August 31, 2012

Calling Invisible Women

2012 Random House Audio
Reader: Coleen Marlo
Finished: 7/21/12
Rating: 1/5 (Poor!)


A delightfully funny novel packing a clever punch, from the author of the New York Times bestselling Julie and Romeo.

A mom in her early fifties, Clover knows she no longer turns heads the way she used to, and she's only really missed when dinner isn't on the table on time. Then Clover wakes up one morning to discover she's invisible--truly invisible. She panics, but when her husband and son sit down to dinner, nothing is amiss. Even though she's been with her husband, Arthur, since college, her condition goes unnoticed. Her friend Gilda immediately observes that Clover is invisible, which relieves Clover immensely--she's not losing her mind after all!--but she is crushed by the realization that neither her husband nor her children ever truly look at her. She was invisible even before she knew she was invisible.

Clover discovers that there are other women like her, women of a certain age who seem to have disappeared. As she uses her invisibility to get to know her family and her town better, Clover leads the way in helping invisible women become recognized and appreciated no matter what their role. Smart and hilarious, with indomitable female characters, Calling Invisible Women will appeal to anyone who has ever felt invisible.

My daughter loves to shop. She has a great sense of style (graduated from TCU with a degree in Fashion Merchandising), is tall and lean and everything looks fabulous on her. Did I mention she’s also very beautiful?

I, on the other hand, do not care to shop. I used to enjoy wandering in and out of stores, buying clothes and household items I may or may not need, but at some point, I stopped enjoying this favorite pastime. However, every so often I need to head out to the mall or a big-box store to shop for things like new work clothes, a dress for a wedding, a new coffee maker or a shiny new bike. Several years ago, my cell phone died so I headed over to Best Buy to see what they had available. I spent quite a bit of time looking at all the phones in the case and eventually decided which one I wanted to buy. I must’ve been at the counter for at least 20 minutes and never once was acknowledged by either of the two clerks standing on the other side. It was obvious that I was shopping for a phone, yet neither one of these young men approached me. They weren’t busy with other customers. They simply failed to see me. I began to feel irritated that I was so rudely ignored. Didn’t they want to make a sale? Didn’t they realize I was a potential buyer of one of their expensive phones? Was I invisible?! It wasn’t until I finally spoke up and asked for help that I was acknowledged. I bought my phone, got it all set up and left in a foul mood. I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t me, but rather the terrible service in Best Buy, but a thought kept nagging at me: Those young men would have jumped at the chance to help my beautiful, young daughter. I was invisible!

When I came upon Jeanne Ray’s latest novel, I thought it sounded like an entertaining read. I’ve certainly felt invisible or taken for granted at one time or another in my life and I was curious to see if Ray’s satire would amuse me. Unfortunately, the metaphor for invisibility was nothing but ridiculous and too far-fetched for this reader.

Final Thoughts: I enjoyed Ms. Ray’s Julie & Romeo, as well as Step-Ball-Change and Eat Cake, but this new novel had me shaking my head in disbelief.

August 29, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Big B, Little B, What Begins With B?


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August 25, 2012

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Nonfiction – Memoir
2012 Random House Audio
Reader: Bernadette Dunne
Finished 7/10/12
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

From the author’s website:

A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again. At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she'd lost everything when her mother died young of cancer. Her family scattered in their grief, her marriage was soon destroyed, and slowly her life spun out of control. Four years after her mother's death, with nothing more to lose, Strayed made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker--indeed, she'd never gone backpacking before her first night on the trail. Her trek was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and intense loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

When I was a young girl, my family and I lived in central California. My parents owned a small sailboat, a Glen-L 13 named “Aquarius” (it was the late 60s, after all), which we took on our camping trips to Whiskeytown, Trinity Lake, and Howard Prairie (Oregon). I loved these mini-vacations. We spent the day on the boat, swam in the lake (no matter how icy-cold it was!), met kids around the campgrounds to explore with, played cards at the picnic table after dinner, but most importantly, we got to eat cereal out of those cute little individual cardboard boxes. You know the ones. You poured milk into the box after cutting the flaps open to fold back, creating a disposable bowl. It was always the kind of cereal we never got at home. Sugar Pops. Fruit Loops. Frosted Flakes. Camping was one big treat!

Of course, when my husband and I took our girls camping to Hume Lake (in the Sequoia National Forest), it was a lot more work than I remembered (or even realized) my parents ever having to endure. Unload the car. Set up the tents. Gather firewood. Unpack the food crate, which was secured in a box to keep the bears from helping themselves. Fire up the camp stove. Cook a meal. Clean up the dishes. Pack up the food. Secure it from the bears. Repeat again for lunch and dinner. No different from home, but quite a bit more involved. And, of course, spend night after night in a sleeping bag on the hard, cold ground, which was much more fun at 8 and 9 than at 30!

So, I’ve camped and I’ve gone to camp (church camps on Lake Tahoe and thereabouts), but I have never backpacked a day in my life. My older brother, however, was very active in Boy Scouts (he eventually made Eagle Scout) and went on what seemed like dozens of backpacking trips. I used to watch him prepare for a hike, getting his gear together, filling his pack with all those wonderful gadgets, utensils and freeze-dried food pouches for cooking meals over a campfire. I never asked to try the backpack on to see if I could carry it, nor did I ask if his feet ever hurt or if there were bugs and snakes or how cold it got at night (or after getting soaked in a downpour). Instead, I romanticized the whole idea of hiking in the woods with a bunch of friends. I wanted to eat GORP and beef jerky. I wanted to learn how to tie knots and start a fire with sticks. I wanted to identify wild animal tracks and find the North Star to guide me to my campsite. I even wanted the blisters to prove I’d hiked a challenging trail, with near misses from bears and rattlesnakes and mountain lions.

How hard could it be? If my brother (who is only two-and-a-half years older than I) could do it, I certainly could.

I wanted to go!!

However, as I began to listen to Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about hiking the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), my first thoughts were, What an idiot! She doesn’t have a clue as to what she’s in for! As she listed all the items she planned to carry on her back, I thought, She’s screwed.

Strayed never bothered to pack her backpack and take it on a trial run prior to her trip. It was day 1 on the PCT and she was only just then loading her pack! And she did this by simply throwing everything she’d bought at REI (items already in her pack, as well as those filling two oversized department store bags) into the pack until she’d run out of room, forcing her to attach all the extras, along with her tent and sleeping bag and camp chair and food bag to the outside of the pack with bungee cords. And then there was realization that she still had to carry two days’ worth of water, which alone weighed 24.5 lbs.! The only way Strayed could manage to get the pack on her back was to sit on the floor in front of the pack, rocking back and forth to gain momentum, after weaving her arms through the shoulder straps. It’s no wonder she named it “Monster.”

So, here you have a woman alone in the woods, with plans to hike eleven hundred miles, pleased with the “look” of being a backpacker.

The trail headed east, paralleling the highway for a while, dipping down into rocky washes and back up again. I’m hiking! I thought. And then, I am hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail. It was this very act, of hiking, that had been at the heart of my belief that such a trip was a reasonable endeavor. What is hiking but walking, after all? I can walk! I’d argued when Paul had expressed his concern about my never actually having gone backpacking. I walked all the time. I walked for hours on end in my work as a waitress. I walked around the cities I lived in and visited. I walked for pleasure and purpose. All of these things were true. But after about fifteen minutes of walking on the PCT, it was clear that I had never walked into desert mountains in early June with a pack that weighed significantly more than half of what I did strapped onto my back.

Which, it turns out, is not very much like walking at all. Which, in fact, resembles walking less than it does hell.

I began panting and sweating immediately, dust caking my boots and calves as the trail turned north and began to climb rather than undulate. Each step was a toil, as I ascended higher and higher still, interrupted only by the occasional short descent, which was not so much a break in the hell as it was a new kind of hell because I had to brace myself against each step, lest gravity’s pull cause me, with my tremendous, uncontrollable weight, to catapult forward and fall. I felt like the pack was not so much attached to me as me to it. Like I was a building with limbs, unmoored from my foundation, careening through the wilderness.

Within forty minutes, the voice inside my head was screaming, What have I gotten myself into?

And of course, this is all before Strayed has to worry about rattlesnakes and bears and mountain lions and running out of water and running out of money and losing a hiking boot. I did have to laugh when I heard the words, “I’m hiking!” I envisioned Bill Murray strapped to the mast of a sailboat, exclaiming, “I’m sailing!” (in What About Bob).

When Cheryl Strayed was 22, her mother died of cancer at the young age of 45. Her marriage fell apart and she felt lost in the world. It was then that she impulsively decided to hike the PCT. Impulsive is the key word here. And inexperienced is more than an understatement! But as the narrative progressed, I found myself rooting for Strayed, admiring her steadfast courage and ability to adapt to tough situations. And, yes, I was slightly envious.

Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was. The radical aloneness of the PCT had altered that sense. Alone wasn’t a room anymore, but the whole wide world, and now I was alone in that world, occupying it in a way I never had before. Living at large like this, without even a roof over my head, made the world feel both bigger and smaller to me. Until now, I hadn’t truly understood the world’s vastness—hadn’t even understood how vast a mile could be—until each mile was beheld at walking speed. And yet there was also its opposite, the strange intimacy I’d come to have with the trail, the way the pinon pines and monkey flowers I passed that morning, the shallow streams I crossed, felt familiar and known, though I’d never passed them or crossed them before.

Final Thoughts: I wound up enjoying this memoir so much more than I had anticipated. In addition to the details of the actual hike, it was fun to read about familiar locations such as Mount Lassen, Crater Lake, Mount Hood, the Timberline Lodge, and the Columbia River. I thoroughly enjoyed the audio version and was quite pleased with the reader (Bernadette Dunne), whom I originally thought was the author, as she spoke with such emotion and conviction from start to finish. And, I did not realize that Cheryl Strayed was a novelist until I began the book and suddenly had a sense of déjà vu. I had read her debut novel, Torch, almost three years ago and now realize it was somewhat autobiographical. (The main character’s mother dies of cancer at an early age, leaving behind three young children.) You can find my review for that book here. And, I plan to add Tiny Beautiful Things (Strayed's latest publication) to my TBR list.

For more information about the Pacific Crest Trail, visit this site.

The following trailer is also worth a look.

August 22, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Too busy to blog, so I leave you with yet another Wordless Wednesday.

August 15, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Being grandparents 
sufficiently removes us
from the responsibilities 
so that we can be friends. 
~Allan Frome

August 8, 2012

Wordless Wednesday


Homemade Crab Cake Sandwich.

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August 5, 2012

:: Right Now ::

Right now, I am...

:: feeling grateful for the cooler temps that greeted us this weekend. Yesterday, it was 66 degrees with cloudy skies when we headed out for our morning walk with Annie. We didn't even mind the heavy downpour that caught us unprepared. Felt like Oregon! Today is looking just a nice. Current temp: 60!

:: contemplating either a bike ride or a long walk.

:: continuing to feel excited about hand-selling The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield. Can't quote numbers, but let's just say it's A LOT!

:: enjoying the lazy summertime feeling our weekends have taken on. Coffee on the deck before breakfast at 10 am. We don't like to rush things!

:: looking forward to an evening with good friends, delicious food, wine and laughter.

:: anticipating the arrival of one very special granddaughter. Two full weeks with no traveling on my part! Nice change from last year's visit.

:: wondering how many ice cream shops my husband will want to visit with a certain 10-year-old granddaughter.

:: hoping to get in some long walks and bike rides to work off said ice cream.

:: eager to get back to Lisa Genova's latest novel, Love Anthony. I started it last night and read 50 pages before turning out the light. So far, it's wonderful!

:: wishing I could read faster. I'm anxious to dive into Broken Harbor (Tana French), Off the Grid (P.J. Tracy), The Light Between Oceans (M.L. Stedman) and Sharp Objects (Gillian Flynn).

:: happy to wash dishes, vacuum and iron shirts so I can listen to Ready Player One (Ernest Cline) on my Nano. What a great audiobook! Thanks for the recommendation, Trish!

:: sorry I didn't think to get tickets to see Crosby, Stills and Nash at the Pinewood Bowl this month.

:: pleased with a delicious new salad recipe from the Home Cooking with Trish Yearwood cookbook.

:: proud of my daughter's culinary endeavors. "Amy Bars" are now available for purchase at Bolsa Mercado in Dallas, TX!

:: having fun with the Photoaday August challenge. I've missed messing around with my camera on a daily basis.

:: listening to my dog chase rabbits in her sleep.

:: thinking about the wonderful movies we watched this weekend. I highly recommend Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Unmistaken Child, the latter of which is quite thought-provoking.

:: happy for my 3-day weekends.

:: looking forward to more "mild" summer days. We had the windows open for the first time in weeks!

::Right Now:: was inspired by Amanada Soule of SouleMama

August 4, 2012

Tout Sweet

Nonfiction - Memoir
2011 Sourcebooks, Inc.
Finished on 7/15/12
Rating: 3/5 (So-so)
Paris in July Challenge 2012

My new home has no indoor loo, no bathtub, no kitchen sink and no hot water. It has flowery brown wallpaper in almost every room, damp climbing up the crumbly walls and a gaping hole looking down into a dank cellar instead of a kitchen floor. Then there’s the pile of rubbish the size of the Pyrenees in the rear courtyard. I don’t even have the clothes for this kind of life. After a decade and a half of working in fashion, most of my wardrobe is designed for going to cocktail parties—or, at the very least, breakfast at Claridges—and my shoes are so high that I need a Sherpa and an oxygen tank to wear them.

Publisher’s Blurb:

Thirtysomething fashion editor Karen has it all: a handsome boyfriend, a fabulous flat in west London, and an array of gorgeous shoes. But when her boyfriend leaves, she makes an unexpected decision: to hang up her Manolos and wave good-bye to her glamorous city lifestyle to go it alone in a run-down house in rural Poitou-Charentes, central western France.

Acquiring a host of new friends and unsuitable suitors, she learns that true happiness might be found in the simplest of things—a bike ride through the countryside on a summer evening, or a glass of wine or three in her neighbor’s courtyard.

Tout Sweet is the perfect read for anyone who dreams of chucking away their BlackBerry in favor of real blackberrying and downshifting to a romantic, alluring locale where new friendships, and new loves, are just some of the treasures to be found amongst life’s simple pleasures.

For me, a book full of Post-It flags is typically the sign of a great read. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Tout Sweet. My dear friend Bellezza sent me this book many months ago and it wasn’t until the Paris in July challenge began that I felt compelled to pick it up. I read it in bits and pieces over the course of two weeks and enjoyed it well enough, but it’s not one that I’m singing praises of. There was just something missing that kept it from becoming a hit.

As mentioned, I found several passages worth noting, in spite of my lackluster reaction to this memoir.

On le “colourful” style Français:

And now, here I am, just over a year since I signed the acte final, standing outside Maison Coquelicot, feeling panicked by what I have taken on. I have a feeling that she—for I have decided that the house is definitely feminine—is going to be quite a handful. It doesn’t help that what I know about DIY could be written on the back of a button and that my practical skills start and end at unscrewing lipsticks and spraying scent onto tester strips.

I stand in the fierce afternoon sun of the Poitou-Charentes and try to visualize the façade re-rendered with lime plaster and painted creamy white, the dull brown shutters transformed with a coat of pale blue-grey, and hot pink geraniums in terracotta pots lined up on the windowsills. My mission, I remind myself, is to restore this unloved little house to a thing of beauty—to turn Maison Coquelicot into the quintessence of le style Francais. I will give this sad little house back its soul and, in the process, I will learn to lead a simpler, less superficial and more connected life (and stop buying so many pairs of shoes).

In contrast to the fashionably minimal décor of my old flat in London, I plan to fill Maison Coquelicot with colour and rustic comforts. The petit salon will be decorated with chintz curtains, colourful rugs and fat sofas piled high with faded floral cushions. The kitchen will have open shelving crammed with storage jars, colourful old china and wooden bowls filled with plump aubergines, lemons and bell peppers. And in the bedrooms I will have cream-coloured iron beds covered with linen sheets and flowery patterned eiderdowns, while the dressing table will overflow with antique perfume bottles and bath oils.

I will fill the small courtyard with scented roses, orange-pink geraniums, climbing jasmine and herbs growing in terracotta pots as well as beaten-up wicker chairs and an antique wrought iron table. I will string a row of twinkling fairy lights along the stone walks, watering can in one hand and a glass of ice-cold rose in the other. Maison Coquelicot will burst with colour and pattern and pieces of furniture that look like they have been there forever. There will be stacks of colourful books at every turn, jugs of sweet peas, roses and peonies placed on every surface and candles and antique mirrors in every room. And, most importantly of all, there will be a roaring fire (and willow baskets overflowing with logs) in the petit salon, so that in the evening the house will glow with warmth.

Hmmm, apparently Karen needs to find another word for “colorful.”

On French food markets:

There is a food market taking place in the shadow of Notre Dame Cathedral and, unlike the few stalls that pass for a market in Villiers, this appears to be the real French deal. People are bustling around with baskets or pull-along shopping trolleys, squeezing, sniffing or sampling the goods. Many stalls sell just one product—goat’s cheese, artichokes or exotic looking breads[…]

The produce itself looks very alluring: purple-green cabbages sprouting like big flower brooches, small black prunes glistening like jet beads, heads of purple and white garlic strung together like a necklace. There are aubergines, the same opulent shade of purple-black as a YSL smoking, piles of large mushrooms, their undersides pleated like a Vionnet gown, and stalls selling pungent frills of parsley and basil or velvety green leaves of sage, while plump and shiny red and green peppers nestle in wooden boxes. Unfortunately, none of this is much use to me as I am weeks, if not months, away from a functioning kitchen and mostly living on bread and Brie.

On walking in the French countryside:

And so, on Sunday afternoon on the first day of spring, I put on my trainers and start to walk. I tell myself that I will just walk to the next village of St. Maurice, which is about half a mile away. I walk downhill from Villiers towards the old village with its hotchpotch of old houses with mismatched terracotta-tiled roofs, the peeling paint of the blue-grey shutters visible in the spring sunshine and an explosion of orange-pink geraniums on doorsteps and windowsills. The smell of woodsmoke and damp earth has been replaced by a fresh greenness—notes of green shoots and sap combined with a hint of white florals, most noticeably jasmine. Crossing the little stone bridge, I arrive at the twelfth-century church which has lain on my doorstep, unexplored, for a full seven months.

Ah. The ubiquitous blue-grey shutters and orange-pink geraniums. ;)

On life’s simple pleasures:

I find pleasure in the simple, daily rituals of French life: waking up to the peal of church bells and birds singing above the high stone walls; throwing open the shutters first thing to the sight of sunshine and geraniums; walking up to the bakery on the square to buy freshly baked croissants. And then, after a day working at my computer, the early evening ritual of watering the roses and the potted herbs—basil, sage, chives and rosemary—in the courtyard signifies that it’s time to relax. My favourite ritual of all, however, is hanging out the washing. Having lived in a top-floor flat with no outside space for most of my last ten years in London, being able to peg my clothes on a washing line and watch as they sway seductively in a subtle breeze is a real luxury. There is no bottled scent as lovely as that of just-washed cotton sheets hung out to dry in the sun. Finally, I have found pleasures that do not involve a credit card.

In addition to the repetitive nature of Wheeler’s descriptions, I have another quibble about the author’s style. On many occasions, she will have one individual speaking a line or two of dialogue and within the same paragraph, another person will reply. Here is just one example:

It turned out that Dave had also invited an English friend, Miranda, to dinner. “I think you’ll like her,” he said. “She’s been living out here for about ten years and she’s hilarious.”

“How do you know her?” I asked. “She’s helped me out a lot with translation. I met her in the estate agent’s office when she was doing some translating for Victor.”

Those last two lines in red are spoken by Dave, not Karen. It became very confusing trying to sort of who was saying what. This may be isolated to the ARC, but I don’t have a copy of the finished product available to compare the text. I certainly hope that this was all sorted out before the final press run.

Speaking of Dave, I did not care for him (or his obnoxious son) one bit! I didn’t trust him and felt he was using Karen. He conveniently forgot his wallet on more than one occasion, forcing Karen to loan him quite a bit of money, which he never seemed to think was a big deal. It was a very strange friendship and I was never quite sure where it was heading.

I also thought it a bit odd to end the final paragraph of this book with the following:

…And as I turn into the square in Villiers, my heart beats just a little faster at the thought of my new neighbour, who is heading home with my telephone number—so casually asked for—in his pocket. Have you enjoyed this book?

Final Thoughts: In spite of its flaws, Tout Sweet is a mildly entertaining travel memoir. Bellezza and Andi both loved the book, so please read their reviews (here and here) before deciding against it simply because of my ho-hum review.

You may read more about Wheeler’s life in France here.

August 1, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

No relief in sight.

Go here for more information. (Scroll down to text.) Note that this forecast is from July 24th, not August  1st.

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