Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 Favorites of Books Published this Year

Here  is my Top Ten list of books published and read  in 2013.  If you are interested to learn more, click the Title to take you to my blog about it, or click the bookcover to take you to Goodreads and my review of it there. 

Texas History:
1. The Son The Son   --  What a great book about Texas!


2. My Beloved World My Beloved World                               3. Lean In Lean In  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead 

Excellent writing, historical and dramatically different in presentation or subject matter:

Historical Magical Realism / Fantasy:

Thinking outside the Box:
8.  David and Goliath: The Triumph of the Underdog  David and Goliath 

Dramatic Historical Fiction:

9. Fever  Fever   

And, of course, something related to performance arts that I loved:

10. Diary of a Redneck Opera Zinger Diary of a Redneck Opera Zinger  -- What a fun book!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

2014 TBR Challenge

Anyone out there have a good number of books on your shelf (real or virtual)  that need TO BE READ?  

Yeah, LOL!  

Ehem, yours truly does.  So this year I am going to officially participate in the 2014 TBR Challenge.  If you are also a glutton for punishment with a bookshelf a bit too full, I invite you to join me.

[UPDATE, Challenge COMPLETED -- Bleak House , I'm so bleakity bleak glad, my January read].

Naturally, there are some rules.  First, the book cannot have been published in 2013.  That is the big kicker.  Also, you must post your list in the right places and follow up by the due dates, so make sure and check the link I provided if you want your participation to be official.  Here is my list, in no particular order, and I've indicated the ones I have read, with a link to the review:

The Passing Bells (Passing Bells, #1)

1.  The Passing Bells.  I've had this hardback book for a number of years, taken from my mother-in-law's bookshelf.  It looked interesting, but I never read it.  Last year, it got attention as a book to read if you are a Downton Abby fan.  I thought it looked familiar and LOW AND BEHOLD, it was still on my shelf.

(I've read it and recommend it.  Review Here )

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

2.  The Wise Man Fears.  Loved the first book, and have been meaning to read this.  Bought it for my son, who read it and passed it on to Dad, who takes about a year to read books, so, My Turn, Finally.  Fantasy, but in a Magical Realism way, like Harry Potter (except darker and not for youngsters) and Game of Thrones (except Winter is not Coming, but something else is).  (I've read it and recommend it.  Review Here! )

On the Road

3.  On The Road.  Yeah, been sitting there making me feel guilty.  No further explanation needed. 

Day After Night

4.  Day After Night.  Loved the Red Tent, but haven't read Anita Diamant since then.  Bought this several years ago, because I also love WWII books.  But I've been into WWI more lately, so this one has played second fiddle.  Looking forward to it.

From Love Field: Our Final Hours With President John F. Kennedy

5.  From Love Field.  A friend I trust to recommend good books gave me this to read, in this 50th anniversary year.  It is just wrong that I didn't make time to read it.

Bleak House

6.  Bleak House.  Charles Dickens takes on the chancery court with this novel that caused legal reforms.  Untrue to character, its length is scaring me off.  But I bought it, and I know I'll be glad to read it, so Dickens made the list.

[ CLICK HERE FOR MY REVIEW finished Jan, 2014, HOORAY].

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

7.  Blood Meridian.    Believe it or not, the Coen brothers have not yet directed/produced the bloodiest McCormick novel, because that distinction belongs to this book.  It is also the bloodiest book that is praised and praised and praised, ad infinitum, by so many, which is why I don't want to read it and do want to read it, so it's in bookshelf limbo.  Now I don't have to just hope that PJC's 2014 production of McBeth will but me in the mood.

[I've read it and HATED IT.  Review here . ]

The Lincoln Lawyer (Mickey Haller, #1)

8.  The Lincoln Lawyer.   On our shelf, I haven't read it, and I need something a bit more legally fun since Bleak House and Blood Meridian are on the list.  Dickens and the Coen brothers be darned.

[I've read it, and loved it.  Review Here.  ]


 9.   1776.  Have I really not read a David McCullough book yet?  Apologies to whoever gave this to me with high recommendations!

The Enchantress of Florence

10.   The Enchantress of Florence.    I can't help but pick up a Salmon Rushdie book when I see one, thanks to Book Club.  So I came home with this one, but never read it, even though I'm highly intrigued to see Rushdie interweave the High Renaissance with the Mughal Empire of the same time period.


11.  Finn.  I think I picked this up from someone in Book Club.  I'm somewhat linear, so it felt wrong to read this book when I had not read Huck's own book.  Remedied and ready to walk in his dad's shoes. 

Teaching Life: Letters from a Life in Literature
12.  Teaching Life  Letters from a Life in Literature.    I ordered this from the Bas Blue catalog years ago.  More than just a literary / teaching guide, this book was written in response to the sudden death of one of his students, who died tragically in an automobile accident on her way to Salwak’s office to talk over her career plans.  It isn't long but doesn't have much white space so I need a little extra incentive to pick it up.

New York
The Street of a Thousand BlossomsOk, as per the rules, there are two alternatives in case these don't pass muster,  the alternates are New York and The Street of a Thousand Blossoms.

So . . . Challenge On!  And I already feel better about all these poor little books who are pining away for me to pick them up and read them.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

A New Historical Fiction Author to Love and a MOOC !!

The Ghost BrideThe Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

MOOC CLASS -- Plagues, Witches and War:
I might have missed this book but I'm glad I didn't.  I read it as a part of a MOOC [Massive Open Online Course] course titled: Plagues, Witches and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction --  (click to link to learn more about this class).

I loved the book and the lecture (and the course), and I will definitely read more books by Ms. Choo. And if you are looking for a book for an avid reader on your Christmas list, based upon the response of the class, your reader will enjoy this book.

The Ghost Bride is different from many contemporary Asian historical books, but if you like Lisa See or Amy Tan, or Diana Gabaldon you'll enjoy this.  I include Gabaldon, because although I agree that this is historical fiction, due to the historical element of ghost marriages and where that takes us,  the story is also fantasy, like Outlander.

Did you know that in the Far West, along with the tradition of continuing to look after the dead in the afterlife, sometimes marriages are held between dead persons?  I really didn't either,  but after reading this well written page turner, I do now. 

So I'm a fan, and I was even more wowed by the author's reading in the audio version.   Here is a link to her blog about that, where she reads the first Chapter of the book.  Check it out!

Also, as to the class, besides the literary discussions and readings, here are the books that we read.  You can click the books to learn more about them, but basically, in addition to The Ghost Bride, we traveled to Ancient Rome with Ovid, Salem and Current Day American with a "witch", New York in the early 20th Century with Typhoid Mary, and a Plage ridden English village with the characters created by the estimable Geraldine Brooks. I enjoyed all the books and interviews/ lectures that went with them.  So remember, if you are interested you can see the class archives with the link above.

The Love-Artist
The Love Artist
Year of Wonders
Year of Wonders
The Physick Book Of Deliverance Dane
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

A Burnable Book

Finally, note that Class Instructor Bruce Holsinger will soon have a new historical fiction published sometime in 2014.   I'm looking forward to it.

View all my reviews

Friday, December 13, 2013

I believe . . .

This I Believe

The True Literary Blue Stockings
We have a long standing tradition in December in Book Club to not officially read a book, because we are women and we are BUSY during the Christmas month.  But we still get together, and we always have a book exchange.  It can be any book, such as an awesome new book, or a gently used book or an old book off your bookshelf.  Whatever you want.  It's fun, but this year we added to the excitement by participating in the "This I Believe" movement.
This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women

Of course, that tradition is based on a book made up of many personal essays discussing various subject, based on each author's beliefs.  Hence the name. 

So we decided that whoever wanted to participate could write an essay, trying to stick to 500 words.  Put your essay in your book gift, and the recipient would read it, then we would try to guess who wrote what.  Almost everyone wrote an essay and it was fun.  I'm going to try and see if any of the others want to post their essays here, but for now you get mine.

Sorry, I digress. Ha!

We had months to prepare, but I've been a bit creatively busy lately, so I didn't write mine until the last minute, although I had been thinking of it quite a bit.  But when the time came to sit down and actually write it, I found that I was in a different frame of mind.  After the PJC Les Mis  experiences, I found myself pretty hopeful for all of the students that they would really take advantage of their higher education opportunities and dream big. 

Taken at 24th Street this Year
So I was still carrying that with me and I was thinking of the ladies of book club when I wrote this, but it could describe what I think of many of my friends and loved ones.  

So You!

One of the personally neat things for me, was that my piece was read by my friend and fellow thespian Robyn Whyte (aka The Flood in Vagina Monologues  -- see that post or Hot Pink Coats, her blog is also listed among the blogs I follow).  She did it justice, and hers was awesome, too (you can check it out on her blog).

 Hope you enjoy.  

This I Believe -- by Sydney Young

I believe.

I believe.

I believe.

What is it that I believe?  Oh, I know.

I believe in you.  

I believe that you are.   

You are poetry, a flowing stream, coming into my life and out of it with such strength, yet such gentleness. You change me with your very presence like water molds the rock. 

You are right there for me to reach, yet I can never capture you.  And I would never want to.  You were made to be free.  To meander.  To flood.  To touch my soul every so often.

You are laughter, like the gurgle of a spring fed brook on the hottest day in summer.  You refresh my soul.

You are passion, like a raging flood, crashing through me and all around me, trying to drag me with you, trying to drown me in your own belief.  And then, just like that, you go back to being a gentle stream, beckoning me.  

You are a glass of wine with good friends.  Making me flush and happy and reminding me of that one Christmas, that very best one, you know, the one that we had a real white flocked tree, and my brother got a springing rocking horse, and I got a Nancy Drew book, my very first one.

I love you.  And I believe in you, oh beautiful you.

Beautiful Tree that Survived the Great Ice Storm of 2013

Copyright 2013 Sydney Young

Saturday, December 7, 2013

On Corsets, Les Mis, and Life

Every show I perform in, I learn something.  Timing.  Movement.  Playing against a cast member.  Showing up.  The importance of memory work. Set work.  The importance of vocal warm ups.  The importance of being a team player.  The importance of group creativity.  Costuming. Grit. The importance of seasoned thespians.  The importance of newbies.  The importance of learning everyone's name.  The importance of doing your very best and then letting it go.  
Marius pops into a Cosette and Madame T. pic.  Cut up, who us?
The importance of not taking yourself and others too seriously. 
These near grads have that mastered!

The learning is something I really look forward to.  One more gem of knowledge to tuck away.  One more life lesson.  As usual,  I learned a great deal during our Les Mis run. It's been hard to sum up in my head, but I think I finally figured it out.

I learned Corset Couture.

I learned how to put on a corset.  I learned how tight it needed to be laced.  How to sing with it on. How to sit.  How to breath.  How to use it as a pocket of sorts.  How to admire it.  And how to take it off.   

1.  You cannot put a corset on all by yourself,  at least not the first time.

Corset Help 101
The first thing you learn in Corset Couture 101 is how to put it on.  Trust me,  even if you are well educated in the art of women's fashion, and even if you are a veteran lifelong student of 18th and 19th century literature, you are going to need some help.  

The first time I tried,  after just eyeballing it and plunging in,  I had it backwards AND upside down.

Veteran thespian and general treasure of a woman, Michelle Hobbs, got me back on track and laced me up, but I refused to let her lace me tight.  I know this shocks you all.  Too Bossy.  Yet, I am putty in the hands of a director.  So Director William Walker gently stepped in and took care of matters until someone told him to stop because I was turning blue. 

Thank you, both of you.  I could not have done it without you. 
Will and the Imp's Mom, selling tickets.  Dedicating the performance to the man who helped so man:  Ray Karrer

There are so many people who have taught me things I couldn't have learned on my own.  You are too many to name,  but I'm so grateful for you. 

Behind the scenes cast pics -- and the amazing musicians!!

2.  Corsets mold to your body.  The suffering does ease. 

Step one was accomplished,  let the corset games begin.  Will declared it perfect.  Perfect!  But horror of horrors, all the literature was true.   It was dreadfully uncomfortable.  I struggled not to pass out.  How in God's name was I to sing in this? 

Michelle and Imp sketch
Michelle laughed and had pity on me. 

"It will take a day or two, and then you will find it has molded itself to your body," she assured me.  "Start wearing it now, so you get used to it."

I absolutely did.  I'm one of those people who gets a little thrown (ok a lot thrown) by surprises. I plan things out. I want my day ordered.  I want to know my lines and I want you to know your lines. (LOL!) I just want it the way I want it.   (Hello left brain, I love you).  Except when I'm being creative. Still, as much creativity as there is in theatre, there is a Set Way It Happens, every time,  otherwise the magical spark can't happen.  Creativity is at its best when there is order and a game plan.  (I love you, too, right brain).

So I took her advice and wore the darn thing during rehearsal starting that night. 

Madame T. is telling a little secret here!  Why do they laugh?

It was absolute torture.  

Sometimes life is like that.  Torturous to take a breath, whether for good or for bad.

When Marius meets Cosette for the first time.  What a picture!
 Impossible to sing, to put one foot in front of the other.  Drudgery as you put in the behind the scenes work to achieve your goal.  I've been through that in theatre and in life,  and I have friends going through that right now.  Somehow,  we manage.  One more step, one more day, one more breath.  Keep Going.  Don't Quit.  Keep Calm and Carry On. Carry on. Carry On. 
Les Mis Junkies can name all these tough life moments.
Never Quit.

I have been taught this over and over and over.  For example,  I learned it in law school, where everyone is a little more than Anxious because you get one chance, one test per class for your grade, and the rest of your life depends on those grades. (Or so you think).

The students -- Do You Hear the People Sing?
 My torts prof  kept telling us that he would give us the secret.  The great big key.  His class was well attended as we awaited enlightenment.  When it finally came, it changed my life:

"This is a marathon. Many will start.  Few will stay the course.  All you have to do is Finish the Race."

Most of my class sighed in exasperation.  This was not what they had been waiting for with such high anticipation.  But it resonated with me. The second daughter.  The August baby in a September World.  Always trying to keep up.  I've never been one to start well.  I have to take my time,  think, plan, get my feet wet.  I'm never the most talented, never the sure thing.  But I've got something else.  

My Eponines and Young Cosette, Gritty!
I've got Grit.  And that goes a long way, Baby. 

 So I put the corset on and dealt with it during that long 4 hour rehearsal.  It wasn't fun.  It wasn't comfortable.  It made my back hurt.  It was restricting.  It was strange.   It made me want to pass out.  To bust out (Gotcha!  I meant the other bust!).  Take it off and Run Forest Run.  
The Thenardiers seriously knew how to dig in!  Shameful, but so much fun!!

Dig in Cosette and Eponine!  Love you girls!
But I did it. I stayed the course.  And guess what?  Michelle had told truth.  It got easier after several days.   The wiring molded to me and gave me just enough breathing room to get by.   It went from being an all out 15 minute fight to even put on my body to - pop snap - it is on and we are just fine Thank You Very Much.

 The everyday business of life,  the behind the scenes work, the times when we are going through the valley of the night.  These times are hard.  Much harder than singing in a binding corset.  But it will get easier.  You will get through it.  You can do it.  Don't Quit.  You've got this,  just finish it! 

Jean Valjean, Javert, The Thenardiers & All Take a Bow
3.  Corsets are the original spanx, only - dare I say it -- Better! 

Let's just admit it: every age has its beauty secrets and, dang, each age knew what they were doing!
The Les Mis style!
Now,  I'm not kidding myself and I won't lie to you.  I got through the Corset Couture 101 because I knew it was coming off in a few hours. I'm more than a bit claustrophobic and being restricted in breathing kind of scares me.   

A little before the dress up shot!
So I really did feel light headed - until I got onstage. It was surprising to realize that when I was singing it was actually easier to breathe.  That is because I learned in Corset Couture 201 that some corsets don't cover the diaphragm area.  The ones we had were made to minimize the waist and maximize the breast and hips.  Yay!  Plenty of room to work that diaphragm.  
So I learned to just breathe through the diaphragm even when not singing. I learned to love that little corset.  Gives you Perfect Posture.  You can even take a little nap while sitting in a chair and keep perfectly upright.  Actually I like them way better than spanks, which restrict diaphragm breathing and don't emphasize feminine assets. 

The interesting thing about Corset Couture 201 was that everyone in the cast loved wearing those clothes from the past.  We looked oh so handsome and beautiful in ways we never knew.  
Enjolras ties up Javert, while Valjean watches
 We learned how to tie  cravats, how to rat hair,  whether we liked beards or not.  (Yes! Yes!) 

Madam T's Ratting Shoppe !

More importantly, we learned that we enjoyed learning from each other.  This show was produced at Paris Junior College, the first musical opened up to the public in a very long time.  We all loved it.  

We all have something to offer each other.  Just because one generation thinks X and another thinks Y, doesn't mean we can't learn from each other.   We can change our perspectives by trying new things, and meeting new people. We can make each other better.

4. Corsets are made to come off. 

I now realize that whoever wrote "Blessed be the tie that binds" had a real sense of humor.   Well, actually, I've looked at his picture and now I'm not so sure he'd laugh at my joke.  But after learning corset couture, I have a new feeling about the blessedness of the tie that binds.
The Men of Les Mis!

A corset wasn't made to be worn 24 /7. Thank goodness.  Corsets do serve their purposes,  but it is just not good for anyone to live in one.  

Sweet Eponine!
We had a great Run with Les Mis.  Great cast, full of hard workers and team players and and a good deal of talent and grit.   The most dedicated of musicians.  Well cast, well directed, well managed.  Great audiences.  But all things,  both good and bad, must end.   

Our Les Mis ending was very abrupt.  We had been working together for months.  Then,  it was over, and we took our cravats and corsets off, and just walked away. Yet, we didn't leave it behind at all, instead, we were still singing it to ourselves, or listening to it, or watching it, or reading it.  

Part of the power of Les Mis is that it teaches us about death and parting.  It gives us hope for tomorrow, even when experiencing goodbye.

Cast photo -- Les Mis Memories
Yellow Ticket of Leave!

Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light 

* * *
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see? 

Do you hear the people sing
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes!

That is the final life lesson.  There is a time for everything, both good and bad. There will come a time when you have to say goodbye.  Peel off those binds and head off to your future, whatever that may be. 

Some day you will step out of all of your bindings.  You'll leave your loved ones behind.  I pray you and your's blessings when this happens.  

It's a Wrap!  Les Mis Cast

Dedicated to the memory of Paul Dearinger.  A pastor who loved sinners and outcasts, who believed in grace and forgiveness.  A man who fought the good race, while teaching us to laugh at ourselves more.  A man who believed in One Day More!