Friday, December 5, 2014

The More Things Change . . . you know the rest

The Miniaturist

*Spoiler Alert*   Review Dated Sept. 13 2014, Just now having time to post!

Interesting book, especially for the fact that the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Who is the Miniaturist? Why did Petronella stay and help this family? How do we ever learn compassion as a human race? Have we really gotten anywhere? [Based on the bullying that I've personally encountered this fall along the same lines as one of the conflicts in this book, it sure doesn't seem like it.] Why was this book written? Why did I read it at this particular moment? Can I make any sense of it? What is this book telling me? 

In order to tell you about the book, I guess I have to give a spoiler, though I'm not sure why this was hidden as it wasn't a surprise once the book got going. 

Set in Amsterdam in 1686, this historical fiction novel, according to the author: "focuses on two women’s very different journeys to find a slice of freedom in a repressive, judgmental society. There’s a trial, a hidden love, a miniaturist who predicts the fate of her customers, a parakeet called Peebo and a plan to escape to the sea."

*Spolier Alert*

The kicker is that young Nella's husband is homosexual, which at that time and place was a crime worthy of the death penalty. Nella's home and country are full of contradictions. I think that is quite true of life. What I'm not sure of is how Nella was so worthy to navigate them with such grace, when everyone else around her was much more naturally humanly flawed. Also, unanswered is really who or how is the Miniaturist? Why name the book after her? 

I just happen to like books that don't answer the questions for me. I also love the chase of the human contradiction. So even though for the life of me I can't figure this book out, I'm glad I read it, at this particular time. I'm glad the book showed me that, yes, we have made some progress.

What you don't know about Ulysses. Even if you know nothing!

Have you read Ulysses?  Touted as the best book of the 20th Century?  I have to confess that I haven't either.  But I'm getting closer to doing it.  [Insert Virgian Wolfian Sigh.]  
The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses
In place of reading it, I read this book that I'm afraid many people missed this year.  It was very interesting, as it is mostly a study on the evolution of American publishing rights and the First Amendment vs. pornographic vs. literature standards and the way the Ulysses trials changed so much of that. But I truly had no idea. None! That the Roaring Twenties really were so roaring, or that Joyce had so many protectors. This was eye opening in many ways.  Now I look at every book with new eyes, and wonder whether it went through a ponography trial.  Or not.

Anyway, it was a fast read, I couldn't put it down.

Confessions of a Book Snob -- October

Although I have been too busy to post, I have still be reading, as well as reviewing books on Goodreads and with the Paris News.  In case you missed it, here is the Book Review in Paris Life for October.  Clearly, I was still thinking about dancing!  Click the link to read with the pictures and online at The Paris News.

Confessions of a DANCING Book Snob

It probably surprises no one that while competing in this year’s Dancing With the Stars (raising money for Lamar County Crime Stoppers), I read books on ballroom / performance dancing.
Low and behold, I was surprised by how much I liked them.
My husband calls me a book snob, probably for good reason. I’ve always turned my nose up at books that are by celebrities but are actually written by “ghost writers.” Why? It is just something about the publishing industry that drives me crazy. Don’t put your name on a book if you didn’t actually write it.

But the truth is, these books wouldn’t get written without ghost writers and they do serve a purpose, as my experience shows.

I read a newly published book by dancer elite Derek Hough titled: “Taking the Lead: Lessons from a Life in Motion.” I liked it so much, I also read Cheryl Burke’s “Dancing Lessons: How I found Passion and Potential on the Dance Floor and in Life.”

Honestly, participating in this dance contest, where the attendants actually vote on you based on 60 seconds of your best, humble efforts, was one of the most nerve wracking things I’ve ever done. My friends and acquaintances were surprised at this, because they know I love being in front of a crowd. But performing for purely artistic reasons and performing for votes, even if it is all for a good cause, are very different things. Also, I didn’t know how to “perform” ballroom dance and really wanted performance to be a part of my dances. Basically, I needed some help facing my fears.

The books were formatted differently.

Burke chose a particular dance for each chapter, and fit it into her life, as well as telling stories from her DWTS experiences, weaving all of that into inspiration.

Hough’s book followed the more traditional memoir life chapters, but made sure to wrap each chapter up with a “leading lesson” and a reflection. He also tied in the lessons with some of his mirror ball winning partners’ dance struggles (which strangely mirrored mine), and then gave inside information and tips on ballroom dances. The chapters were short, to the point, and easy to digest. Hough isn’t going to win any literary awards for his ghost written book, but I’ll always remember it.

What did I learn?

Anyone can dance. Everyone has something to overcome. The only disability you have is in your head. Figure out your passion and everything else will fall into place. “Fear is a great motivator... Go ahead and be scared. Get out of your comfort zone. Align yourself with your fear and use it to propel you to progress. Look your demons in the eye and kick ‘em to the curve... Life is a dance but it’s much more than mastering your steps. It’s pushing your boundaries, shattering your limits and exploding in a breathtaking burst of light.”

I learned that I need to not be such a book snob about celebrity ghost written books.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

On Dancing . . . more of the story

I'll be honest with you, I'd rather be dancing than blogging.  But the event is over, I'm looking at my treadmill with freshly jaded eyes, so many of you have said how you've been inspired to dance, and I've got some awesome pictures and a story to share, so here is more of the story for you.  Here is one of my favorites:

Viennese Waltz to James Brown's It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World 

Last time I left you with us meeting our dancers.  (Click that link) After that it was a fast and furious whirlwind.  

First we chose music, before we'd even met each other.   Here is a screenshot of how long it took us:

It was so easy for us that I took it as a good sign. We actually nailed down the James Brown song ( It's a Man's World) first, and then decided on Sway and El Tango de Roxanne within the first 5 minutes of our first lesson.  That went pretty much like this:

"Hello, Sydney!"

[Hug, as is done in performance arts world]

"Hello Rangel, is that right? The Tango is on my bucket list.  Can we do that dance?"

"Pronounce it any way you want and Yes, we can do the Tango."

"Oh!  Well, I think you should tell people how you want your name pronounced.  It's your name and it drives me crazy that Americans don't try, but WOW Really?  Don't you need to see if I can do it first?"

"No.  Let's do it.  We can do it. Let's go for it."

"Wow! Ok.  Well, I want to dance the Tango to El Tango de Roxanne."

"I've actually done the Tango in a contest to that before."


"It is not a good song for the Tango, it does not have a musical beat to keep time to at first."

"Can't we just splice it up as we need it?  I really want it to be to that."

"We'll do it."


FYI,  Rangel likes things to be his way.  And I like things to be his way -- he's the pro, his way is the best way.  So the way he made El Tango de Roxanne his way was to get a good recording with the actual voice over from the movie, so that we had the voice as beats to move off of.  LOVED IT.  And by your reaction, you did, too!  Every time we actually performed it (all three or four times, ha!) there comes a point or three in the dance that you can feel the audience / viewers gasp.  Very cool.  

Anyway, the first conversation continued:

 "Are we learning the Tango today? "

"No, today we are learning the Viennese Waltz so turn your head, don't look at me."

Not so easy to do, but that's another issue.

And five double dance sessions into it:

"So, are we learning the Tango today?"

"No, next time.  Because, while you learn fast, you don't remember anything I've told you and I have to keep helping you remember that it goes one, two, three cha cha, not one two, cha cha cha."

-- For the record, I blame the evil mom on Hairspray, because in my mind she chants:  "One two, cha cha cha."  Also for the record, Rangel isn't really into excuses, so I didn't bother to explain on that one.  

That's also the dance that I actually said:  "So help me remember -- does the turn happen on one or three?" 

"Neither, it happens on two!"

Did I tell you that I eventually began saying:  "I've died and gone to Tango heaven and Cha Cha hell!"  I would get nervous and sluff into cha cha when it wasn't time and hear that I was off with the music and go into a tail spin.  So I eventually learned every "pop" step with the music it actually happened on.  That way, if I got off, I knew exactly when  to pop back in.  Came in handy, because on a big turn I dropped the cha cha, but easily found my way back in for the fun attitude flashing my ring move.  Besides the BIG mistake [Note to self, if the really slippery floor makes you off balance after the big turn, don't do the kick!!  You'll end up making your worst fear come true and your partner will look at you with really sad eyes after his head has been kicked!!  And despite both of your best efforts, it will not make it into the really cool newly invented dance moves book!!], that's the only mistake I made on the Cha Cha from Hell.  Not to say that I did it technically correct, that's a whole different ball game.

Anyway,  I really loved the music choices everyone made for the event -- so much fun!  The crowd really got into it, so the music did what it was supposed to do.

Once you know your dances and music -- even if you haven't learned them yet -- you move on to clothing. [Note on shoes - buy them a size smaller!] Just to keep it real, I'm letting you see a picture of some of the family members who were very interested to see all these strange goings on. They were constant companions on many self dance sessions.  They are pretty good  at rhythm, and never tripped me up getting out of my way:

I won't go on about clothes, I'll just say I stressed and stressed over them.  FYI Julie Mac, you can rent this dress or any other one that suits your fancy from Rhythmic Rentals!  However, you can't rent "Fabio."  His so sweet and incredible partner, Veronika probably wouldn't go for that!  Here is one of my favorite pictures of them, you should check out these champs --  CLICK HERE FOR A LINK TO THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE --  If you scroll down on it just a bit you'll see they were recently in the company of the great Shirley Ballas!  I wish them the very best! 

Veronika probably doesn't know it but her little acts of kindness to me made all the difference.  Always very sweet and encouraging, when Rangel would overwhelm me (I know you can't imagine that! -- not that he wasn't always such a great teacher and wonderful to work with, he's just so darn good its a bit overwhelming), she always made me feel good.  Thank you Veronika! Same thing with my husband -- he was 100% behind me, even on the passionate Tango dance.  He was only going to be mad at me if I didn't go for it!  Besides, he's the reason I love the Tango!  You don't emote those feelings in a dance without having experienced great love and all that comes with it over a lifetime.  That Tango dance was for him, and he absolutely loved it. 

So, you practice, and practice and practice.  And your partner starts realizing that he just might as well repeat himself 50 million times on the off chance you might remember something he said.  (I will say that I think I came away with one big picture item from each lesson.  Not that I did them on the dance floor!)

For example, while the last picture looks pretty good, I'm dropping my frame -- my elbow and upper body --  there.  Also, in the top picture, I'm supposed to be twisting with my back, not just putting my leg out.  

Now, these pictures are from our very first Tango lesson.  I hope even with the technical issues that surprises you because it just came so natural.  I've read that Tango is a street dance -- now that I've done it I can totally understand what that means.  Because, while it would take hours and hours of practice to hone those technical moves into my brain, the tango has some simple rules, and -- most importantly -- it is very much a lead dance.  In other words, body language tells you where to go.   So you meet your fella on the street and he takes you for a spin.  It either works for you, and the passion is there, or you are on the hunt for the next guy, looking over your shoulder until your guys says enough and shakes you back to him, and hopefully no street fight ensues, but no guarantees.

This looks good, too, but you'll notice that Rangel's knees are bent.  Mine clearly aren't.  That is something in the Tango you are supposed to do, bend those knees.  Also, you push against each other to maintain your balance and momentum, see how hard I'm pushing with my arm?  But my elbow isn't supposed to be locked out.  

Details, details.   

Still, I'll take it.

You'll notice from the practice photos that there are people on the dance floor, unless you happen to be lucky enough to be practicing at a time when no one else is there (at Studio 22 there are basically three dance floors -- click the link to check them out, they have so much going on!).  Being from the theatre world, I'm not used to sharing stage with anyone not in the scene.  I get so focused that I don't know other people are there, and then poof I'm about to run into them and where the heck were we in the routine?  In one video of us practicing, I actually see people scooting out of the way, and I'm totally oblivious.  Sorry guys!  

Now, I think obviously, there is never enough time.  We all wanted more dance lessons, and I particularly wanted to get my head in the game and understand how to approach couple dance performance.  So of course, I read a number of books about dance that I loved.  If you enjoyed the event or are interested, here are my suggestions:
Taking the Lead: Lessons from a Life in Motion
Brand new book by the Big 5 Mirror Ball Winner himself, Derek Hough (the reason I even know anything about Shirley Ballas).  Amazing how inspirational this is.  I confess, that I used to be a book snob about books "by" athletes, actually written by ghost writers.  Now I want more!

Dancing Lessons: How I Found Passion and Potential on the Dance Floor and in Life

And because I wanted more, and also because I just spend at least 40 (!!!) hours in the car this month driving to dance practice and back, I got this audio and listened to it.  Loved it in the same way, and in a different way, because it actually shares about some women's issues, and you know I'm all about that!  (We'll dub Cheryl an official V Girl for being brave and sharing her story!) 

Fitness Confidential 

This book is about fitness.  Best one I think I've ever listened to!  No holding back, and while I don't endorse all his views, I love his passion!  I simply must remember to tune in to his podcast. 

The Silver Linings Playbook 

I loved the dance competition aspect (and all the rest) of Silver Linings the movie, so I picked up the book as a cheap easy read.  Loved it all over again,  even though it really had nothing much about the competition! 

Astonish Me 

If not for dancing, I think I would have missed this book in a sea of blue book covers. HERE IS MY REVIEW OF IT.  I loved it!  One of my favorite fiction books I've read this year. 

Anyway, that is more of the story about my experience with Dancing with The Stars, Paris Texas style 2014, benefiting Lamar County Crime Stoppers.  Even though I wasn't perfect, and knew I wouldn't be, I feel really great about what we all did out there, and why, and I'm thankful for the whole experience. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Putting on Your Ballroom Dancing

All the discarded dance shoes from a recent event via Juan Espinosa

"We can dance

 if we want to . . . . 

 We can dance, 

We can dance . . . "

I can't get that song out of my mind.  Perhaps because I've lost my mind a little, and have agreed to do something that is stretching my boundaries quite a bit.  It's one thing to enjoy theatrical / vocal performing,  it's quite another to agree to dance while being judged, even if it is for a good cause.  

I've always loved to dance, but I'm definitely not up to par to do anything like that.  Especially in front of a huge crowd that is judging us!  But I'm in good company, because all of us who have signed up for this year's Dancing with the Stars, Paris Texas, feel quite a bit sick at our stomachs about what we have gotten ourselves in to.  (Stacy Eatherly with Paris Regional Medical Center, Casey Gain with The Moore Firm, Stacy Ladell with Kimberly Clark, Bari "Beni" Mehmeti of Capizzi's, Cindy Ruthart -- Lamar County Justice of the Peace, and me, Sydney Young of Young Title Company).   Nervous, but determined and definitely a team.

So we just keep chanting this mantra: It's for a good cause, it's for a good cause.

This is another Mantra that I happen to really like!!

It truly is for a good cause, and we all agree that it's not about winning the competition -- even though we are each going to work hard to do so -- but about having a great night while raising a good deal of funds for the cause.

Lamar County Crimestoppers is an organization that I have supported for years.  They've always had a rodeo as their fund raiser, but this year they stepped out and were awarded the Dancing With the Stars fundraiser by the City of Paris on the night of September 6th.   (Order your Tickets Here).   This is the same night as the 6 Squared Community Art fundraiser at the Gilbratar -- thankfully they have timed the events so you can do both!

The thing is, the dancing starts long before the night of the event.  So, I thought I would share some of our experiences with you along the way, perhaps you will be inspired to go dance.  Yes, we can if we want to.  (TIP to the guys -- ALL OF US GIRLS DO WANT TO DANCE!)

I truly am learning that it is as easy as the song -- we really can dance if we want to!  But how?

Of course, first, you must have a studio.  Lucky for us, we all really like the one that is working with us.  It is called Studio 22.

Doesn't this place just look perfect?  (And there is even a tanning place nearby - I think that was pretty brilliant).  It's an easy drive to Plano via 75 / 121 and the tollroad, on Preston.

Here is the Website for Studio 22, check it out!

Now, I'll admit, it is a little --no, no, no, it is very -- intimidating to drive over there and show up for some dance lessons.

The V-Girl story is pretty tops -- click here for link

In fact, I was so anxious about just going for the first dance lesson that I  fixated on "what to wear" and changed my sloppy yoga pants and Tshirt about twenty times.  I finally realized that I needed pure Vgirl power for this one.  It truly, truly helped.  Good thing I wore my V-girl Tshirt, because my dancing partner, when I met him, was in dress pants and a tie.  I was totally empowered.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  Because when I came to the parking lot, a troupe of people were coming out of Studio 22.  And guess what?  They all looked just like me!  No, not the yoga pants, and V-girl shirt, but the whole thing.  Not skinny, tan, professional, Dancing with the Stars Pros and Celebrities. They were just ordinary.  Ordinary people.  Like me.  Like you, too.

Alright, so.  I have the dance studio and first workout clothes down.  I also feel pretty good about walking into the studio because on the drive over I sang the entire Wicked CD.  Ready to Defy Gravity.

When I go in, I'm not really obsessing over what the building itself will be like -- I've been in enough dance studios in my life time.  But after the reception desk, I get to go into the ballroom and to my amazement, this is what I see.

Rangel Spirov
I hope the picture does it justice.  It's a really pretty ballroom.  With little sparkly lights, and tables and chairs set up all around (just in case you have some girlfriends that you are begging to come with you, and you can say:  see, you can just sit around and chat and have some wine and say what's going on, and I'll dance and be your designated driver.  Come on, girlfriends, please!)   

So, I guess what I 'm saying here is that the ballroom is quite inspirational.

But you can't dance without a dancer.   That, obviously, is step Number Two.  

 Here is a link to our instructors.  I think that I'll get to tell you a bit about each of them, because it will be more fun for all of us that way, but for right now I want you to meet my instructor.

His name is Rangel Spriov.  He's been dancing since he was 10 -- for 20 years!

He said that he has let nothing come between him and his dream for dancing.  He immigrated to America to fulfill that dream.  He is very inspiring.

Here Rangel is showing me a Waltz step.  He's top notch.  

Here he is along with his dance partner, showing everyone how to do the Paso.  (Yes, fellas, his partner will also be appearing in Paris on the night of September 6th, as Stacy Laddell's partner.  By the way, I have it on the best of authority that Stacy believes that the key to his success will be his ripped abs, and I say more power to him!).

Veronika Chernyavska
They've definitely got some moves!  (And now I feel sick to my stomach again).

Rangel Spirov and Veronika Chernyavska, among other awards,  are the 2012 Professional Latin  Champions of Bulgaria. They have been dancing  together since September 2011.  

But the best thing is, Rangel's been quite nice about teaching me, as have all the pros from what I hear.

So, we have our studio and  our dancers.  What next?  

Stay tuned . . . and  Order your Tickets!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Confessions of a Book Snob

My husband always accuses me of being a book snob.  And a music snob.  I hate being called a snob, but I have to confess that the 2014 TBR Challenge may have proven him right.  

Because with that challenge, I had all these big heavy tomes on my shelf (heavy in one way or another) that I needed to read.  Even I knew that it would be Too Much, so I decided to throw in something light and easy.  Something just for fun.  Naturally, there isn't much on my shelf that fits that.  Especially not with all this darn contemporary literary fiction. 

So I grabbed this one and threw it in the mix.

The Lincoln Lawyer (Mickey Haller, #1)That's right.  The Lincoln Lawyer.  The movie that I didn't watch.  The book that I didn't even buy, the one that my husband read and kept telling me to read.  

I always gripe at him for the fact that he doesn't ever put the law down.  Why watch all those crime shows when you live it every day and know how wrong they are, and how they have given juries a false sense of how it happens and should happen?  No, no, no, no, give me escape!

I don't think I've voluntarily read a lawyer book since Presumed Innocent (which I read  while putting off studying for a criminal law exam, that I aced, thank you very much) or A Time to Kill (my favorite, favorite, favorite contemporary lawyer fiction), or The Firm (yeah, so not real but so fun)  and the best of all time To Kill a Mockingbird, whom some argue was the best book of the 21st century (move over Ulysses, sorry Red Roof Reader I'm just reporting what they claim).  

So, after the pure drudgery of slogging through  Bleak House (the first on my 2014 TBR Challenge ), I decided to go for some fun.  I read this way back in April, and was too stumped to write about it.  

I'm still thinking about it.  

Because I loved it.  

I love these lawyer fiction books!  Why did I quit reading them?  

(Oh, yes, you are right, it didn't hurt that Mathew Himself is on the cover. Alright, alright, alright.)

We Americans have such a love / hate relationship with lawyers.  Can't live with 'em.  Can't live without 'em.

This book nailed so much of the lawyer -we-are-all-so-screwed-up (yes, I do believe that), psyche to me. 

Is that why I loved it?  

I dunno.  I dunno that I care. 

I just want to read the sequels.  

My husband didn't even know that there were sequels.  (Did you?)

There is really nothing of literary import to report other than this:  

Let's just be honest.  Let's face it.  You, the American public, you love you some lawyers, yes, you do.  And you should.  We stand between you and tyranny.  Yes, we do.  Whether Shakespeare said it or not, there is a reason that "First let's kill all the laywers" is so true in a coup d'etat and is so lovingly repeated without even thinking of that. 

So keep on hating us, and keep on loving us. I'm pretty sure you'll keep on calling us at all hours of the night and day, especially on our vacation days (!!) with your "drop everything else, this is an emergency" situations. And we'll talk calm to you, and we'll likely help you, and by jove yes, we'll charge you, and  we'll make you mad somehow, and then you can go back to hating us again, while watching all those lawyer shows, and movies, and reading all these crime/lawyer gone wrong books.  

I vow to read them some more.  Maybe I'll figure myself out.

Now here are you a couple of Haller truths  (there are way more in the book, but only very few made it to Goodreads):  

"You know what my father said about innocent clients? ... He said the scariest client a lawyer will ever have is an innocent client. Because if you fuck up and he goes to prison, it'll scar you for life ... He said there is no in-between with an innocent client. No negotiation, no plea bargain, no middle ground. There's only one verdict. You have to put an NG up on the scoreboard. There's no other verdict but not guilty."

* * * 

"There is no client as scary as an innocent man."

* * * 

“You're a sleazy defense lawyer with two ex-wifes and an eight-year-old daughter and we all love you.” 

* * * 

Yes, we do, Haller.  God help us, we do.  

P.S.   Red Roof Reader  -- oh ye that thought up this little exercise.  It's a good one.  Thank you. 

June Reading: Yes! No! and So So

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2)The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

(Via Audio and Hardback). This is one of my son's favorite authors.  He grew up on Harry Potter, so I read the first book in the series and thought it was excellent, so I shared it with my then young teenager.  I also said in my mind that Rothfuss could be as talented as some of the fantasy greats, but I would have to read the second book to know whether he is. Husband and son loved this book, and while I liked it, the first was better for me.  Still, I will read the third which just came out, and then I think I'll be ready to proclaim Rothfuss a great, great fantasy writer?

This quote sums up Book Two to me --

“Knowing your own ignorance is the first step to enlightenment.”

Without giving anything way, book two is quite the journey for enlightenment.

Kvothe is still in school, and is getting a little bit cockier, a little bit richer, and a lot bit still in need of enlightenment. Just in the way that Kvothe learns to split his mind in order to win battles, Rothfuss kept splitting my mind with the endless stories in this book that spun off of the main story.  Kvothe has to go on a journey, goes on another journey, goes on another journey, goes on another journey. . . I just kept wanting it to quit splintering.

Also, I wasn't all that in love with the sex nymph journey, but while I was reading I was keen enough to think:  "I bet the men love this.  Maybe that is what it is like for them to read my favorite romance/historical romps, such as the Outlander series."  Sure enough, when I mentioned to them where I was and that I was ready for that part to be over, they both looked at me dumbfounded.  Of course, it was essential to the story, I just didn't love it.  I also, sadly, got a little tired of the writing style, which I loved the first time.

Still, I like the story enough that I will read the third book, so that says something.  In the end, I am glad that the 2014 TBR Challenge put this back in my line up, rescued from my languishing pile of books on the bookshelf.


Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Outlander, #8)Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon

(Via Audio).  I purposefully didn't rush through this. Love these books, and getting to enjoy a new one is like slipping into a warm blanket on a cold winter's night.  Just where you want to be, with Jamie and Claire and the kids.  Chill moments,  Aha moments, Tearful moments. Just right, no spoilers here.

Also an easy short read is (Shocking that Herself does write short novellas!  Not shocking that they are great.)

The Space Between (Outlander, #7.5)The Space Between by Diana Gabaldon

(Via my eReader).  Fun and satisfying novella in the Outlander world.  New and old characters.  I'm such a fan and this little book demonstrates why.  Gabaldon is a modern Dickens.  Lots of stuff always going on in her books, many characters, big picture points, a bit romantic (but smart), and safe but wild at the same time. I also like that her characters are like real people -- you get it all, for example, not everyone is a Christian and not everyone is an Atheist, and life questions abound.  Getting ready for the new Outlander series on Starz and the new book, both magically released this summer, this is the perfect teaser.


All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

(Via Audio) Very good book, literary and historical fiction with enough of a hook throughout most of it to keep the pages turning.  The ending really got to me, not to give anything away, but it really drove home how the generation that saw WWII is passing, leaving us all in the dark once again.  Light, and even radio waves and the house are additional characters in this book.  It also reminded me how few books are told with a blind POV, that was very interesting. Here is a haunting quote from the book:

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”


Strangely, I had TWO BOOKS that I put down!  I never do that, is it me or does the fault lie  somewhere else?

Frog MusicPUBLISHER'S BLURB -- From the author of the worldwide bestseller Room: "Her greatest achievement yet...Emma Donoghue shows more than range with FROG MUSIC--she shows genius." -- Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life

Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman named Jenny Bonnet is shot dead. 

The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny's murderer to justice--if he doesn't track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers, and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women, and damaged children. It's the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.

In thrilling, cinematic style, FROG MUSIC digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue's lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boomtown like no other.

The Steady Running of the Hour
PUBLISHER'S BLURB -- In this mesmerizing debut, a young American discovers he may be heir to the unclaimed estate of an English World War I officer, which launches him on a quest across Europe to uncover the elusive truth.

Just after graduating college, Tristan Campbell receives a letter delivered by special courier to his apartment in San Francisco. It contains the phone number of a Mr. J.F. Prichard of Twyning Hooper, Solicitors, in London and news that could change Tristan's life forever.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Simply Soul Food

Everybody's Got SomethingEverybody's Got Something by Robin Roberts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Click link or picture for your copy from BookPeople in Austin, Texas, or Paris Public Library has this in book format (you might want to get your name on the reservation list, it is checked out and I imagine it will stay that way for awhile!).

(Via Audio ) Robin's mother anyways told her that regardless of who or what you are in life, regardless of what you do or don't do, you'll go through hardship, "Everybody's got Something."  She also told her to "Make your Mess your Message."  So Robin proceeds to do just that in this book as she shares her hardship of going through a bone marrow transplant at the same time her elderly mother faces failing health.

I've always just loved Robin Roberts.  She is a breath of fresh air, a ray of sunshine,  a heart of compassion (and a spice of the Southern woman!) in morning news.  I'm so glad she read this book, which is so her voice even though it was co-written.  Whether you are going through hardship or not, there is so much wisdom shared here - I grabbed hold of some new game plans for many different situations in my life.  I was just going to read it as I wanted to, the way I do most nonfiction,  but I couldn't put this one down.

Being a part of #teamRobin on Twitter from the day of her announcement of her new battle, and being a part of my own team for very close friends, this book helped me so much and reminded me how I am a part of a larger community.  Highly Recommend.

P.S.  This book feels personal to me.  Having been through similar situations with close friends of my own, this book demonstrates to me the real need for a world of support while facing cancer.  If you don't have that something going on right now but do have a friend going through it, read this book. You'll get some good ideas. 

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Color Me Ballet - a Novel of Life and Excellence

Astonish MeAstonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
 Click cover art or title to order your copy from BookPeople in Austin, Texas.  Not in Paris Public Library yet, but surely soon!

See it, Astonish Me!
(Via Hardcover from BookPeople, while listening to Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, which is what my very sneaky mom used to play to put me to sleep. Ok so, Swan Lake would have been more appropriate on the surface, but Sleeping Beauty is, understandably, one of my favorite symphonies and the stuff of dreams, and exactly right for this book, especially because we wouldn't have this book without the author's mom, who shared with her the love of ballet).

In a sea of blue covered books which I can't for the life of me keep straight, this one stands out. (I may have to boycott blue covers this year- book world hear my plea - except Jimmy Carter's book, I'll make an exception for that, thank heaven I have already read John Green).  The cover deserves attention.  Simply deceptively perfect.  Look at it, what do you think you will get?  Ballet. Not overly done, not lost in romance, but determined ballet at the cross roads of life, on a crisp white platter,  with a demanding presence - The teacher? The audience? The star? The reader? Life? You? Me? Astonish me. Astonish me.  Astonish me.

Meet Joan who has a secret which perhaps is why she has never danced as well as she danced tonight.  Joan is good enough to dance in the corp, but is not a star.  Yet, the star chose her to help him defect.  And off we go, through a world that I'd long since forgotten and don't know - ballet,  the barre, tutus, and the Cold War (remember White Knights?), and through relationships, which are always changing in predictable and unpredictable ways. This is a world of a much different kind of performance art than I'm used to,  a world the book penetrates with seeming truth.  But even there,  it's a world where determination and love are what matters, in the end.

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A Bookseller, a Book Seller, and a Baby

The Storied Life of A. J. FikryThe Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Click the link or the picture for your copy from BookPeople in Austin, Texas.  Also, the Paris Public Library has this book in many formats.

(Via Audio). First, if you have lived in America for the last twenty years, beware that the cover feel is not what you get. It basically looks like Harry Potter (come on, tell me you agree) but this is not a magic bookseller story.  Instead, it's a magical story - aka well written page turner- about a bookseller and what happens when he finds a baby in his store.  Now don't spin off from there into "Three Men and a Baby," it's not that either.  Rather, the story is about real life situations that are interesting and difficult, and characters that you care about (a bookstore that is going under, a new book sales rep with a favorite little book, a widower faced with the challenge of going on, a surviving sister with difficulties of her own, a cop who starts a bookclub, an abandoned baby who grows into a bright young girl).  It's one of those sneaky books that take literature and life situations and put them in front of you for your consideration, such as is demonstrated by these little quotes:


“You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, "What is your favorite book?” 

"We aren't the things we collect, acquire, read. We are, for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on.”

"Sometimes books don't find us until the right time.”

 “Do you like Moby Dick?" he asks.

"I hate it," she says. "And I don't say that about many things. Teachers assign it, and parents are happy because their kids are reading something of 'quality.' But it's forcing kids to read books like that that make them think they hate reading.”

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Oh Los Alamos! Easy and Essential

The Wives of Los AlamosThe Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Click picture or name to link to BookPeople in Austin, Texas.  The Paris Public Library does not have this book yet. 

(Via Audio) -- Very interesting book.  I used to go to Church Camp in the New Mexico mountains, from which I garnered a pen pal from Los Alamos.  I had NO idea about this place.  I loved the literary style of this book -- in the collective we, which managed to show the many many experiences of the wives, the families, and even the views of the scientists -- the lives of the creators of the atomic bomb during those years.

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Intense Coming of Age WWII Spy Novel

Code Name Verity

by Elizabeth Wein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Click the picture or title for your copy from BookPeople in Austin, Texas, or Paris Public Library has this on CD.

(Via Audio, but now I now want to read it!) Well written unique book about two young English women who become friends despite social class difference because of World War II, which took them to their destinies.  The book is told through their journals, so you get to see the story unfold through different view points.  I was hooked from the first couple of sentences, which, along with the title, tells all:


I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending.  I spent the first twelve years of my life at the Battle of Stirling Bridge with my five big brothers, and even though I am a girl they let me be William Wallace, who is supposed to be one of our ancestors, because I did the most rousing battle speeches."

(Now just try to put that down!) A true spy-coming of age novel, chalk full of historical and literary references.  I cannot for the life of me figure out what book this is like, but I would say that if you liked "The Book Thief" and if you like intrigue, you will like this.