Tuesday, January 10, 2017

To break the silence

It's been more than a year.  Wow.

In that span of time, we've stressed ourselves out royally-- moved from Kansas to Texas-- transitioned from a family with littles to a family with (barely) school-aged children.  We don't nap at all, now; instead, we homeschool.  At night I teach online courses for a graduate program in history.

I do want to continue this blog-- but it will have to change, too, as I find that my reasons and motives (as well as my schedule) have imperceptibly shifted.  Re-reading much of what I've written, I can barely recognize my own voice!  And that's a weird feeling.

Anyway, I'm choosing to break the silence with this post, which I place here for my own motivation. Hopefully it signals a semi-fresh start!

Hello again.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Daybookish Post for "Quick Takes" Friday

Outside my window... The weekday bustle (there is a tiny bit of bustle, I promise!) of a small town in Kansas.  My children are at their art/music class down the block; and I'm enjoying a cup of coffee in my favorite mom-and-pop coffeehouse, where-- years ago-- I wrote whole chapters of my dissertation, guzzled caffeine until my head swam, and (later) changed newborn diapers in the restroom.  It astonishes me to consider that we've already lived in this town for eleven years, so that its places carry a personal history.

Thinking about...  This provocative little quip from Middlemarch:  "And certainly, the mistakes that we male and female mortals make when we have our own way might fairly raise some wonder that we are so fond of it."

Listening to...  At the moment, coffeehouse noises and the proprieters' Christian pop music; but at home and in the car, it's been Les Miserables (Broadway, not book).

For the hundredth time, I wish that a soundtrack of the 25th Anniversary Concert were available-- Alfie Boe, Lea Salonga, Samantha Barks, and (yes) even that one Jonas brother did such a splendid job!  And sacrilegious as this might sound to many fans, I'm sure, the original Broadway version just doesn't cut it for me:  Too many songs, such as "Heart Full of Love" and the finale (with its reprise of "Bring Him Home"), seem curtailed by comparison with the more extended treatment of subsequent productions.  (This puzzles me.  Isn't it usually later versions that shorten the libretto?)

Anyway, I think I'll download Boe's version of "Bring Him Home,"which is heavenly.

Trying not to worry about...   My husband, who hasn't enjoyed his workplace for some time now.  He's been applying for other jobs; and he's hoping desperately for someone to contact him for an interview...  And then, he's also wondering what might happen if someone actually did!  (See Middlemarch quote above.)

On my kindle...  The Bone Church: A Novelby Victoria Dougherty.  While I haven't yet begun to read it, I understand it to be a Cold-War thriller set in midcentury Prague...  I found the author via an intriguing tweet that linked to her blog post "That Cursed Ruby Box," about a childhood encounter with her family's painful memories; and by the time I'd finished, I was hooked on her voice.  (Isn't Twitter incredible?)

On my nightstand...  Middlemarch  And maybe this time I'll actually finish it...!  So many talented people admire this novel that I wish I better appreciated it; but so far I've always stalled after reading only 60-70%.  Partly it's that watching Fred ruin himself over Rosamond becomes incredibly frustrating: While Dorothea is equally foolish, she at least strikes me as much more interesting of a character.  Fred seems more of an everyman-- and how depressing is that?

Planning for the week...  Four-year-old and I are near the end of the first Life of Fred volume ("Apples"), so we're likely to finish that and move on to the next.  Otherwise, I'm anticipating the usual round of library, art class, and library again.  And on hot days, they'll be an hour or so in the baby pool and sprinkler... Oh yes, and I'm trying to clear out the basement in a gradual way!  This means at least one trip to Goodwill in the days ahead.

Happy Friday, and thank you for visiting!  Please stop by This Ain't the Lyceum for more "Quick Takes."

Friday, June 12, 2015

Amid household friction, three reviews

It has been a while since I’ve posted, hasn’t it?  In the past few months my ever-changing, kid-centered schedule has evolved yet again, this time into a napless format (so inconvenient!)… True, bedtimes are now earlier, so you’d think I could accomplish something in the evening—but by then I'm drained.  Empty.  Done.  As before, my evenings are about dishes, endlessly rehashing the day, and brainstorming ways to manage our “spirited” four-year-old.  (More on this later...)

Knitting, too.  I’ve only just learned to purl, and I’m ridiculously proud of myself.

In this odd and unanticipated blogging gap, however, I have read a few things that I’d like to highly recommend!  

1.      The Invention of Fire

What it felt like was the invention of time travel: Author Bruce Holsinger, a professor of medieval literature at the University of Virginia, makes 14th-century London seem immediate!  I can't think of another historical novel that integrates so much daily-life detail (e.g. medieval privies) into a page-turning story.  And the characters!  While John Gower and Geoffrey Chaucer--yes, that Chaucer-- are honest-to-goodness historical figures, Holsinger does not handle them with  reverence; rather, he fearlessly fleshes them out, presenting them as approachable, fallible people with context in London society.  I enjoyed John Gower's voice immensely, and am in awe of both the research and the creativity behind it. 

A basic sketch of the plot:  As London braces for a French invasion, Gower, a purveyor of secrets, is tasked with stealthily investigating a mass murder that too many people seem anxious to rugsweep.  The weapon?  Handgonnes, a frightening innovation that, by reducing the need for special skill, democratizes the act of killing... 

In regard to the ending, I'll say this:  While I anticipated some small part of it, my jaw did drop at the final revelation!  And subplots-- one in particular-- closed with elegance and restraint. 

Again, this historical thriller is so worthwhile!  Moreover, my interest in the shady yet earnest John Gower has prompted me to seek out this author's previous work of fiction, A Burnable Book, which features the same character.

2.     Madeleine's War   

Set during World War II,  this well-written (and surprisingly romantic) thriller nearly convinced me that I worked for British intelligence, interpreting and contextualizing the elaborately coded messages sent by field agents in occupied France.     

Here’s the premise:  Intelligence officer Matthew Hammond falls in love with Madeleine, a brilliant and unusual young woman whom he’s training for a dangerous covert mission.  At the conclusion of training, she parachutes into France, while, back in London, he’s on the receiving end of her communications—communications that abruptly break off amid D-Day chaos.  What happened to her?  Is there any chance that she might still be alive?

This is the story of Hammond's post-invasion attempts to trace Madeleine, and it packs in plenty of gutwrenching twists as well as terrific atmosphere.  Again, I felt as if I were let in on the secrets and tactics of Allied espionage—which to some extent was true, as author Peter Watson took pains with historical accuracy.  This novel is so very entertaining, and I expect that it was also fun to write!

Increasing frustration brought me to the self-help section and this particular book, which, unlike several others, actually has helped me to deal with my defiant, independent, way-too-smart preschooler!  Its overall approach-- "catching" good behavior in order to employ "descriptive praise"-- demands that I shift my focus from what my child’s doing wrong (opportunity to correct her) to what she’s doing right (opportunity to praise her).  

Don't get me wrong:  I've always praised and thanked both my daughters when I happened to notice a particularly kind, polite, or helpful action.  This book, however, pushes me to look, really look, for those opportunities to praise-- and in the process, helps me to appreciate that, overall, my "difficult" older daughter is a pretty good kid!  And while I sometimes feel silly as I compliment, say, the donning of a single shoe or the cessation of an annoying sound, the additional positive feedback does have her working harder to cooperate with my instructions...  Importantly, too, it improves our relationship and, all in all, gives everyone a more pleasant day than we’d otherwise experience. 

I borrowed this title from the library.  Will I purchase it?  Yes, reason being that I’d like to dip into it as needed for a bit of a mental reset!  While some of the sample dialogue is insufferable (I promise not to slide so far into pop psychology as this), re-reading a few pages might help me to recover a day that's slipping...

On that note, I'd like to wish you-- and fellow parents especially-- a restful weekend!  Thank you for visiting.

Disclosure:  Madeleine's War and The Invention of Fire were gifted to me through Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Emphatically Grade A

A.J. Lape, Grade A Stupid (The Darcy Walker Series Book 1), 2012.  

[As of this posting, the Kindle edition is FREE on Amazon-- which is where I obtained my copy!]

"The Valley of the Shadow of Death called today, and I understand you happened across a dead body," says dear old dad.  But not only does 15-year-old Darcy Walker discover a corpse in the dumpster; she also climbs in-- regardless of the horrible stench, yucky stuff that may or may not be refried beans, and all she's heard about DNA evidence-- to make sure that the guy isn't (somehow) still alive.

Because that's what Darcy does.  The insane, reckless, confrontational, big-hearted thing that lands her in it and digs her in deeper.  Every. Single. Time.

(She also wears sweats to school, eats corn dogs, hangs out with garbage pickers, and chronically underachieves due to low self-esteem plus a possible case of ADD.)

And it's Darcy's first-person voice that makes this book, well, addictive.  When I began the first chapter and encountered what seemed a typical YA love triangle-- two improbably handsome and muscular teenaged boys vying for the heroine-- I might have thrown the whole thing aside if it weren't for such first-chapter lines as

"...[H]e's Liam-freaking-Woods.  It's not a good sign when you have a middle name of freaking.  It's just not." 
"I had a beef to take up with the universe if and when I ever made it to the Principal's Office in the sky.  It was my opinion people should be as revolting on the outside as they were on the inside." 
"I was codependent, people.  No one had to shove a psychology book in my face."

Wisecracking, insecure, self-aware Darcy kept me turning those pages until the adrenaline-pumping plotline kicked in, when of course the pages seemed to fly!  I truly enjoyed this YA mystery/thriller; and I can't wait to read further in the series out of a genuine interest in this heroine.  Whatever happens to her?  She's... astonishing.

And about the mystery part:  I did NOT see that coming!  Perfect, poignant ending, too.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday Morning Poetry: "The Pulley" (Herbert)

 I was never a morning person; and I'm definitely not a Monday morning person!  However, I'm trying to ease what is (for me) a rough transition by spending a few minutes with a classic poem.  Call it preemptive therapy.  Or call it "Monday Morning Poetry," which sounds much prettier, right?  Right.

So I'm tired and feel a nagging sense of discontent?  Well, here's George Herbert's take on it, echoing St. Augustine's ("Our hearts are restless 'til they rest in Thee"):

"The Pulley," by George Herbert

When God at first made man, 
Having a glass of blessings standing by, 
“Let us," said he, “pour on him all we can. 
Let the world’s riches, which dispers├ęd lie, 
Contract into a span.” 

So strength first made a way; 
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honor, pleasure. 
When almost all was out, God made a stay, 
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure, 
Rest in the bottom lay. 

“For if I should," said he, 
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature, 
He would adore my gifts instead of me, 
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature; 
So both should losers be. 

“Yet let him keep the rest, 
But keep them with repining restlessness. 
Let him be rich and weary, that at least, 
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness 
May toss him to my breast.”

"Let him be rich and weary..."  That's parents all over, right?  Filled to the brim, and utterly exhausted!

Wishing everyone a happy Monday and a smooth week!  

Friday, February 13, 2015

Seven Romantic Quotes...

...from a few of my favorites!  (And can you tell that I really-- I mean really-- like Canva??)  Enjoy the weekend, and be sure to check out This Ain't the Lyceum for more Quick Takes.


Friday, February 6, 2015

Seven Vintage Pageturners

If you're looking for page-turning, guilty-pleasure fiction, then you might enjoy one of these vintage novels! Bestsellers of their day, they're now public domain; and most are available for free at Project Gutenberg.

1. Leonora (Maria Edgeworth, 1806)~  A nineteenth-century Fatal Attraction!  I kid you not... Despite the lovely and long-suffering heroine, this novel is not the conventional web of polite misunderstandings; rather, it's a Regency version of Lifetime TV-- and once started, there's no looking away.

2. St. Elmo (Augusta Jane Evans, 1866)~  A beautiful and freakishly erudite teenager wins the heart-- and saves the soul-- of an embittered Byronic hero... And as the characters Edna and St. Elmo both love to gab about ancient history/literature, the novel is filled with obscure references that I once (at age 14) tried to list-- although I quickly gave up on the project, as there are just so many!  This story is at once unabashedly romantic and pro-education, especially female education.  If you really want to fall in love, for goodness' sake study your classical languages!  Worked for Edna.

3. The Lamplighter (Maria Cummins, 1854)~  If you don't mind its rather florid moralizing, this is a sweet and heart-wrenching tale of a virtuous girl finding happiness in the cold, mercenary world.  And it kept my heart in my throat (What will happen when Gertrude and Willy meet again??)...!   Fans of Louisa May Alcott should check it out.

4. Camilla (Fanny Burney, 1796)~  As with Evelina, I wanted to scream "JUST TALK TO HIM!!"  But social and economic traps-- some of them humorous, all of them deplorable-- close around the naive, loyal Camilla in such agonizing succession that I always had to read "just one more chapter."  Let me tell you, modern romances have nothing on this one.

5. The Italian (Annotated) (Ann Radcliffe, 1797)~  By the author of The Mysteries of Udolpho, this Gothic novel doesn't offer the most accurate or sympathetic view of the Catholic Church; but it does provide plenty of page-turning suspense and vivid imagery.  One eerie scene-- in which the heroine Ellena walks on a lonely beach, shadowed by the distant figure of a monk-- is imprinted on my memory.

6. Belinda (Maria Edgeworth, 1801)~  I'm less enthusiastic here, as the hero lost major points with me by the end; but I enjoyed the ever-evolving friendship between Belinda and Lady Delacour, which proved the most important and interesting aspect of the story.  I think that Lady Delacour's arc alone makes it worth a rainy-day read through!

7.  The Phantom of the Opera (Gaston Leroux, 1910)~  In comparison with the musical, the original version of this well-known story was more horror/thriller than romance-- and interestingly, too, I find it evocative of what a life devoted to music might mean for an unprotected, single girl of the nineteenth century (when a stage career would be incompatible with, say, an aristocratic marriage).  Here music isn't just a vehicle for romance; it's an all-absorbing force, almost a character in itself! And it demands all of her... (Definitely an all-absorbing book, too!)

Happy Friday!  Thanks for visiting, and please drop by This Ain't the Lyceum for more Quick Takes.