Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Broads of Summer

And we're back! Last December I had the pleasure of starting the Reverb Broads blogging group with the sardonically lovely Kristen. We pulled together more than 60 bloggers, mostly women with a few brave gentlemen thrown in, and we pooled together and crafted some thoughtful, goofy, funny and self reflective prompts for the month of December and then we wrote a lot, I mean a lot. So much so, that since December, I've hardly written a thing. It's as if I said everything I needed to last year.

Except we created a little gang of bloggers over here. And since we had such a blast writing throughout the month, meeting new friends, reading some amazing pieces, and just generally enjoying the power of the interwebs to connect us with writers all over the US, we thought, "Hey! Let's do that again. Let's get writing again!" And what better time to dive into some new writing than during the summer?

So starting June 1st kick off the summer with some fresh ideas, fresh insights and hopefully a lot of fresh, funny and fierce writing. So the Reverb Broads are back! I welcome all of you to join us. Just visit our official site here, and our Facebook page here. Add your name to our Google spreadsheet of participants here, grab one of the new summer badges below and add it to your blog to show you are a part of this wild gang of blogging broads. The first prompts are already posted on our site, so get writing! We can't wait to read what you have to share!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

30 Second Book Review - Is it Summer Already?

My reading's been all over the place the last couple of months. Lots of library books, some Net Galley and a few that I actually own. And a lot more youth fiction than I normally read. I love good youth fiction. Note that I said, "good" youth fiction. Youth fiction tends to deal more with the dramatic events, those young protagonists in the midst of the wild up and down swings of change and growth and emotion that are inevitable in those teenage and early college years. Falling in love for the first time, getting your heart broken, figuring out who you are and who you might want to be, making mistakes, lots of sloppy mistakes. And those are fun to read.

So there are a few more youth fiction books on my list this time around, along with plenty of not so youthful forays into nonfiction, the process of mourning, four memoirs, a classic, some light "erotica" which was decidedly unimpressive, and two of my favorite books that I've read so far this year.  So here we go, there's bound to be something in here for everyone, and a guaranteed beach book or three for your upcoming vacation, which I'm totally jealous about. Here come the 30 second glimpses and my judgmental opinions:

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian - This is a haunted house story. But more than that it's a twisty, creepy, strange haunted family story. If you like unsettling novels that keep you up at night, this is the book for you, though be forewarned, the ending may piss you off a bit. I thought it was perfect in keeping with the story. But it could be off-putting.

The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - I read this series a few years ago but in advance of the movie release, I thought I'd try it again. It was as powerful and engaging as the first time, and though the subject matter is disturbing, the action, character development and plot lines are wonderful, particularly for a young adult novel. Read these even if you think the hype is too much.

Looking for Alaska by John Green - In sticking with my YA theme this time around, I read another novel by the delightful John Green who wrote The Fault in Our Stars that I reviewed for Blogher in March. If possible I liked this novel more. I've been listening to audio books on my commute, and this one is perfect for that medium. It's sad and heartbreaking and funny and a delight, and makes me wish I'd gone to boarding school.

Lost and Found by Geneen Roth - Here's another BlogHer book club review. I don't think I would have touched this book if I hadn't received it for free, but once I got past my judgments about the author, white people problems entitled rich whining and self delusions, I feel like I got something valuable out of this book. Click here for my full review.

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes- One of my favorite books this year. This book follows a platoon of soldiers during the Vietnam War and is populated with such vivid and real characters, infuriating and inane political motives, violence, humor and humanity that I was riveted. I wrote a quick review upon finishing the audio book read by Cousin Balki (Bronson Pinchot) who sounds nothing like I expected.  "I'm sitting in my car having just finished listening to the 25 hour audio version of this novel and I'm wiping away the tears. I feel sad it's over and desperate to know what happens to these soldiers, knowing I never will. This book blew me away. My already significant respect for those who serve in the military, and their families, has tripled after reading this book."

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty - Perfectly fine and vaguely charming. I enjoyed the epilogue most. A decent way to kill a few hours but, eh, otherwise.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling - The first 2/3's of this is great. More like 3.5 stars. It's funny. She's funny. Mindy Kaling doesn't care if she's a little shallow and likes dieting and celebrity gossip magazines and cupcakes, she's herself and she's smart and funny but I got a little tired of this by the end, because it seems like she did too.

Therese Raquin by Emile Zola- Bleak and dramatic and analytical. This is the first book I've read by Zola and since it was an audio book read by the amazing Kate Winslet, it was much more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. This is Zola's analysis of the human temperament and because of this it felt a little chilly and detached from the high emotions, adultery and murder that fills it's pages.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L James - I had a fascinating conversation with a friend at lunch the other day. She had just finished reading this incredibly popular, buzzed about novel. I had just started it the night before but I couldn't yet get past the mediocre writing. But we both wondered, when reading erotic literature, do we really care about writing? Turns out I do. Because on finishing this one I just thought "meh." Decent sex scenes, but essentially a slightly kinky, not particularly well-written romance novel. Maybe if you've never read well written erotica this could work for you. And if it helps jazz up a woman's sex life, who I am to criticize? But I don't want The Today Show to select my porn for me.

God, If You're Not Up There I'm F*cked by Darrell Hammond - This is closer to 3.75 actually, but he gets a 4 for sheer survival and determination, and a killer Clinton impression. I admire Hammond for his brutal honesty, his incredible mimicry/acting/comedy ability, but this was a hard book to read. A fast read, but he is such an unhappy and troubled man through most of the book that I had to keep pushing my pity aside to see what happens next. A terribly traumatic childhood, serious addiction and mental health issues combined with his impressionistic genius made this an odd memoir of name dropping, crack smoking and rehab stint after rehab stint. I'm glad I read the book but I'll never look at Darrell Hammond the same way again. And that's ok. I respect him more on this side.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green - Reminds me of something called the Mandy- Festo that I wrote in college. 3.5- Funny, quite funny, mixed with sweet, real, and slightly irritating characters just like any good YA novel. All of Green's characters are wittier, smarter and better than you were as a teenager and that's what helps make his books a pleasure to read.

Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore - Clever, weird, fantastical, full of artists and work you know and love, brothels, cognac and so much color. Joe got tired of me laughing out loud while reading it. An incredibly well researched book on Paris and the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, that Moore then put his delightful and masterfully strange spin on. 

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson - Epic. This is my second favorite book so far this year. Another stellar, long audio book that I listened to on my daily commute, while cooking dinner, while working out and generally anytime I could squeeze in another ten minutes. Wilkerson writes this non-fiction story of the Great Migration of African American people from the South to the North. Using the story of three different families fleeing the South during three different times periods of the movement, she takes what could be a more dry historical survey and makes it deeply compelling by connecting you immediately with these disparate characters. I learned so much reading this book and connected deeply with the characters, who aren't characters because they are real people with real struggles, and seriously admirable work ethics, morals and difficult decisions to make. I can't say enough good things about this one, it should be required reading for every high school student.

The Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue - This book is ethereal, sad, strange and one of those wispy melancholy love stories that swept me away in it's spell. With lyrical writing, brave characters and a strange paranormal overlay, I very much enjoyed with Domingue did with this one.

The Bay of Foxes by Sheila Kohler - This was a book I had the chance to read through Net Galley, so I won't write a full review until it gets released next month, but it reminds me of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley series. Dark, violent and immoral, it was a fast and dirty read. I like it.

Dark Lover by JR Ward - Nope, not for me. This is the first in a series of very popular vampire based romance novels following the Black Dagger Brotherhood. I picked it up as a palate cleanser after some heavy reads, but nope, I found myself laughing where I should have been scared, laughing where I should have been turned on, and laughing where I should have been crying. Not my kind of book, but I can see why millions of women read these, they have all the pieces of Twilight, and came out years before Twilight, and all of the hot sex and sexy vampires that Twilight was missing. Silly silly fun.

A Common Pornography by Kevin Sampsell - A fast, clear, quick and kind of sad memoir. I like how Sampsell writes his story in bits and lets the reader pull it all together. Unique and sparse and direct. His brief vignettes are an oddly successful but staccato way of writing a memoir. Vaguely chronological, but no real chapters or sections longer than a page. Glimpses really, and isn't that much closer to how we remember most of our childhoods?

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens - The plot of this novel sucked me in right away. A woman is seeing a therapist after being kidnapped and held captive by a deranged man for more than a year and finally escaping. Each chapter is a different session with her therapist and the whole story is told this way in first person flashbacks, with no dialogue with the therapist. I loved the first half of this book, though the writing is standard, the main character and bizarre plot held me, until we get more than half way through it and then the writer has to throw in some tricks, some twists and turns and some resolution that really bothered me, mostly because it felt gimmicky when the emotions and challenges of the main character's survival and reentry into society should have been enough to make the end of the story compelling. Instead we get an ending that felt false. I still recommend this one, but it ended up being more disappointing than I expected. I might try one of her other novels, but if she sticks with the therapist session chapter thing, that might get old fast.

So what are you reading now? I'm about half way through Child 44, which is a murder mystery set in Stalin's brutal and terrifying 1950's Soviet Union. I hate the claustrophobia and paranoia I feel reading this book, but it's so well written, fast paced and menacing and somehow educational that I'm hooked. How did I never quite realize how deeply horrible Stalin and his regime was? Where have I been? Now I'm on a Soviet history research kick.

How about you? Any recommendations for me?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Timeless with a Dash of Trendy

As a panelist for Blogher's Life Well Lived series, I've loved writing and reading the prompts and answers shared by experts and fellow bloggers on topics ranging from: how to get organized, top beauty must haves, to healthy lifestyle ideas (fewer cupcakes more veggies) and now, a little fashion! I think I've got a pretty good handle on dressing myself at this point, most of the time at least, but Blogher's expert advice is excellent, so take a minute and head over to read Dressing Well at Any Size and share your best tips, and don't forget to sign up for their Life Well Lived sweepstakes and win some fabulous prizes that are certain to put a smile on your face!

So here's this week's question:

What are your favorite ways to dress well for your size and shape? How do you make your wardrobe work through transitions?

Fashion trends are so fleeting and often silly. Perms, bedazzled jean jackets, crazy wild eyebrows, heavy eyeshadow, jelly bracelets, leg warmers. There's fun in the trends, but there is also the horror of looking back at photos of yourself eighteen years later and seeing these:

This is glamour? Yikes.

So I avoid overdoing the trendy as much as I can. I like trendy accessories, but I generally stick with classic pieces, ok, now I do, because clearly there's proof that I didn't always avoid too much trend. That feather boa argues against me.

I love color. I love cardigans. They are the perfect piece to wear in any season. I love things that fit well, skimming but not clinging and rarely ever baggy. I love boot cut jeans. I love accessories. Bold, big, bright accessories. These make an outfit for me. I also don't limit my choices just because I'm plus size.

I'm not a small person. I'm not WNBA tall, but I'm about 6 feet tall in the morning. I'm not a lanky runway model 6 feet either. I'm big, curvy, abundant. Or as my friend Karyl said the other day, "I could feed a starving family for a year on my thighs." I wear a size 11 shoe, often verging into drag queen territory, so shopping for shoes can tend towards the 5 inch platform red patent leather stiletto or comfy grandmotherly loafer. I shop at DSW by carrying around all of the vaguely cute size 11's I can find and then narrowing it down at the end.

But mostly I wear things that make me happy and confident. I try not to wear things that wear me. I want people to notice me, the whole package, and not just the pieces I'm wearing. I admire women with bold, kooky, daring style, but I'm more of a slightly funky Talbots girl, with a big neon orange flower brooch jumping off my jacket. So wear what you like and screw the trends. Wear what makes you happy. Even if it is a feather boa, but maybe don't wear that to work.


Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Nature! Goulet!

Things discovered while doing eight hours of yard work over the last three days:

Ants run around and freak out a lot especially when you stick a shovel accidentally right into their home. Twice. Eviction notice served.

Tiny wild strawberries are growing in our backyard, they are so little and bright and I stepped on most of them before I realized they were even there.

A curled crinkly snake skin that I mistook for steel wool until I picked it up and felt how light and airy it was. I was then very alert for the presence of snakes, which I actually like, especially in comparison to...

About twelve spiders of varying sizes and shapes and levels of aggression. Most ran away from my enormous gloved hands, one panicked and ran up my shovel and then the ring leader looked right at me and ran towards my shoes. Towards me? Run away, dummy. I'll spare your life if you run away. We are outside, the bug killing rules are different out here. I'm not scared of spiders while wearing gloves and in the yard, but catch me surprised while in the basement barefoot and holding a large pile of clean laundry and I'll scream like a little girl and make Joe come down and kill you like he killed your friend last week. (It was a legitimately large spider in our basement last week. Like so large I thought I had tricked myself into thinking it was a spider when it was just a big leaf. Until it moved. And of course it was intentionally blocking my exit. There seem to be a lot of these in our basement this spring. It happened again on Saturday and now I must remember to wear shoes at all times while in basement. I had nightmares about spiders last weekend for the first time in years. This used to be a frequent occurrence, cue screaming child and parents racing in from their bed in the middle of the night. I kept the screaming under control, because I'm mature and all, but I couldn't keep my arms from tingling and my neck from feeling like creepy legs were walking over it in the deep dark.)

I need to weed more than every two years because these poor ants have established these lovely homes scattered inside of my flower beds and I've wrecked another one. I'm an ant home wrecker. I feel guilty and I've got ants scurrying frantically all over my shoes.

If you get rosemary on your hands they'll smell like rosemary for several hours. I keep smelling my hands, but not in a weird Mary Katherine Gallagher kind of way, ok, a little bit like that, but more herby than sweaty.

I like shovels. They make me feel strong. I think I'd rather keep a shovel by the bed than a firearm. A good solid thunk to the head would probably take down any burglar, plus it would sound like a cartoon, right? Like dropping an anvil on their head? But then I'd probably trip on it, or drop it on my foot or something stupid. I think I'll just stick with calling 911 and cowering.

I'm more scared of poison ivy than is reasonable. I hate it more than spiders. And washing yourself with that super expensive drying anti-poison ivy wash is totally worth the rash in my chin and dry skin that makes my forehead look like I'm 92 for a week. Nearly anything is worth avoiding that itchy, weepy, swollen hell of poison ivy.

Working in the yard with Joe makes me feel like the unemployable cousin of the owner of a landscaping business. Joe is the unfortunate foreman of the project who is stuck with me as his employee. In reality, I'm actually perfectly competent and a pretty hard worker, but Joe's a perfectionist and has a precise method to everything he's doing, and I need to follow his rules. Which means he has to explain it to me and then watch my progress and offer tips. It sucks and when I told him this whole foreman theory he dubbed me "unemployable cousin Nick" and mockingly started calling me "Nicky" and then of course started telling me what I should and shouldn't do in a more exaggerated way than he already does. This was funny for about a minute, nope, thirty seconds, and then when I defended myself and said "Hey, I'm a hard worker," he said "Hard workers don't talk about how hard they work, they just work." We ended this little game and finished putting down weed repellant sheets and mulch and planting some decorative grasses. All while I flicked him off behind his crouched back and made rude faces at him, as Nicky, of course. Then I left him and went up to the front yard to work without a supervisor, since putting down mulch doesn't require supervision. Or guidance, or a precise method.

The yard looks great. New plants, herbs, some flowers and 20 bags of mulch. Now to just keep them from drying up by June. What's going on in your yard this spring? Or are you smart enough to live in an apartment?