October 19, 2014

{Gratitude Lately}

Lately, I've been thankful for

Neighborhood trails
for afternoon walks

Fall colors
with birds chirping

Blue skies,
Smiling at me...

Splashes of red

Perennials that never fail to please
(Sedum, 'Autumn Joy')

Undemanding lilies

Roses that continue to blooming

Neighborhood parks
for future Husker recruits

Children laughing
in the park

Falling gas prices

Hardy annuals
and garden angels

Former Boy Scouts
who keep my fires burning

and Happy Hour on the patio,
followed by a Husker win!

Happy Sunday, friends!
What are you grateful for this week?

For more Gratitude posts, click here

October 18, 2014

The Circle

The Circle by David Eggers
2013 Random Audio
Reader: Dion Graham
Finished on August 26, 2014
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

Publisher’s Blurb:

When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

Chilling ~ The Washington Post
Prophetic ~ The New York Times
Marvelous ~ The Economist
Gripping ~ The Sunday Times (UK)
Provocative ~ USA Today
Terrifying ~ Publishers Weekly
Potent ~ Time
Foreboding ~ Los Angeles Times
Powerful ~ Newsweek

Well, that just about sums it up. I’m not sure I can come up with another adjective for this enthralling tale, one which held my attention from cover to cover. Oh, wait. I just did.

I joined Facebook in 2009, and over the past few years, have added Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Goodreads. I never thought I’d spend as much time online as I do know, and after reading Dave Egger’s novel, I’m starting to reconsider my “social footprint.” It’s been almost a month since I finished The Circle and I continue to mull over the story, chatting with my husband about its timely implications with regard to social media, privacy issues and online security breaches. I listened to the audio production (read by Dion Graham) and was anxious to return to this compelling story at every available opportunity. The novel’s frenetic pace is perfect for an audio book and I caught myself holding my breath on more than one occasion.

On the appeal of TruYou:
Ty had devised the initial system, the Unified Operating System, which combined everything online that had heretofore been separate and sloppy—users’ social media profiles, their payment systems, their various passwords, their email accounts, user names, preferences, every last tool and manifestation of their interests. The old way—a new transaction, a new system, for every site, for every purchase—it was like getting into a different car to run any one kind of errand. “You shouldn’t have to have eighty-seven different cars,” he’d said, later, after his system had overtaken the web and the world.

Instead, he put all of it, all of every user’s needs and tools, into one pot and invented TruYou—one account, one identity, one password, one payment system, per person. There were no more passwords, no multiple identities. Your devices knew who you were, and your one identity—the TruYou, unbendable and unmaskable—was the person paying, signing up, responding, viewing and reviewing, seeing and being seen. You had to use your real name, and this was tied to your credit cards, your bank, and thus paying for anything was simple. One button for the rest of your life online.

To use any of the Circle’s tools, and they were the best tools, the most dominant and ubiquitous and free, you had to do so as yourself, as your actual self, as your TruYou. The era of false identities, identity theft, multiple user names, complicated passwords and payment systems, was over. Anytime you wanted to see anything, use anything, comment on anything or buy anything, it was one button, one account, everything tied together and trackable and simple, all of it operable via mobile or laptop, tablet or retinal. Once you had a single account, it carried you through every corner of the web, every portal, every pay site, everything you wanted to do.

And those who wanted or needed to track the movements of consumers online had found their Valhalla: the actual buying habits of actual people were now eminently mappable and measurable, and the marketing to those actual people could be done with surgical precision. Most TruYou users, most internet users who simply wanted simplicity, efficiency, a clean and streamlined experience, were thrilled with the results. No longer did they have to memorize twelve identities and passwords; no longer did they have to tolerate the madness and rage of the anonymous hordes; no longer did they have to put up with buckshot marketing that guessed, at best, within a mile of their desires. Now the messages they did get were focused and accurate and, most of the time, even welcome.

Final Thoughts:

The Circle is not my first encounter with Dave Eggers’ writing. I actually started Zeitoun (a nonfiction work about a man, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, who was arrested after helping his neighbors during Hurricane Katrina) several years ago, but had to set it aside and, unfortunately, have never returned to it. I now plan to go back and read it from the very beginning, as it was quite compelling.

If you enjoyed the film The Minority Report (loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s short story of the same name), or thought Ready Player One by Ernest Cline was a great read, this is just the book for you! Prescient, intelligent and highly addictive, this novel is one you won’t want to miss.

More praise for The Circle:

The Circle is Brave New World for our brave new world… Now that we all live and move and have our being in the panopticon, Egger’s novel may be just fast enough, witty enough and troubling enough to make us glance away from our twerking Vines and consider how life has been reshaped by a handful of clever marketers…. There may come a day when we can look back at this novel with incredulity, but for now, the mirror it holds up is too chilling to LOL. ~ The Washington Post

A vivid, roaring dissent to the companies that have coaxed us to disgorge every thought and action onto the Web…. Carries the potential to change how the world views its addicted, compliant thrall to all things digital. If you work in Silicon Valley, or just care about what goes on there, you need to pay attention. ~ The Wall Street Journal

Eggers reminds us how digital utopianism can lead to the datafication of our daily lives, how a belief in the wisdom of the crowd can lead to mob rule, how the embrace of ‘the hive mind’ can lead to a diminution of the individual. ~ Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“A deft modern synthesis of Swiftian wit with Orwellian prognostication.” ~ The Guardian (UK)

“A stunning work of terrifying plausibility, a cautionary tale of subversive power in the digital age suavely packaged as a Silicon Valley social satire. Set in the near future, it examines the inner workings of the Circle, an internet company that is both spiritual and literal successor to Facebook, Google, Twitter and more, as seen through the eyes of Mae Holland, a new hire who starts in customer service . . . Eggers presents a Swiftian scenario so absurd in its logic and compelling in its motives . . . sneaking up on the reader before delivering its warnings of the future, a worthy and entertaining read.”
—Publishers Weekly (Starred)

October 15, 2014

We'll Always Have Paris

We’ll Always Have Paris: A Mother/Daughter Memoir by Jennifer Coburn
Nonfiction/Travel Memoir
2014 Sourcebooks, Inc.
Finished on August 13, 2014
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher’s Blurb:

How her daughter and her passport taught Jennifer to live like there’s no tomorrow.

Jennifer Coburn has always been terrified of dying young. So she decides to save up and drop everything to travel with her daughter, Katie, on a whirlwind European adventure before it’s too late. Even though her husband can’t join them, even though she’s nervous about the journey, and even though she’s perfectly healthy, Jennifer is determined to jam her daughter’s mental photo album with memories—just in case.

From the caf├ęs of Paris to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Jennifer and Katie take on Europe one city at a time, united by their desire to see the world and spend precious time together. In this heartwarming generational love story, Jennifer reveals how their adventures helped vanquish her fear of dying… for the sake of living.

When my daughter was 10, I took her to London for two weeks while my husband stayed home and slaved over a hot computer (his choice, mind you). I’ll never forget one of my girlfriends remarking on how brave I was to travel overseas by myself with a fairly young child. It never occurred to me to be afraid. And, it wasn’t as if I was going to be completely alone. At the time, one of my best friends was living in London and not only did she and her son join us on several excursions in and around London, but she also supplied me with all the pertinent information I needed in order to travel by bus and train to see Stonehenge, Bath, Salisbury, Windsor and Hampton Court Palace when she wasn’t able to accompany us. We did just fine and it was truly a lovely and memorable holiday.

(Squinting in the hot sun!)

Two years later, after receiving a small inheritance from my grandmother (who adored traveling just as much as I do), I asked Amy to pick another destination for a Mother-Daughter adventure. We had already gone skiing in Breckenridge and spent a long (albeit chilly!) weekend shopping, playing tennis and lounging by the pool at the Hyatt Regency in in Scottsdale, so I was curious to see what she would pick for our next getaway. A fashionista in the making, she chose New York City! And again, a friend exclaimed that I was “so brave!” to travel to the Big Apple without my husband, let alone with my 12-year-old daughter. I wasn’t worried. I have a great sense of direction (as does Amy), our destination didn’t require learning a new language, and we didn’t have to worry about looking the opposite direction while crossing the street. How dangerous could it be? It turned out to be another wonderful vacation filled with 10 days of sightseeing, museums, shopping, Broadway shows, fine dining, long walks (from the Guggenheim Museum down to Battery Park), and pampering in a beautiful hotel. We both had a blast!

So when I came across Coburn’s memoir in the travel section at Barnes & Noble, I was immediately drawn to the colorful cover art (as well as the subtitle), and decided it was not only the perfect choice for the Paris in July reading challenge, but one which would also appeal to my insatiable wanderlust. Amy spent some time in Paris while studying Fashion Merchandising at TCU, but I have never been. Last year, I devoured Paris in Love by Eloisa James and was looking forward to another book filled with travel anecdotes, as well as one that could provide me with specific recommendations for restaurants and hotel accommodations. While not terrible, We’ll Always Have Paris was nowhere near as good as Eloisa James’ memoir and I wound up with far less than half the Post-It Notes marking pages of beautiful passages or travel information for future reference. While both writers delve into their personal histories, sharing their thoughts on death and struggles with grief, James’ writing is tender and lyrical with a fine balance of humor thrown in, while Coburn’s is flat and, at times, whiney. I was surprised, the further I read, that Coburn’s book not only includes her trip to Paris and London in 2005, but also Italy in 2008, Spain in 2011, and Amsterdam and Paris in 2013. This, along with alternating narratives about her parents and her childhood may have been a bit ambitious for one book; the travel segments are glossed over and the transitions between narratives are anything but smooth.

Final Thoughts:

A fairly quick read, but not worth owning. If you must, get it from your local library. Or better yet, get a copy of Paris in Love by Eloisa James. That one’s a winner!

October 12, 2014

Sunday Salon

Yay, me! Another Sunday Salon post and it hasn't even been a month since the last one I shared. I'm on a roll! :) 

Let's catch up, shall we?

Reading:: I've just about made it to the last quarter of The Dog Stars (Peter Heller) and I'm so anxious for my husband to get some free time to read this excellent post-apocalyptic novel, which came highly recommended by a good friend. There was actually a point at which I was ready to call it quits, but as soon as I turned the next page, I was hooked! I haven't heard too much buzz about this book from other bloggers. Have any of you read it? I can't wait to see how it ends!

Finished:: Since my last SS post, I've managed to finish Ruth Reichl's novel, Delicious, and Donna Tartt's chunkster, The Goldfinch. I'm hoping to get my reviews written in the coming week, but since I'm still playing catch-up (posting reviews from August reads), I'm not going to worry too much if those don't get written until next weekend. In any event, neither of these two books wowed me, but I'm glad I read/listened to them.

Listening:: Since finishing The Goldfinch, I haven't been able to settle on a new audio book, which is a bit distressing since I've come to love audios as a way to help pass the time while performing mundane projects at work. I had hoped to listen to All the Light We Cannot See (which I loved in the print format), but my library's downloadable edition doesn't not allow for Apple products. Very disappointing! I'm currently downloading Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury), as well as 13 1/2 (Nevada Barr) and The Tortilla Curtain (T.C. Boyle). We'll see which captures my interest when I had out for my afternoon walk.

Ignoring:: Yes, I still have 11/22/63 (Stephen King) on my Nook, but haven't felt compelled to return to it just yet. I think I set it aside when I started East of Eden, and I definitely plan to get back to it. Just waiting for the right moment. Perhaps in a couple of weeks when I fly out to California...

Next Up:: I have a huge pile of books on my nightstand, but I'm hoping to continue with the stack I put together for my Top Ten for Spring list. That list was probably a bit too ambitious for me, as I'm easily distracted by the latest and greatest in new releases at work. I will have finished five books in that stack when I finish The Dog Stars and I'm really looking forward to diving into the remaining six books. Maybe it's time for some nonfiction... I've had A Homemade Life on my shelves for a such a long time and, who knows, maybe I'll get inspired to do more cooking from my cookbooks once I read her foodie memoir. Couldn't hurt!

Planning:: We're getting together for dinner with a friend at our favorite Mexican restaurant, so I don't need to worry about what to fix for dinner and can enjoy the afternoon, once I finish a little housework. It's a gorgeous day and I plan to head out for a walk before the rain arrives later this afternoon. I don't think it's going to be terribly warm (mid-60's), but the sun is shining and I'm anxious to see some of the pretty trees as I make my way down the bike trail. 

Anticipating:: Did I mention a trip to California? :) Yep, I'm heading out to San Diego & Manhattan Beach for a week! I'm super excited to finally meet my great-nephew...

Declan Jackson
(5 months)

... and spend some time with the rest of the family. A large group of us are gathering in MB for a cousins' reunion, which should be great fun!

I hope everyone is having a nice, relaxing Sunday. Time to head out for that walk!

October 11, 2014

Is This Tomorrow

Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt
2013 HighBridge Audio
Reader: Xe Sands
Finished on August 4, 2014
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)

Publisher’s Blurb:

In 1956, Ava Lark rents a house with her twelve-year-old son, Lewis, in a desirable Boston suburb. Ava is beautiful, divorced, Jewish, and a working mom. She finds her neighbors less than welcoming. Lewis yearns for his absent father, befriending the only other fatherless kids: Jimmy and Rose. One afternoon, Jimmy goes missing. The neighborhood—in the throes of Cold War paranoia—seizes the opportunity to further ostracize Ava and her son.

Years later, when Lewis and Rose reunite to untangle the final pieces of the tragic puzzle, they must decide: Should you tell the truth even if it hurts those you love, or, should some secrets remain buried?

This was a big hit among several blogging friends, but I found is less than remarkable. Ava Lark began to get on my nerves about halfway through the novel and the narrative seemed to ramble on and on. I was very disappointed with the ending and now wonder if perhaps this is one to read rather than listen to on audio.

October 5, 2014

{Gratitude Lately}

Lately, I've been thankful for

 Quiet Saturday mornings
 to plan ahead for the coming week

Neighborhood markets with shady spots
for these two to wait while I run in for ice cream

Roses in September
from my garden

 Neighbors with green thumbs

 The beauty of zinnias

A new Samsung Galaxy S5
and its amazing camera

Healthier options for my
creamy dressing addiction

Cooler temperatures 

and the color yellow

Morning commutes with 
breathtaking skies

 Autumn rain showers...

Six inches of rain (in 24 hours)
and dry basements

and discovering simple joys 
 on afternoon walks.

Happy Sunday, friends!
What are you grateful for this week?

For more Gratitude posts, click here

October 4, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
2014 Scribner
Finished on July 27, 2014
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)

A tender exploration of this world’s paradoxes: the beauty of the laws of nature and the terrible ends to which war subverts them; the frailty and the resilience of the human heart; the immutability of a moment and the healing power of time. The language is as expertly crafted as the master locksmith’s models in the story and the setting as intricately evoked. ~ M. L. Stedman, author of The Light Between Oceans

Publisher’s Blurb:

A blind child, Marie-Laure, lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When Marie-Laure is twelve, the Germans occupy Paris and father and daughter flee—carrying what might be the museum’s most valuable diamond—to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea.

In another world, in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes a master at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Nazi Germany, beyond the Russian front and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

Anthony Doerr is the author of the story collections Memory Wall and The Shell Collector, the novel About Grace, and the memoir Four Seasons in Rome. He has won numerous prizes, including four O. Henry Prizes, three Pushcart Prizes, the Rome Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, The National Magazine Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Story Prize.

This may be the best book I’ve read this year.

When I first began reading All the Light We Cannot See, I immediately noticed the short chapters (most averaging only two to four pages in length) and found that I could read longer and later into the night, telling myself, “Just one more chapter.” But then summer arrived with a flurry of activities, travel and a house guest and time slipped away from me, often without a single page read for several days. And then when I did have the time or energy to read, I could only seem to manage a chapter or two, in spite of the author’s gorgeous prose and endearing characters. I began this book on June 15th and did not reach the final page for another six weeks. Had I started this in the dead of winter, I would have easily raced through it in less than a week; it was that good. And yet, in spite of a rather fragmented reading experience, I still choose to give this magnificent novel a perfect 5/5 rating.

Up and down the lanes, the last unevacuated townspeople wake, groan, sigh. Spinsters, prostitutes, men over sixty. Procrastinators, collaborators, disbelievers, drunks. Nuns of every order. The poor. The stubborn. The blind.

Some hurry to bomb shelters. Some tell themselves it is merely a drill. Some linger to grab a blanket or a prayer book or a deck of playing cards.

D-day was two months ago. Cherbourg has been liberated, Caen liberated, Rennes too. Half of western France is free. In the east, the Soviets have retaken Minsk; the Polish Home Army is revolting in Warsaw; a few newspapers have become bold enough to suggest that the tide has turned.

But not here. Not this last citadel at the edge of the continent, this final German strongpoint on the Breton coast.

Here, people whisper, the Germans have renovated two kilometers of subterranean corridors under the medieval walls; they have built new defenses, new conduits, new escape routes, underground complexes of bewildering intricacy. Beneath the peninsular fort of La Cite, across the river from the old city, there are rooms of bandages, rooms of ammunition, even and underground hospital, or so it is believed. There is air-conditioning, a two-hundred-thousand-liter water tank, a direct line to Berlin. There are flame-throwing booby traps, a net of pillboxes with periscopic sights; they have stockpiled enough ordnance to spray shells into the sea all day, every day, for a year.

Here, they whisper, are a thousand Germans ready to die. Or five thousand. Maybe more.

Simple Joys in Fearful Times:
Eggs crack. Butter pops in the hot pan. Her father is telling an abridged story of their flight, train stations, bleating crowds, omitting the stop in Evreux, but soon all of Marie-Laure’s attention is absorbed by the smells blooming around her: egg, spinach, melting cheese.

An omelet arrives. She positions her face over its steam. “May I please have a fork?”

The old woman laughs: a laugh Marie-Laure warms to immediately. In an instant a fork is fitted into her hand.

The eggs taste like clouds. Like spun gold. Madame Manec says, “I think she likes it,” and laughs again.

A second omelet soon appears. Now it is her father who eats quickly. “How about peaches, dear?” murmurs Madame Manec, and Marie-Laure can hear a can opening, juice slopping into a bowl. Seconds later, she’s eating wedges of wet sunlight.

An Occupied Village:
If there are fireflies this summer, they do not come down the rue Vauborel. Now it seems there are only shadows and silence. Silence is the fruit of the occupation; it hangs in branches, seeps from gutters. Madame Guiboux, mother of the shoemaker, has left town. As has old Madame Blanchard. So many windows are dark. It’s as if the city has become a library of books in an unknown language, the houses great shelves of illegible volumes, the lamps all extinguished.

A Gray World:
For portions of every day, she manages to lose herself in realms of memory; the faint impressions of the visual world before she was six, when Paris was like a vast kitchen, pyramids of cabbages and carrots everywhere; bakers’ stalls overflowing with pastries; fish stacked like cordwood in the fishmongers’ booths, the runnels awash in silver scales, alabaster gulls swooping down to carry off entrails. Every corner she turned billowed with color: the greens of leeks, the deep purple glaze of eggplants.

Now her world has turned gray. Gray faces and gray quiet and a gray nervous terror hanging over the queue at the bakery and the only color in the world briefly kindled when Etienne climbs the stairs to the attic, knees cracking, to read one more string of numbers into the ether, to send another of Madame Ruelle’s messages, to play a song. That little attic bursting with magenta and aquamarine and gold for five minutes, and then the radio switches off, and the gray rushes back in, and her uncle stumps down the stairs.

On Bravery:
“When I lost my sight, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life…”

Final Thoughts:

This gorgeous novel is destined to become a classic! Doerr’s luminescent prose brings to mind Pat Conroy’s lyrical descriptions in Beach Music, another all-time favorite of mine. I loved Doerr’s finely crafted and unpredictable story and look forward to reading some of his other works, as well as listening to the audio edition of All the Light We Cannot See. Yes, another World War II novel, but I strongly encourage everyone to read this dazzling novel. Quite simply, it’s a masterpiece.

Go here to listen to Doer’s interview on NPR.