES it is!

I'm finally starting my blog. I've been talking about it for over a year and with the advice from many of my favorite bloggers and even a few authors, I'm here at my first blog post. I'm starting the blog because I can't stop talking about books. If I see someone reading a book, I have to ask them what they're reading and talk about what I'm reading.  A few years ago I found some great blogs which helped me find a multitude of new authors and books I'd have never picked up on my own.  I've tried starting my own book club to no avail and I realized I needed an outlet months ago. So my hopes for the blog are mostly to ramble about books I'm reading, those I want to read, share blog posts by my favorite bloggers, and reviews of books I read from occasional online book clubs or from the library book club. I want to find more Wisconsin authors to read, review, promote, etc. It all started for me with Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren At a Time by Michael Perry. Since then I've read all of his books and I'm continually looking for more books by Wisconsin authors. 
I'm also a fan of southern fiction: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd; Wish You Well by David Baldacci; Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman, One Mississippi  by Mark Childress and Velva Jean Learns to Drive by Jennifer Niven.
SO that's my first post - Stay tuned for my first review of a book by Karen McQuestion: Easily Amused!