LiNo’s Libros: Matilda

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Matilda. I’ve been waiting for this moment ever since I became an aunt. It claims the top spot on my list of favorite children’s books, and even made the cut of my top ten books of all time.

Lily is going to see the musical this week, so we read it together before she saw it live.

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Booh and Tim had already read it to her a few years ago, but that didn’t deter me. Or her. Or Roald — whose name I’ve apparently been saying wrong my entire life. Don’t mind me.

We sped through this one, faster than all LiNo’s choices before it.

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I still got the funny views during our Facetime sessions. This was the first time we used the same edition, which was also fun.

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Now on to our questions — perhaps her funniest bits yet.

Lily’s Questions:

1. Do you think Mr. Wormwood even got a degree?

M: Maybe he got a degree in sales?

L: That doesn’t explain why he cheats. Remember when he said “Why would you want to go to university?” My answer is N-O. Because he just cheats.

2. If the Trunchbull was your aunt, what would her aunt name be?

M: Instead of NoNo, it might be NO NO, or Auntie Aggie.

L: I’d just call her “Aunt” when she’s around, but with my friends she’s “The Bull” (note to self, find out what she calls me to her friends)

3. If you could rename The Red House, what would it be?

L: I picked The Rose House.

M: Happy Home!

4. If you had a magic power, what would it be?

L: I’d shape shift.

M: I’d multiply myself to get more accomplished every day.

L: Oh yeah, like 1% here, 1% in Miami and 1% that’s yourself. Like you’re a holographic image with a mind of its own. Or you’d produce huge gusts of wind to play instruments.

5. If you were Matilda, what would your pranks be? Pick 3.

M: I’ll tell you three real pranks I’ve done. First is when we were younger, your mom and I convinced Ubie that to become a fairy, we had to put magic in his hair, so we put weeds, dirt and bugs all over his head. Second…I like to tell lies that are jokes. Just ask Mikey Joe. Third, one time I hid my backpack when I got home from school so your mom wouldn’t know I was there. What about you?

L: For the first prank, I’d make the house haunted with loud sounds while I’m invisible as a shape-shifter. My second one is, when my parents are asleep, I’d put glitter glue in their hair just for the fun of it. Then the last one would be pranking my parents into thinking there had been a robbery. I’d leave muddy footprints in the hall and out the front door, draw tire tracks, hide something rare, and then take the phone so they can’t call the police. Oh, I’d also take the car keys.

M: Well, that’s elaborate.

NoNo’s Questions

1. Roald Dahl plays with words when naming his characters, like Wormwood, Trunchbull and Miss Honey. Based on the names I’ve made up, how would you describe these characters?

Agnus Mudhaven

L: feisty, middle-aged, messy, a reader

Caroline Sweetwater

sweet, kind, also feisty and likes to travel

Oliver Scabby

also feisty, good moods/bad moods, mostly in-between, angers easily

Boris Bearton

into hunting and a football fan

Lily C****** (her name)

smart, nice, a bit bossy, reader and loves school

2. *Spoiler Alert* What did you think when the twist was revealed that the Trunchbull was Miss Honey’s aunt?

L: Nothing, I was calm. My mom says I don’t have a heart.

Booh: I only said that because you didn’t cry when Sirius died in Harry Potter. (okay, another spoiler alert)

3. How would you have changed the ending?

L: I would have liked an epilogue of when Matilda grows up and goes to college and becomes a famous librarian.

M: I wanted her parents to have a change of heart and not abandon her.

L: I like them without a heart, in a good kind of way.

4. Give the book a new title.

L: The Magician

M: Brains and the Boss

5. How are you like Matilda and how are you different?

L: We both like books and libraries, but my parents like me. And I don’t live in England.

Next up: Fablehaven!

Past LiNo’s Libros:

Nancy Drew and the Mystery at Lilac Inn

The BFG

The Indian in the Cupboard

Shelf Life: Spring 2017

Everyone indulge me for a second and make some air quotes with your fingers. Now, do this every time I use the word “Spring.” Because that’s what Spring (“Spring”) is in Wyoming — fake. We encountered some promise when our Aspen trees started showing these little furry blooms in March. Of course, they were covered in snow/ice most of the time. Notice the branch-cicles behind it.

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Then those grew into weird prickly, fuzzies…

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…that ended up blanketing our yard when they weren’t buried in snow.

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And, oh, the icicles. We had two hanging on either side of our front door — both over 5 feet in length — for weeks. Here’s part of one. It made our entrance look very menacing. I wish I had something for scale in this pic, because it’s actually two pictures stitched together and it’s not even showing the whole thing.

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And they took FOR-EV-ER to melt. One single drop at a time…which I tried to capture because we literally just heard that tap-tap-tap non-stop for weeks.

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But here are the April pictures, and probably the most realistic of what we’re experiencing this Spring. There are no flowers here, but we do have these cute little blooms on one of our other trees. Blooms and snow, people.

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And here’s the crazy storm we had last week for reference. Sorry for the quick cell phone pics. Normally you’d be able to see Joe’s car from our front door, but the trees on either side of the sidewalk were leaning close to the ground from the wet snow.

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And here are more branches leaning on the brand new windshield I had installed the week before from, what else, snow.

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Everyone says it’ll be better by the end of May. Until then….

Let’s talk books! Not the best quarter for quantity, but I was happy with the quality and the fact that I’m knocking out my goal of reading all the books of my shelf I’ve never read. It feels so. good. Especially when Joe and I are totally embracing this minimalism lifestyle. We are on quite a roll right now tackling clutter (what I actually gave up for Lent this year) of all kinds — physical, digital, emotional. You name it. We’re an army of two right now and it feels amazing. Here are the books that have helped keep me sane this Spring:

1. The Fate of the Tearling, Erika Johansen

I’ve been waiting for this book–the final installment of the Tearling Trilogy–for a very long time. I read the first two books (here and here) almost back to back in late 2015 (and LOVED them), and then I had to wait over a year to see how it all ended. Early reviews were tepid. No one really liked how she handled the ending, and it made me nervous/sad to actually dig in. But, I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t really have any expectations of what should happen and I certainly couldn’t predict the direction she went, but that was fine with me. I was just glad to have some peace with it and I still think it’s a fantastic series.

2. The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty

I don’t even know if I should add this here, but I did read a few from The Wide Net series so I guess it counts. Nothing blew me away and I actually had to put it down because the one I was reading last was so slow. I still have quite a few to get through, so maybe I should just give myself permission to skip any that spark little to no interest after a few pages. To be continued with this massive book.

3. Catch-22, Joseph Heller

I’ve heard there are two kinds of people: those two think Catch-22 is a genius masterpiece and those who abhor it. I’ve been moving my parents’ old copy for years and never cracked its cover, so I was excited to see which pole claimed my name. Love or hate? Genius or ridiculous? Good news, everyone. I’m in the genius category! (*wink*) It does take a certain kind of mindset to read it, but wow is it funny and so relatable too. I think the madness experienced by those soldiers is similar to the madness one can feel working in non-profit or even academia. Things we know a little about. But I found it genius to the core. Those who have read it, tell me what you thought!

4. Closing Time, Joseph Heller

And because I just couldn’t stop, I also read Catch-22‘s sequel right after — it’s been sitting on my shelf as long as its predecessor. This was written 30-plus years after Catch-22 and finds characters at the end of their lives–at a similar point for Joseph Heller, too, who died less than five years after it was released. I didn’t love this. There were funny parts, yes, and the same satirical mania still coursed through its pages, but it didn’t have the same spark. Some character’s story lines were better than others, but overall I wouldn’t recommend it. Leave the characters in the war and just imagine what happens next. It’ll save you almost 500 pages.

5. Nancy Drew and The Mystery at Lilac Inn, Carolyn Keene

LiNo’s Libros strikes again! Click here to read all about it. 

6. Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, Bob Spitz

Oh, Julia. Queen of my world these days. I really love digging into anything I can about her–much like my obsession with Jackie Kennedy, which began when I was in middle school. This was the most in-depth account of her life I’ve read thus far and even though I really enjoyed it, it did take quite a while for me to get through it. Maybe I was savoring it like the last bites of a big meal? I was surprised at her early life through college, how she never found her stride and wasn’t confident in the least. There were so many similarities between her and Paul and me and Joe, too. When they were in their mid-thirties, they had just finished working for the war effort and found themselves feeling a little lost trying to find their footing and next steps. (#usinwyoming) For them, the next steps were Paris and the rest is history. Hands down, I’m completely smitten and inspired with Julia. She’s a bulldog, she’s hilarious, she’s compassionate and she changed our country’s food culture more than anyone. Ever. There were a few moments that made me sad, especially Paul’s gradual decline and how she reacted to it, as well as her own final days, but overall I loved every moment learning more about this incredible icon. Highly recommend this for any food lovers or non-fiction lovers.

Next up in the queue:

I’ll split these into two lists since I may go back and forth from here on out. Up first, the books still left on my shelf:

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig (timing is everything)
Hemingway Collection: A lot I still haven’t read… The Sun Also Rises, In Our Time, Green Hills of Africa

Now, for the books I don’t own, but can’t wait to find. Thanks to many of you for the recs! Someday I hope to tackle them all.

A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman
My Brilliant FriendElena Ferrante
Moonglow, Michael Chabon
Everyone Behaves Badly, Lesley M. M. Blume
The Lost Art of Mixing, Erica Bauermeister
Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders
Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance
The Kind Worth Killing, Peter Swanson

# LiNo’s Libros: Nancy Drew and The Mystery at Lilac Inn

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When Lily and I created our book club, LiNo’s Libros, I immediately started a list of all the books I’d love to read with her. I wanted to share all my favorite characters, like Ramona, Harry Potter and Matilda. Also up on the list was Nancy Drew, who was the star of some of my very favorite reading experiences growing up.

Serendipitously, Memaw gave Lily the first four Nancy Drew books for her birthday last year (Memaw loved Nancy Drew, too!) and I’ve been itching to share the sleuth world with her. So we picked Book 4: The Mystery at Lilac Inn.

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Because I have all my old books (and some from when my mom was a child), the first order of business for any LiNo’s session is to compare covers. Here’s mine in all its vintage glory:

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And here’s Lily posing with her cover and magnifying glass, haha.

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Love, love, love reading with her.

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Of course, it’s also hilarious to read together this way. Typically, I can’t see her that much on the screen or I might have a bare foot dangling in my face the entire time.

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I snapped this one while she was listening to me read, but happened to capture the character’s name I loved hearing her say the most because she’d pronounce it Chief McGiggins. So precious.

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Overall, it was an interesting read. It definitely shows its age, but we still enjoyed it. Here is our final round of questions (Spoiler Alert!):

NoNo’s Questions:

1. In the book, blue lilacs are called Blue Pipes. Let’s make up some nicknames for other flowers.

Tulips
L: Spring Flowers
N: Petal Crowns

Red Roses
L: <exhales> Ruby Flowers
N: Sweet Swirls

Daffodils
L: Daffy or Taffy, or Daffy Taffy
N: Sunshine Bells

2. Nancy has help from her friends Helen and Emily. Who would you depend on for sleuth backup?

L: My friends Ashlyn and Lakshmi. Did you know I have friends from all over the world? And I’m British, Texan, Wyomian. Oh, I’m Scottish and Virginian. I’m just around the United States. Oh, I’m also Oklahoman.

N: I’d choose your mom (because she’s smart), Joe (for protection) and you (because you’re sneaky).

L: Yeah, I could fit into cracks you can’t really fit in and I’m a better actress because I’m a kid. I can walk into a room and make excuses. (HA!)

3. This story was written a long time ago and things have changed. How would the story be different if written today?

L: Instead of a convertible, Nancy would drive a Tesla or a Nissan or a Ford. And instead of rowing a boat, they’d have motorboats.

N: What about cell phones? Those would’ve helped. And what would they call skin diving now?

L: Scuba, or scuba diving.

4. My favorite creative question for any pick: What would you have called the book?

L: The Letter, or The Impersonator, or maybe The Blue Pipes. That’s not giving anything away, but it’s also not hiding it.

N: I’d pick The Two Nancys

5. Nancy was very brave and persisted to uncover the mystery, even when people were repeatedly trying to hurt her. How do you think you would have reacted? Would you have stayed at the inn, or gone home?

L: I would have stayed at the inn for like seven weeks and if it kept going I would have gone home.

N: Seven, huh?

L: I just like seven. Seven days of the week and seven parts of the brain. I just like it.

N: Totally logical. I think I would’ve been too scared if someone tried to bomb my bedroom, so I would’ve gone home pretty quickly.

 

Lily’s Questions:

1. What would you have the cover look like?

L: I would want it set back with lilac trees all over with a convertible holding Nancy.

N: When we started reading, I couldn’t remember what lilacs looked like, so I’d want it covered with blooms as a pretty reminder.

2. Do you think all covers should be the same?

N: That’s a very good question. I love when old classics are re-imagined with a new cover, but I also hate it when books have covers that reflect their movie versions.

L: I think all covers should be the same so people know what to look at. They shouldn’t have to question; they just should all be the same.

3. Do you think Nancy should say “awfully <something>” so much? Like “awfully tired” or “awfully scared” or “awfully excited.” It’s so weird.

N: Interesting observation, Lil! It’s British sounding to me.

L: Yeah! Do you think River Heights is British?

N: I’ll have to look it up.

L: They still say “awfully …..” in England, so that may be it.

4. How would you feel if you were mobbed? (mugged + robbed?)

N: violated, scared, angry

L: I’d feel depressed, nervous, angry, tearful and sarcastic.

N: Why sarcastic?

L: Because she says she’s tired of being blonde. (…?)

5. Do you think you could change a part of the story?

N: I would have made Maud bad, because there was so much valid suspicion around her.

L: I’d have capsized the boat sooner, rather than have that long conversation.

N: How would you have the background of the story then?

L: It’s kinda long, so I’d make it brief. <fakes quick conversation to replace final scene>

N: You’d make a good book editor.

 

Next up: …..my absolute #1 favorite…..Matilda!

Past LiNo’s Libros reads:  The Indian in the Cupboard and The BFG

Shelf Life: Winter 2016-17

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We are in the throes of winter. Everything is snow- and ice-covered. It’s seldom above zero, much less above freezing. #Wyoming.

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I hope these guys are somewhere safe and warm.

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No matter how many times we shovel and salt our steps, they remain covered in ice.

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And this would be our street/yard/curb, well, everything. You can’t find any point of delineation, so everyone just drives down the middle and parks on the sides. The street is also a solid sheet of ice under that snow.

No surprise — I haven’t driven my car in a month. (Yes, parents, I’ve started it and it still runs.)

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On the bright side, this is Bella’s prime time. So much of the snow is packed solid, so she can walk on top without falling to her armpits, which she does *not* enjoy. Hard to tell here, but she’s prancing on about 8+ inches of snow.

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Sweet Snow ‘Stache.

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This is a pretty meager book list for my usual Winter quarter. We’ve been busy and ended up spending close to a month in Oklahoma over the holidays, where I maybe gained 30 pages in my book. I’m slowly getting through the books on my shelves, though, so I’m feeling pretty good about it.

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

1. Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl is my spirit animal. Her love of food. Her jobs. The way she writes. It’s all glorious and I connect with it on a very deep level. I think the only one of her books I hadn’t yet read was this — her chronicle of being The New York Times‘ restaurant critic. Once she moved back to NYC from LA, Ruth quickly realizes that her picture is hanging in every kitchen; many wait staff, cooks, hosts, and dishwashers were told to keep their eyes out in case she came in. Some even were paid for information on where Ruth would dine. A Times review could make or break you. So Ruth did what she had to do: dine incognito, creating no less than six different characters that frequented all of NYC’s most-famous and most-expensive haunts. Her tales of both harsh and red-carpet treatment and mind-blowing and forgetful meals flow off the page. And the stories are peppered with recipes, because…it’s Ruth, who says “This book is going to have recipes instead of pictures because I want you to be able to taste what I am talking about.” At one point, Ruth’s husband is reminding her why she does this, and it perfectly sums up why I love her and why I connect with everything she says: “I remembered when you got into this it was almost a spiritual thing with you. You love to eat, you love to write, you love the generosity of cooks and what happens around the table when a great meal is served.” More than once (okay, maybe once a page) I thought how wonderful it would be to get paid to eat and write about it. But something tells me vegetarian food critics are not that desirable. Either way — Ruth is inspiring, hilarious, honest and her life exciting. I devoured every page and give it four stars.

2. The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty

I’ve loved Eudora Welty since high school–her characters and vivid descriptions of southern life leaping off the page and speaking to my Oklahoma heart. I have kept a beautiful copy of her collected stories on display in my living room for years. But I bet I haven’t read 75% of them! I’ve decided to plow through all 41 of them (totaling over 600 pages), one collection at a time. Arranged in chronological order, the first set is A Curtain of Green and Other Stories–a 17-story collection from 1941 that runs the gamut from the poignant to the profane. My favorites included Why I Live at the P.O. (which I had read before, but still love), A Memory, A Curtain of Green and Death of a Traveling Salesman. It might have been a little tough to stomach stories about the south written in the ’40s when watching the election coverage pour in, but still worth a dive into this unique perspective.

3. The Sweet Life in Paris, David Lebovitz

A few years ago, when I realized I only wanted to write about food (ha!), my aunt sent me a box of books from her shelves. Some were fiction, some were non-fiction, but all of them were about food. Garlic and Sapphires (see above) was one of them, and this was the last. I’m no stranger to David Lebovitz. I’ve read his stuff for years, which is why I saved this until all the other books from the box were gone. He wrote the bible on homemade ice cream, and everything he writes is educational and witty, and I eat it up. Sweet Life came out in 2009 and chronicles David’s move to France, where he still resides. I found his stories of cultural missteps so relatable to our own move to China in 2006. Except replace his croissants with chicken feet, and bad coffee with bad snakes. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same story of a fish out of water, desperately trying to find the way and not getting much help from the locals. He peppers his stories with recipes (which I always love), and, on a political note, had this to say about running into then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the street. Sound familiar?

“Although Sarkozy was accused of a number of things, from being anti-Semitic and a racist, to having a violent temper and a penchant for serial monogamy, he had one addiction that no one seemed to want to talk about: tanning. His face had a glowing orange tint, the exact same shade as the flesh of a lush, ripe cantaloupe.”

4. Downsizing the Family Home, Marni Jameson

You’re probably thinking this is an odd choice, but hear me out. For the past few years, my family has been working on cleaning out the home of my late great-aunt, who basically saved everything from her childhood through her 80s. And my mother’s house is filled not only with her and her husband’s own belongings, but boxes from her parent’s house in Houston and boxes from my childhood home. It fills me with a certain anxiety when I see it. Something she knows. And since I wasn’t there when we moved from my childhood home, or the home we lived in for four years before she remarried, I feel a very strong need to go through everything with her. I desperately want to sit down and open boxes sealed long ago and tell stories and laugh and maybe cry. But mostly, I want to clear it out and let her live in peace knowing she isn’t needing to protect every item from several people’s memories/childhoods. As the Baby Boomers age, this is going to a problem for many. And this book, to me, was very helpful and convincing on why downsizing should happen sooner than later. I wish I could gift everyone in my life with this book. It’s something everyone should read and consider, no matter your age.

5. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, Kim Edwards

When we were in Colorado this summer, our cabin had a bookshelf in one of the bedrooms with the invitation to take a book, leave a book. This book caught my eye. I had remembered hearing it was good when it came out years ago, but had never cracked it open. The story immediately begins with a doctor/father delivering his wife’s twins only to discover his daughter has down’s syndrome. In a split-second decision, he hands her to the nurse, instructs her to institutionalize the baby and, when his wife wakes up, tells her the baby girl has died. The rest is what spins from that fateful decision. While written beautifully, this story weighed on my heart. The character’s grief and torment was palpable and I was glad to see it end. It made for quite a downer during my Thanksgiving break!

6. Blu’s Hanging, Lois-Ann Yamanaka

I participated in a book exchange this summer where you send your favorite book to one person, and you would–ideally–get 36 sent to you, depending on the chain. I received a few, but all but one I had already read. This was the unknown title, sent to me without a note so I don’t even know who dubs this their *favorite* book, but…wow. No. I was very upset through its entire 260 pages. I hated almost everything about it, to the point that I thought maybe someone sent this as a joke. I’ve read plenty of depressing tales, but the blatant racism and stereotypes and graphic abuse against children proved to be too much. I recommend a hard pass on this one. For the record, my favorite book I sent was A Thousand Splendid Suns, which I wish I had just read again instead of picking this up.

7. The BFG, Roald Dahl

LiNo’s Libros strikes again! Click here to read all about it.

8. Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck

Steinbeck wrote one of my #1 books of all time. I love his style and perception, but I’ve only read a handful of his collected works. My brother wanted to read Travels with Charley, so I piggy-backed onto his idea so we could read it at the same time. And, of course, I loved it. What’s not to love about a guy jumping into a truck with his beloved dog to explore the country? It’s the ultimate road trip.

In 1960 Steinbeck was 58 and wanting to see the country he called home and the country of which he wrote so eloquently, though maybe not so confidently. You can see rough maps of his blazed trail that took him from his home in New York through New England, winter nipping at his wheels. Then through his awe-inspiring Montana, his childhood home in Salinas, California, the confusing land of Texas and the racially-charged South. When he set off, the country was divided in facing that year’s election between Nixon and Kennedy. Not too different than what a road trip through America this summer would have produced.

Here are some of my favorite observations–all sharp as a knife:

* On regional language changes: “I did not hear a truly local speech until I reached Montana. … The West Coast went back to packaged English. The Southwest kept a grasp but a slipping grasp on localness. Of course the deep south holds on by main strength of its regional expressions…but no region can hold out for long against the highway, the high-tension line, and the national television. What I’m mourning is perhaps not worth saving, but I regret its loss nonetheless.”

* Discussing scapegoats with a fellow traveler: “Those Russians got quite a load to carry. Man has a fight with this wife, he belts the Russians. ‘Maybe everybody needs Russians. I’ll bet even in Russia they need Russians. Maybe they call it Americans.'”

9. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

I would guess that 90% of high-school students read Great Expectations. I am part of the elite 10% who had never cracked its cover and only knew random character names to spurt off when cornered. But I should have known. I should have known I’d love it just as much as I did Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities (which I *did* read in high school), Miss Havisham replacing Madame Defarge as the crazy, creepy character I love to hate. I loved poor Pip, his adventures…his misadventures, and all the twists and turns. No surprise, but when all of your friends/family read this at least 15+ years ago, you don’t have a lot of people you can call when you get to a big twist and want to talk about the details. This has probably been sitting neglected on my shelf for as long as I’ve been out of high school and I’m happy to have finally immersed myself in its pages and now I pass it on to the next lucky person. Bonus: I’m 3 down, 2 to go on my Classics-I-Have-To-Read list! Now to watch Helena Bonham Carter transform herself into a wilted, jilted, haunted woman…

10. Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick

I broke my no-library rule *JUST ONCE* this quarter to read this autobiography from my favorite Pitch Perfect star. Granted, we’ve been hashtag-blessed by hilarious leading ladies’ autobiographies, so maybe the bar is already to high, but this fell flat for me. You know how she plays a ragtag, jaded, sarcastic B in PP? Well, I think that’s just who she is. Which is fine, but I was hoping for a little more honesty or vulnerability in these pages. Or even humor. I’m not sure I even cracked a smile while reading. But you better believe I’ll be seeing Pitch Perfect 3 as soon as it comes out. Aca-disappointing, Beca!

11. Simplify, Joshua Becker

I read this 42-pager today on one of three planes to Miami. A minimalist life is really calling my name these days…expect my kitchen where I will swear up and down I need every tool, bowl, gadget and appliance. (Note to self: Read This.) You might remember that I mentioned Becker’s blog in my last Shelf Life. I’ve been following it ever since and bought this e-book over the Thanksgiving break when it was on sale for 50-cents or something. Well worth the pocket change and my time. Here are a few highlights:

* Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.

* “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris

* We were never meant to live life accumulating stuff. We were meant to live simply enjoying the experiences of life, the people of life and the journey of life—not the things of life.

* There is a life of simplicity that is calling out to you. It is inviting you to live the life you were born to live, not the life your neighbor is trying to achieve. It is inviting you to value the things that you want to value, not the values of billboards and advertisements. It is inviting you to remove the distractions in your life that are keeping you from truly living.

Next up in the queue:

The Fate of the Tearling, Erika Johansen (finally! reading this now)
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, Bob Spitz
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (keep reading)
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway (reread before reading Everyone Behaves Badly)

# LiNo’s Libros: The BFG

This girl.

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She is extraordinary. She is smart and curious and empathetic and gracious and beautiful and funny. And, today, she is nine.

The last year of single digits. Even though she’s been growing up since the day she was born…it feels like she’s really, really growing up right now. One minute you’re here…

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…and the next minute you’re here.

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And while we have no idea how it happened so fast, we couldn’t be more proud or love her more than we do.

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Like last year, I’ll use this special day to tell you all about our latest adventure with LiNo’s Libros — a book club for two vivacious readers.

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It was Lily’s turn to pick a book and she chose Roald Dahl’s The BFG.

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I love all things Dahl, so I couldn’t have been more excited with her pick. My local library had this beautiful copy, too. #bellabomb

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With work/school, life/activities, it takes us a while to get through a book, but over the course of a few weeks we took turns reading to each other, reading some chapters on our own, and reviewing with questions and projects.

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Dahl does such an incredible job at describing the BFG that I had everyone draw their own based on his words.

Mine:

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Lily’s:

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Booh’s:

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Tim’s:

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The suitcases get me every time, especially Tim’s.

When we reached the end, we prepared five questions each, just like we did with the first LiNo’s Libros pick. Spoiler alert for anyone wanting to read this again!

NoNo’s Questions:

1 In the book, Dahl calls farts “whizzpoppers.” What would you call them?

L: NoNo! ….okay, whizzies

Booh: Farbunkles

N: I choose Brrrrumpscotches

2. Make up a dream that the BFG might catch.

L: A dragon comes to life at a Chinese wedding and we have to take cover. One person comes in late, usually me, and everyone in movie theater is hiding in the shadows and I say “What’s everybody doing?”

N: That sounds like a nightmare. Mine would have Bella in a garden of flowers and a butterfly can land on her nose. It can talk and tells her that there’s a wonderful world among the flowers. So Bella crawls in the flower bed and meets all the pretty flowers and nice bugs.

Booh: Sounds like the dog version of Alice in Wonderland.

3. Make up your own giant.

L: Instead of catching dreams, I’d catch air, no, I’d catch sand. I could put it in bedrooms and it would help clear out worries. It’s like dream sand, but it’s memory sand.

Booh: I’d only go to houses with more than one child and would eat all the siblings.

N: …what? Okay. I’d collect all the cookbooks in the house, bake treats to leave for them in the morning, but steal all of the cookbooks.

4. In the book, the giants visit certain countries based on what those living there taste like. What would we taste like in Oklahoma and Wyoming?

L: Oklahoma would taste like fried chicken.

N: Yeah, I was thinking bread-flavored with undertones of grass prairie.

Booh: Home Fries.

N: What about Wyoming?

L: Snow cones!

N: Yes! Or woodsy-flavored.

L: But no cocoa flavors because it always snows.

5. If you could change the ending, what would you change?

L: That he rode an elephant through the woods instead of writing the book.

N: I wanted Sophie to be adopted by the Queen and become royalty.

L: Sophie of Sofaness!

Lily’s Questions

1 How would you feel if you were taken from bed?

N: I’d be terrified, wouldn’t you?

L: A little scared, but kind of excited. You know when you can’t sleep at night and don’t have anything to do? It can be a bit boring.

2. What would your giant name be?

N: I’ll go with my description above and be the Bake Booker.

Booh: Sibling Snatcher!

L: BFGG – Big Friendly Girl Giant

Booh: Tim says he’d be the Big Fat Giant.

3. How would the story be different if the BFG caught something else?

N: What if he caught bugs, like frogs or spiders?

L: Frogs and spiders aren’t bugs.

Booh: What if he collected art from bedrooms? That would be cool.

4. If you could invite one character to dinner, who would you choose and why?

N: I’d choose Sophie since she’s an orphan and I’d have everyone over so she could experience a big family dinner.

L: I choose the Queen of England. I just think she’s really cool. But, no BFG. That’s a lot for mom to cook!

5. Use three words to describe this book.

N: silly, tender and fantastical

L: dangerous — for the men to capture the giant, cool — catching the dreams, and sad — missed England

Love you, Lil, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!

Next up for LiNo’s Libros: Nancy Drew and The Mystery at Lilac Inn!

Click here for last year’s LiNo’s Libros: The Indian in the Cupboard.

Shelf Life: Fall 2016

ShelfLife

Guys, I’m alive! And under strict instructions from my grandmother to post ASAP. You listen when your Memaw tells you to do something. {Hi, Memaw! This one’s for you!}

Like this summer, fall has continued to be a doozy and I still don’t feel on solid ground yet. Among other things, as editor, copywriter and project manager of my company’s first-ever annual report, I found myself caught between its 70+ pages way more than the pages of any book I’d read for pleasure. My hobbies (and my sanity) really suffered while we struggled to push it to print, but I’m happy to report it’s being published now and I can {kinda} go back to normal. Whatever “normal” means in a state where it starts snowing in September.

Albeit short, fall in Wyoming was gorgeous. Not too much red, but the yellows were vibrant and plentiful. It helps that we have not only two Aspen trees in our yard, but also a gorgeous Japanese Maple. Of course now we have bags upon bags of leaves (and more to rake), but for a hot cold minute it was stunning. I managed to take these before we had a freak snow/ice storm that brought every leaf to the ground.

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Before we dig into what I read in book form, I want to share with you something I’ve been enjoying in blog form. I stumbled across the Becoming Minimalist facebook page and can’t get enough of what they share. (If you’re not a Facebooker, check out their blog.) Especially before the holidays, it’s a nice reminder that we typically have too much stuff; our possessions weigh us down; but letting go is a choice and it usually results in freedom. Joe has always had this mindset and, as someone who grapples with nostalgia, I’ve really learned so much by living with him, as well through Marie Kondo-ing our place. But it can always be better and I’d love to further release myself from the “stuff” in our life. Here are some surprising statistics I’ve found through this page/blog and some of my favorite posts:

* There are 300,000 items in the average American home.
* The average size of the American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years.
* Americans spend $1.2 trillion annually on nonessential goods.
* 3.1% of the world’s children live in America, but they own 40% of the toys consumed globally
* One of my favorite posts: Don’t just declutter, De-own.
* One for parents: A Helpful Guide for Decluttering Toys
* One for the workaholics (ahem, *cough*): Our Love/Hate Relationship with Work

Interested? Check it out.

On to the books…

1. The Queen of the Night, Alexander Chee

As far as opera lovers go, I’m way up there. But Alexander Chee’s got me beat. This guy loves opera so much he reimagined Mozart’s The Magic Flute into a long, dramatic, tragic, did I say long? tale of a fictional famous opera singer and her quest for acceptance. It’s not as genius as Mozart, and I spent most of the book debating whether I should keep reading. Like some opera, though, it was just too long-winded. Since I read this on my kindle, I can tell you it wasn’t until I was 71% through the book that something changed. The pace picked up, some secrets revealed and I found myself eager to finish. I’m not sure I’d recommend this to anyone that doesn’t love the opera world, but if you do…good luck hitting that 71% mark!

2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith

I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of this book until a few years ago when a friend mentioned that it was her (well-read) mom’s favorite book. Hmm. I needed to check it out, so I bought a used copy for a few dollars and it sat on my shelf while I went through a plethora of library due date deadlines. I am SO GLAD I finally picked it up. Written in 1943, this coming-of-age tale is brilliantly beautiful in every way. I adored the Nolan family, especially young Francie, and ran the emotional gamut reading about her trials and joys and heartbreak. After a series of reading duds in the last few months, this stood out as one of the few books—maybe the only—I’ve read this year that I’d want to revisit. Too good to ignore.

3. Joy for Beginners, Erica Bauermeister

Bauermeister’s writing is like a balm for my soul. She wrote so beautifully about food and love in The School of Essential Ingredients, but in this she writes just as beautifully about life and female friendships. Main character Kate has just survived breast cancer and is now doling out life challenges to the six friends who helped her survive. I was struggling when I read this and it made me so thankful for my own squad of friends who continue to offer such clarity and support.

4. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The Illustrated Edition, J.K. Rowling

You guys may have remembered I totally flipped out over Jim Kay’s version of the first Harry Potter book. Well, he certainly doesn’t disappoint with the second one either. I would have definitely given it its own post if I had a) the time, and b) wanted to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it! So to those who haven’t yet seen it, fear not. I won’t ruin it for you, but I stand by my first impression that these are gorgeous books and make me love digging back into the series anew.

5. The Hamilton Affair, Elizabeth Cobbs

I listen to Hamilton no less than five times a week. Usually it’s every day, but who’s counting? (me) I am 100% obsessed. My dad sent me this book after learning of my unabashed affection and I really enjoyed it. I knew that Lin-Manuel Miranda changed parts of the story to fit his production better, so it was interesting to have a more accurate telling of some of the events (Monroe v. Madison, for one), but I also love how Cobbs threw in some of the lyrics here and there. It was like my very own easter egg hunt going on within its pages. It doesn’t get much better than this in history, my friends. Read (or listen) up!

6. The Traitor’s Story, Kevin Wignall

My dad dropped this book in my hands when visiting last weekend and I’ve already finished it. That should tell you something. Very similar to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this reminded me that while I love classic literature, historical fiction and non-fiction, I can totally devour a good mystery with glee. As I neared the end I was totally immersed in its pages, so much so that when I got to the last sentence I threw the book over to Joe (while he was sleep-watching Game 7) like it was a hot baton in the marathon of our marriage. “Your turn, go!” Mystery Novels: Keeping marriages on their toes one page-turner at a time! Definitely worth checking out Wignall’s work if you’re looking for a fresh face in the cliffhanger world.

Next up in the queue:

I keep a living list of all the books I’d like to read. Pulled from best-seller lists, blogs, friend’s recommendations, it’s usually quite long, and I’m never without 7-8 titles lined up through library requests. But I want to try something new.

After completing 90% of Marie Kondo’s decluttering steps (I haven’t found time to go through photos or personal keepsakes—or maybe I’m just avoiding it!), I realized I had so many books on my shelves that I’ve either never read or couldn’t remember reading. Marie would tell you to get rid of them—if you haven’t already read them, you probably won’t. Well, I didn’t get rid of them and I’d like to prove her wrong.

Here is a list of books that I’ve schlepped all over the country and that I will now read and either keep (if I love and know I’ll read again) or donate. No more new books or library books until I get through these—hold me to it!

Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl (reading now)
Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway (reread before Everyone Behaves Badly)
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
Blu’s Hanging
, Lois-Ann Yamanaka
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child
, Bob Spitz
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
, Kim Edwards

Shelf Life: Summer 2016

ShelfLife

This summer I’ve kept myself busy with our move and work rather than books–isn’t that the definition of sad? Maybe a reason I’ve been so on-edge all summer is that I’m missing my normal routine. I plan to read more as it gets colder (always my MO), but before we dig in to my lackluster list this quarter, check out these flowers. Don’t they just scream “summer in the mountains”?

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I found this amazing garden one day while walking Bella and came right back the next day armed with my camera. My neighbors are talented when it comes to keeping things alive in this dry environment. So impressed.

On to the books…

1 The Nest, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The story of four adult siblings grappling with their impending inheritance seems like a perfect hot bed for drama and hilarity. Sweeney creates characters that are raw and unfiltered to the point it feels like real life. This book has been all over must-read lists and I liked it for the summer read that it was, but didn’t find it profound or among any of my favorites. Just an easy read that will remind you how different siblings can be despite having the same-ish upbringing.

2. Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre, Tracy Chevalier

Tracy Chevalier is one of my top-five authors of all time, so when I saw she was going to release a collection of stories based on Jane Eyre, I was so excited. Good thing I finally read it! Taking Charlotte’s famous line, authors let their imagination wander from stories of today’s troubled youth to a version of that famous scene told from Rochester’s point of view. Some were so creative, others not so much, but I especially enjoyed Chevalier’s intro…

“Always, always in these stories there is love–whether it is the first spark or the last dying embers–in its many heart-breaking, life-affirming forms. All of these stories have their own memorable lines, their own truths, their own happy or wry or devastating endings, but each is one of the ripples that finds its center in Jane and Charlotte’s decisive clarion call: Reader, I married him.”

3. Jane SteeleLyndsay Faye

Now that I read Jane Eyre, I can’t seem to get enough. This is a sharp reimagining of Jane as a serial killer, a la Dexter. I loved this. Totally fierce and badass, Faye’s Jane is not too far off (minus the killing) from Charlotte’s. If you’re a fan of the original, check this out for sure.

4. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson

After reading Lawson’s second book first, I thought I should probably check this out. But, upon reflection, reading a book about a woman who has constant, crushing anxiety is not the book one should read when getting ready for a big move and feeling her own brand of anxiety. I just couldn’t take someone else’s madness on top of my own, so I was more than happy to finish this and move on. Sorry, Jenny, it’s not you, it’s me.

5. The Girls, Emma Cline

Another from the summer’s must-read list. And another that didn’t impress. What’s wrong with me? Was my summer too stressful to enjoy book like I normally do? Maybe. I usually jump all over the best seller lists and so far I’m still 0 for 2. The story of Evie–a young inductee to a violent cult–is told through both a series of flashbacks and the present day, so you know what’s coming, but there are still many a surprise within its pages. I’d still recommend it, but I’m (obviously) not gushing about it.

6. A Cruel and Shocking Act, Philip Shenon

Just like I didn’t want to read about anxiety while facing my own demons, reading a 540-page book about the birth of the Warren Commission’s report was probably not the best thing to read while I’m authoring my own company’s Annual Report. Ha! I know how to pick ’em! Seriously, though, I love all things Kennedy, and had been meaning to read this tome since it came out. It was interesting to explore the behind-the-scenes investigation and how so many members of the Commission (including its junior lawyers) agreed that Oswald hadn’t acted alone, despite what was published. I also find myself with both feet in the conspiracy camp after reading everything. This might forever be history’s greatest secret, but Shenon’s book places us a few steps closer to the truth and, in true Kennedy-era form, brings up a million new questions. This book is only for the true Kennedy devotees.

7. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

Finally! A book I loved; a book I read in a few hours; a book I’d recommend! This is it — but that shouldn’t be such a surprise to you, knowing how much I love the world of Harry Potter. I thought Rowling and Thorne did an amazing job revisiting our favorite (and not-so-favorite) characters 19 years later. Harry’s now an adult and imperfect father, navigating his role in the spotlight and at home with differing degrees of finesse. It’s amazing how easily I can slip into this world and block out my own. This really was the perfect anecdote to my summer-reading blues. Highly recommend it, as well as anything Rowling touches. (Except The Casual Vacancy, sorry.) Hoping to see this in London with Bobbie.

And hoping for more time to read this Fall.

Next up in the queue:

The Queen of the Night — Alexander Chee (over halfway through this)
The Fate of the Tearling — Erika Johansen (coming end of November now?!)
The Lost Art of Mixing — Erica Bauermeister
Bread and Wine — Shauna Niequist
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn — Betty Smith
Illustrated Edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — J.K. Rowling/Jim Kay
Alexander Hamilton — Ron Chernow
Everyone Behaves Badly — Lesley M. M. Blume

Shelf Life: Spring 2016

ShelfLife

I’ve always been a fall girl. Colorful leaves, scarves, sweaters and crisp air have me swooning every year, but there’s something about living in a place that has hard winters that makes you appreciate spring all the more.

Maybe it’s the flower and tree buds that promise life and warmth after so much dreariness, or the baby ducks and rabbits popping up around us that spark so much joy, but every day I feel myself becoming more and more of a spring girl.

I haven’t talked about it on this blog yet, but Joe and I are moving this summer to a place that has an even harder winter. When we were visiting, someone told us they didn’t even have a spring. Just a  bit of fall, a lot of winter and then summer. Guess I shouldn’t get too attached to it, huh? Hard to do…

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My favorite part of this season? Time in the sun with Bella.

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Now for the books…

1. A Widow for One Year, John Irving

Another book off my shelf! No telling how long it’s been sitting there, but this was definitely worth the wait. I had heard numerous good things about John Irving and boy does he have a gift. With words, with story lines, with characters. I was pretty floored. It’s funny, though, to read books that were written before the age of cell phones and internet. The stories seem modern enough, but missing a huge piece of what makes today, well, today. I found myself saying “oh, that would never happen now,” but it didn’t detract from the story of a marriage marred in tragedy and a little girl caught in the shadows. Her incredible story easily fluctuates between sorrow and hilarity. Well done, Mr. Irving.

2. A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

There was no better time to dig into the comfort and familiarity of one of my favorite authors than when I was running a 102-degree fever for three days. Confined to bed with the nastiest virus I’ve had in a long time, Hemingway’s funny, sentimental and realistic vignettes of his time in Paris in the early 1920s was just what the doctor ordered. It was an interesting time to revisit it, since I had just finished watching the series finale of Downton Abbey, which was ending around the same time in England. I’ve long been obsessed with the expatriates of Paris: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, Pound, Porter. What an incredible circle! I’m not even sure if I had ever read this all the way through, or maybe it’s just been too long for me to remember, but I have recently read books from this same period, told from different perspectives, and I desperately wanted to revisit Ernest’s. After reading The Paris Wife and Mrs. Hemingway, I was surprised he omitted any mention of Fife (Pauline), who caused the demise of his first marriage to Hadley. But, there she was in its final pages. A fitting end to the demise of his Paris happiness.

Of all the little chapters, his recollection of F. Scott Fitzgerald is my favorite. Here’s one passage I love:

“His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly anymore because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.”

Want to learn more about this special time and place in history? I highly recommend Zelda, The Paris Wife, Mrs. Hemingway, and Midnight in Paris.

3. The High Mountains of Portugal, Yann Martel

I don’t know many people who didn’t like Life of Pi, but I am one of them. Not even the super CGI movie could sway me. But Yann Martel’s newest novel is one of the most anticipated books of 2016 and I had high hopes for redemption. And he almost had me! Halfway through his three-part tale, I was convinced that this was much better than Pi. But the second half quickly gave way to the ridiculousness I couldn’t ignore and in Pi couldn’t stand. I know it’s all symbolic, but sometimes it’s just too much for me. And for someone who reads a little bit every day, his three sections without chapters allow for no easy stopping points. If you end up reading this and loving it, please let me know. I need to understand what I’m missing when it comes to Martel!

4. The Pink Suit, Nicole Mary Kelby

This is a colorful fictionalized glimpse into the makers of Jackie’s infamous pink suit. It came out a few years ago to many glowing reviews, but maybe I’m too much of a Jackie fan. I wanted it to be more about her and not the Irish girl who impressively faked a Chanel. The part I loved most was the dedication…”To all those who fell under her spell.” I wouldn’t recommend much that comes after. Wah-wah.

5. The Lady in Gold, Anne-Marie O’Connor

Ever since I saw the movie, I have been obsessed with the art world’s greatest, or worst, tale of loss and redemption. The movie, while practically perfect, was still a movie and I needed to read what really happened in pre-war and post-war Vienna. What I didn’t realize is the Bloch-Bauers ran in the same circles as Richard Strauss, Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler and his future wife Alma and Arnold Schoenberg. This circle is just as magnificent to the music world as the Paris circle of the 1920s was to literature. Absolutely fascinating. But, I really wanted a story about one family, one artist and their shared art, but O’Connor nosedives into other’s stories randomly to the point of frustration. If you want to read a comprehensive look at the stolen art of the Holocaust, I recommend The Monuments Men. I’m perfectly happy to relish in the movie version of this incredible story.

6. Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, Marie Kondo

I was about halfway through Kondo-ing my life when I got this follow-up at the library. It was just the umph in motiviation I needed. Though it doesn’t really tell anything new, it does dive into a few specifics, specifically regarding what she calls ‘Komono,” or, miscellaneous. After I finished, Joe and I sat down and cleared out three trash bags of paper from our office. I really can’t tell you how liberating it feels to have things in order. We have a few more paper stacks to finish, but then it’s on to Komono and Sentimental items, which will be the hardest for me, I’m sure. Hoping to have it all finished before we move this summer.

7. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

This has been on my list for a loooong, long time. Since I had my own copy, I kept deferring to my library reserve schedule and it kept getting pushed to the side. I’m glad I finally had a chance to fall into it, because that’s exactly what you do! This story is nothing short of beautiful. I loved it much more than I enjoyed Anna Karenina, which is high praise. Jane is the most exceptional heroine — independent, stands up for what’s right, curious and courageous. Quite different than most of literature’s leading ladies during that time. I so loved this quote of hers… “Now I remembered that the real world is wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils.” #swoon I’m slowing making my way through those never-read classics!

8. The School of Essential Ingredients, Erica Bauermeister

Before I picked this up, and before I finished Jane Eyre, I was thinking to myself that many of this quarter’s books were feeling like duds. I didn’t have one that called for celebration or caused me to lose myself in its pages. Until this. Years ago my aunt mailed me a big box of books about food. Not cookbooks, but stories. I’ve slowly been making my way through them and this was a total gem. Set in an upscale restaurant’s cooking school, the book features backgrounds on each student and the ingredients that help them cope with whatever lies beneath the surface. It’s beautiful writing about food, about people, about relationships, about the magic of cooking. I read it in less than a day with the laughs flowing as easily as the tears. I couldn’t consume it (har) fast enough. And when I went on Amazon to find the link, I was pleasantly surprised to find its sequel. Hopefully I’ll like the second course as much as I did the first.

9. The White Queen, Philippa Gregory

Another book off my shelf! We’re slowly clearing the decks before our move this summer. I have long loved Philippa Gregory’s accounts of England’s contentious fights for the throne. I have read her series on all of the Tudor/Boleyn players (except her newest) and I had picked up this first book of The Cousins’ War series after we visited the Tower of London, as it deals with one of its craziest mysteries. I really enjoyed this book and one night Joe crawled into bed where I was reading and asked me if I liked it. Here’s how it went down:

M: It’s just like Game of Thrones!
J: Well, that’s good since this is what GoT is based on.
M: What are you talking about?
J: The Cousins’ War. It’s what inspired GoT. York = Stark, Lancaster = Lannister?
M: <insert straight-faced emoji> How did I not know that?!

Now I can see where George pulled some of his juiciest content, ripe for the picking. I’m looking forward to watching its TV treatment soon.

10. My Life in France, Julia Child

I absolutely adore Julia Child and her chronicles of living in France are so dreamy. This book was the basis of her portion of Julie & Julia, one of my very favorite movies. I could relate to her thoughts on living overseas and it frequently made me think of our time in China, Mexico and Italy.

It was magical to hear in her own words the formation of her Cambridge kitchen, which we saw three years ago. I loved that she called authoring her famed cookbook collection as “cook bookery” and I laughed when she refers to food shopping as “marketing.” When you work in communications, you only know one definition for that word!

Bottom line: I love Julia. I just can’t get enough of her and found this book wonderful in every single way.

11. At the Edge of the Orchard, Tracy Chevalier

Chevalier is one of my very favorite authors of all time. I completely lose myself in every one of her vibrant stories that deftly weave fiction with nonfiction. She has such a knack for bringing moments in history to life. This tale of pioneers in Ohio and California is beautiful and its characters are so real. But I wouldn’t call it my favorite of hers. I tend to prefer her European settings over the American, but still very much worth the read.

Next up the queue:

The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (reading now)
Reader, I Married Him – Tracy Chevalier
The Fate of the Tearling – Erika Johansen
Bread and Wine – Shauna Niequist
Let’s Pretend this Never Happened – Jenny Lawson
The Lost Art of Mixing – Erica Bauermeister
The Queen of the Night – Alexander Chee
A Cruel and Shocking Act – Philip Shenon
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith

Shelf Life: Winter 2015-16

ShelfLife

Winter. I’m in the throes of it.

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I’ve already shared all of the ruler-in-snow and Bella-in-boots pics, so for today I’ll share the latest happenings. Yesterday I woke to a thick fog that left HUGE, furry flakes clinging to everything, making our yard look like a Dr. Seuss illustration.

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See how big the flakes are? Those are individual ones on the tree! You can see every detail of each flake. Incredible.

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Here’s how I’ve kept warm the last three months. (Yes, we’ve had snow on the ground since the last Shelf Life post. All snow. No grass. …SOS)

1. Rising Strong, Brené Brown

Have you heard of emotion-guru Brené Brown? If not, I might recommend you watch her record-shattering Ted Talks (1 and 2). She knows shame, vulnerability and promotes facing each with fierceness, honesty and acceptance.

This is my first book of hers to read and deals specifically with how to pick yourself up when you fall by “rumbling” with all of the emotions involved. Something we can all relate to. I’m sure the library will be so pleased to see how many pages I dog-eared. They should really just be glad I didn’t underline or take to the margins.

This book spoke to me. As someone who prides herself on her strength and resilience, I have had so many falls, most of them never discussed and many I’m still recovering from. Until now, I didn’t have the tools to face them and heal.

I recommend this to anyone and everyone. Here are a few takeaways:

* “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do. We own our stories so we don’t spend our lives being defined by them or denying them. And while the journey is long and difficult at times, it is the path to living a more wholehearted life.”

* “Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”

* “We don’t compare when we’re feeling good about ourselves; we look for what’s good in others. When we practice self-compassion, we are compassionate toward others. Self-righteousness is just the armor of self-loathing.” (gulp.)

* “Stop respecting and evaluating people based on what we think they should accomplish, and start respecting them for who they are and holding them accountable for what they’re actually doing. Stop loving people for who they could be and start loving them for who they are.” (double gulp.)

* “On a one-inch-by-one-inch square of paper, write down the names of the people who really matter. These should be the people who love you not despite your imperfections and vulnerabilities, but because of them. When I’m struggling to make a difficult decision, rather than closing my eyes and trying to imagine how the cheap seats (people who criticize, but don’t matter) will respond, I go to someone on my list who will hold me accountable to my own standards.”

2. Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith

This blog has chronicled me reading all three Cormoran Strike mysteries by Robert Galbraith, aka J.K. Rowling. (Book 1 & Book 2)

Career of Evil is a fantastic addition to the series. Cormoran and Robin are back, tensions are high and crimes are a’happnin’. J.K. continues to depart from her Harry Potter days in this truly dark and gruesome tale. I should have known when in a launch interview she described having horrible nightmares while researching and writing this book. It’s not for the faint of heart. I hope she continues her book-a-year schedule, because I have to see what happens next!

3. After Alice, Gregory Maguire

I have a deep-seated love of all things Alice in Wonderland. I’ve always loved its Golden Age animation in the Disney version, and the 1985 TV movie has given my family more laughs than just about anything. (Two words: Carol. Channing.) It’s a fascinating story and I was excited to see Gregory Maguire’s treatment. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Maguire in general. Wicked remains one of the few books I’ve started and just couldn’t make myself finish, despite loving the musical. But I had to give him another go since I’ve been Team Alice for as long as I could remember. Happy to say that I finished it! The beginning took me a while to gel into his writing style, but I really feel like he captured Lewis Carroll’s whimsy and quirkiness quite well. I enjoyed revisiting Wonderland from a different point of view, one that’s for adults. Worth the read if you have a hankering for the Queen of Hearts or a certain Cheshire Cat.

4. The Invasion of the Tearling, Erika Johansen

After muscling through my last YA trilogy (The Maze Runner series), this story is such a breath of fresh air. In her second installment, Erika Johansen really solidifies the strong characters she introduced in The Queen of the Tearling and set the course for the final book that comes out later this year. Despite its reeeeally long chapters, I am loving this series. I wouldn’t classify it as YA due to some of its unsettling subject matter, but definitely my favorite literary heroine since Katniss. If I can’t sway you enough, Emma Watson secured the rights to not only produce the movie, but also will star as Kelsea. Get reading, folks!

5. Here on Earth, Alice Hoffman

I love that I’m surrounded by other voracious readers in my family and friends circles. Many times I’ll come home and find a stack of books left by my mom, aunt or grandmother after they’ve finished with them. I’ll usually bring back 2 or 3 that look good. Sometimes those hand-me-downs sit on my shelf for a while, depending on my library reserve schedule. I’m sad to say I have too many “haven’t reads” on my shelf these days. (Possible 2016 resolution?) This is one of those books and I’m so glad I finally picked it up. I wanted something quick to read while in the pit for The Nutcracker. I shouldn’t be surprised it was so great. I usually love everything Oprah stamps with her approval. This heartbreaking tale of a woman who returns to her hometown and reunites with her first love is from 1997 (!), but still felt relevant and timeless. I’ve never read anything by Hoffman before, but I’d definitely be willing to dive into her other bestsellers. Her writing is detailed and gorgeous. Too bad it took me almost 20 years to find it!

6. Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline

I tend not read happy books. This story is rife with tragedies, but is somehow very uplifting and leaves you with a smile, despite what you crawl through to get there. I wasn’t aware of the orphan trains that would run from the east coast to the midwest, shuffling (predominately immigrant) children to the homes of those looking for an extra set of hands for their farm or business. What a scary time that must have been for them. I have several friends and acquaintances that have adopted or are serving as foster parents. It can be just as scary for them, too. Overall, this is an interesting read into a world that needs more awareness.

7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: The Illustrated Edition, J.K. Rowling (re-read)

To read me wax rhapsodic on all things HP and this gor-geous new version, click here. Excited to read this again (always) with Lily as the next installment of LiNo’s Libros.

8. Freedom, Jonathan Franzen

The word “freedom” normally conjures positive images like soaring eagles, but Franzen paints an entirely different picture of lives ruined when exploring the freedoms found within. When liberation becomes its own prison. When taking a mile when given an inch. It was a sad 550+ pages, honestly, and by the end I was so exhausted by these characters, I’m still too raw to say if I even liked the book. It has Oprah’s seal of approval and came highly recommended by a fellow book lover, but I just wasn’t crazy about it and his style of writing.

9. The Grownup, Gillian Flynn

I flew through this 60-page thriller right after I finished Freedom. It was the cleansing I needed in my head. Originally part of a series of short stories collected by George R.R. Martin, Gillian Flynn’s mystery is now a stand-alone book, thanks to her Gone Girl popularity. It’s what you would expect from her: edgy, mind-messing and thrilling all wrapped up in a neat package that will take you under an hour to consume. Check it out.

10. Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson, The Blogress, is a brave, courageous woman. She’s also funny as hell. Battling multiple mental illnesses like depression and anxiety throughout her entire life, she writes to educate, to enlighten and, most of all, to entertain. I found this book a total triumph of all three. I’ve battled depression and know countless others who have struggled or are struggling with it. We’d all tell you it’s not a laughing matter, but I love how Jenny’s able to do that, tracing her jest in empathy while gently releasing the grips of stigmas and stereotypes. It’s powerful and hilarious—how does she tread that boundary so well? A few sections that really spoke to me:

* Even when everything’s going your way you can still be sad. Or anxious. Or uncomfortably numb. Because you can’t always control your brain or your emotions even when things are perfect.

* It is an amazing gift to be able to recognize that the things that make you the happiest are so much easier to grasp than you thought. There is such freedom in being able to celebrate and appreciate the unique moments that recharge you and give you peace and joy. Sure, some people want red carpets and paparazzi. Turns out I just want banana Popsicles dipped in Malibu rum. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure at appreciating the good things in life. It means I’m successful in recognizing what the good things in life are for me.

11. The Indian in the Cupboard, Lynne Reid Banks (re-read)

This is a favorite from my childhood and was the first pick for my book club with niece Lily, LiNo’s Libros! Read about our thoughts on this here.

12. The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, Kathleen Flinn

In my new effort to read books that have long been collecting dust on my shelves, I picked this up right after Christmas while I waited for a few library reserves to filter my way. Choosing a book about a lady who leaves behind her corporate life to pursue her dream of attending Le Cordon Blue cooking school was a pretty good pick for heralding in a new year. It made me think “what would I do if I wasn’t afraid?” I can tell you NOT attending Le Cordon Blue—where Flinn had to manhandle all kinds of meat and fat and tendons and livers and sweetbreads—would be on the list. As glamorous as it sounds to attend cooking school in France, I know I wouldn’t last long in those kitchens. But I applaud her for taking a huge risk. Her food writing isn’t as tasty as that of Julie Powell or Molly Wizenburg, but her dream is inspiring and her tales are honest and humorous. A spark of inspiration for the new year.

13. The Secret History, Donna Tartt

Guys, this was my first EVER e-book read. I’ve been so hesitant to jump on the e-reader bandwagon, but I’m there. This 500-plus-page book seemed to fly when only holding a tiny kindle. I’m not giving up my love of old library books, but I was surprised how much I did like the experience. But, remember how much I didn’t like The Goldfinch? Well, Ms. Tartt redeemed herself with this one. It’s just the right length for the story (unlike Goldfinch), it’s dark, it’s dynamic. Definitely a page turner and worth checking out. It’ll make you rethink the posse from your college days.

14. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier

I broke my (typically) hard and fast rule of not reading books set during the Civil War when I set a new rule of tackling all of the unread books on my shelf. I honestly think I’ve carried this book around since we lived in Dallas. I haven’t even seen the movie. I was just waiting for some perfect time, which of course is never. But I am so glad I did. This book is absolutely beautiful. And though it gives such a vivid glimpse of our war-torn country, it seemingly bypasses all of the gory battle details completely. (Which is probably why I loved it so much.) Its writing is all-consuming and beautifully dark, yet hopeful. I can see why it garnered such immediate praise when it first came out. I am looking forward to finally seeing the movie and, who knows, maybe it’s earned a more permanent spot on my shelf.

15. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

Hands down one of the most fascinating stories I’ve ever encountered. Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman who died at Johns Hopkins Hospital from an aggressive cervical cancer in 1951 at the age of 31. But before she passed, her doctors took a sample of cells from her tumor that ended up changing the course of medicine forever. Her cells, known as HeLa, never died and sparked a revolution in medical research that has helped save millions of lives. But no one ever told her family, who couldn’t afford health care of their own. This is such an interesting tale of history, ethics, one family’s pain and the world’s gain. Already in the running for the best book I read all year. Read this! Read this! Read this!

16. Daring Greatly, Brené Brown

It feels appropriate that I start and end this quarter’s Shelf Life with Brené Brown. Her books are transformative. I would have even more passages to share with you than Rising Strong, had I not read the e-version of this book. (Kindle people: Is there a way I can mark passages to save? Yes, I’m aware it’s 2016. Help me.) There’s not one person I know who wouldn’t be forever changed by hearing what Brown has to say on vulnerability, shame, the “never enough” culture, the perils of perfectionism and the courage and resilience needed to live our best life. The title comes from Teddy Roosevelt’s famous speech and challenges us to step into our own arena. To be heard and seen, and not afraid to fail. At points while reading this I was overwhelmed by how much I wanted to absorb. It’s definitely something I could (and should) revisit again and again. Please act surprised if I buy you a copy for your birthday. It’s a book everyone should read.

Next up in the queue:

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
At the Edge of the Orchard – Tracy Chevalier
A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway
Spark Joy – Marie Kondo
The Pink Suit – Nicole Mary Kelby
The High Mountains of Portugal – Yann Martel
The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Let’s Pretend this Never Happened – Jenny Lawson
The Lady in Gold – Anne-Marie O’Connor
The Fate of the Tearling – Erika Johansen
Bread and Wine – Shauna Niequist

# LiNo’s Libros: The Indian in the Cupboard

I can’t believe I’m typing this, but the girl who made me an Aunt and changed my life forever is eight today.

E-I-G-H-T.

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She has grown into such a remarkable girl–huge heart, infectious laugh and smarts for days. I absolutely adore her. And this year has brought a new project that is only fitting to unveil on her special day.

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LiNo’s Libros. I thought it appropriate that we have a celebrity couple name (Lily + NoNo) and for us to share the one thing we can’t get enough of: books.

This idea was born when I realized that Lily is the right age to read all of the books I first fell in love with. And it’s been the perfect way for this faraway aunt to connect with her busy niece.

Oh, books! My childhood favorites list could go on and on and on… too many to choose from.

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We agreed that we’d switch off picking the book, so I chose a favorite from my elementary years: The Indian in the Cupboard.  Here’s us on our first reading day:

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We’d read a few chapters on our own each week, but also connect to read one or two together and talk about what was happening.

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I thought we’d just compare notes, but being the daughter of a school teacher, Lily prepared questions for us to discuss for each chapter. It was the cutest thing ever.

I loved listening to her get into dialogue with her sweet voice. Mostly I just loved sharing something so special with her.

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It took us a while, but we finally finished it together. Here we are on the last day:

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At the end, we agreed to come up with five questions each. (Spoiler alerts for anyone wanting to read this book!)

NoNo’s Questions:

1. If you had a magic cabinet, what toy of yours would you bring to life and why?

L: All of them! I’ll put in there my baby Liza, Teddy and Bella, my toy dog.

2. Do you agree with Omri that sending them back to their lives was the best thing to do?

L: He thought it best because they were causing enough trouble, but no, I’d keep them alive. I just like all my toys already.

3. If you were transported via a magic cabinet, what would you tell your giant to bring to life so you could have?

L: Hold on, I’m thinkin’ about that. An art easel.

4. How are Little Bear and Boone alike? How are they different?

L: They have hats. They are both feisty. But one has a gun and one has a knife.

5. How do you think the story would be different if Omri had told his parents or brothers about Little Bear from the start?

L: It would probably be shocking and everyone would be fighting over Little Bear and Boone. Brothers would probably let him keep them, but not parents. Moms and Dads never let us have what you want. (Editor: hahahahaha)

Lily’s Questions:

1. How would you feel if you had to send a toy back to plastic? Plastik. Mom, you forgot the K.

N: I’m sure I’d feel sad, especially if we had become friends and had had adventures together.

2. Have you ever been sent to the principal, and why?

N: Errr, are you asking me because this happens in the book? Yes, I have. I did something I shouldn’t have done. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. Ask your mom about her going to the principal.

3. How did it feel to ride a horse?

N: What?! hahahahaha

L: You’ve been on one!

N: True, true. Um, it’s great, but you’ll be sore the next day.

4. What would you change the title to?

N: Ooh, good question.

L: I choose “The Magical Key of the Secret Pantry”

N: Man, that’s good. Okay, I choose “Booney Bear.”

L: hahahaha

Booh: Omri Makes a Friend

5. What kind of plastic figure would you be? I know! A French horn!

N: Ew, no. I wouldn’t want mouths on me. I don’t know. Probably a dog. What about you?

L: A native American. Probably Squanto.

N: What?!

L: Don’t you remember? He helped the pilgrims. He’s famous! Okay, so Squanto, or Queen Elizabeth, or a German General, and a Chinese Princess.

Booh: Uh, can we get a time frame on the German General?

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Oh, Lily, you make me laugh. Thank you for being the sweetest thing I didn’t know I needed so badly. You make everything more fun. Happy, happy 8th Birthday! We love you so very, very much.

Next up for LiNo’s Libros, Lily chose….hold on to your hats….Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I’m practically squealing. We might have to do this as a Google Hangout to reunite the SibSabs.