Review: American Wife

American Wife
By Curtis Sittenfeld

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Do you ever see someone famous and think about what it’s like to be them or what it would be like to live their life? Or do you ever wonder what your life would be like if it took some incredibly different turn? If you married into vast, ridiculous wealth and privilege?

That’s what American Wife is, an imagining of a life inspired by the life and personality of first lady, Laura Bush. It is not a book based on her life but sparked by public situations and personalities and imagined empathy. It’s not just about politics and her marriage to the President. That comes later, much later. There is a whole beautiful story, a whole lifetime before that happens.

I found it fascinating. I saw myself in the main character, Alice. I do that with many books I read. I interpret a character by how similar she is to me, how much I can personally relate. But I don’t always do that and I don’t have to relate to a character to understand a story. Some books aren’t like that. Some characters I fall in love with or I dislike or I feel sisterhood with or learn from or just watch them live on the page.

I related so completely to Curtis Sittenfeld’s main character, Alice Lindgren Blackwell. Her actions and emotional life are so complex but also simple. Her life is incredibly sheltered and incredibly blessed. She does for others but feels like she should be doing more, especially when she is given the power to do more.

As first lady she chooses issues that are not controversial, Issues that are self-evident and do not require her to make an argument about whether they are right or wrong. Like me, she is not a fighter or a protester but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel or doesn’t act in other ways.

There are also complex relationships with others in her life, her fascinating grandmother, her childhood best friend, her high school love, her husband. Relationships are complex. You can love the people in your life so deeply and completely yet disagree with them strongly but choose to let it go. I regularly choose to let it go. Everyone has flaws. I certainly do.

I wonder if others feel the same connection to this character. I wonder if these are common thoughts women have or only a few of us. I feel certain it is generational but is it generational to people born before 1975 or generational to women who are in the middle of life? I wonder if other people would agree that I’m like Alice or if my perception of myself are not the same as my outward persona.

I know there are some people, some of my friends who really won’t like this book. For one thing, it’s very long. The audio was over 23 hours! It addresses issues like homosexuality, abortion, race issues, class issues, the war in Iraq, 9/11, weapons of mass destruction, born-again Christianity, agnosticism.

Alice’s husband, Charlie Blackwell is so much like my perception of George Bush – I would love to have a few beers with him but have him leading the free world, not so much.  And there’s a little too much graphic sex with this guy who is so much like the former President…I feel grossed out.

Some reviewers were outraged at this seeming invasion of privacy of a public figure.  They think fictionalizing the life of Laura Bush was a cowardly way to push a personal agenda.  I don’t think so.  I just think it was inspiration.

This is the third book I’ve read by Curtis Sittenfeld. They’re all different.   She’s definitely well-educated and well-read. I read Prep years ago, in 2005, when it was first published. I liked it but it made me uncomfortable… very angsty.  I read Eligible a few months ago. It’s a fun, silly, sassy modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I read Sisterland a few months ago, also, and it’s an odd book that I liked but didn’t.

Her writing is good. She is very in tune with people, how complicated we are, how we don’t always want what’s best for us and we don’t understand why. She’s very good at capturing moments between people, those moments where you know exactly what they’re feeling and your heart is breaking with them.  But sometimes the writing gets slow, bogged down in the intimacies of detail and character instead of moving forward.  The sex seems gratuitius, and did I mention it’s with George Bush, oh wait, only inspired by him.  ew.

So anyway, did I mention Alice is an avid reader, like me. My friends, if you decide to read this book, let’s have lunch or a drink and have a two person book club. I have a lot to talk about!

Book Club: The Hot Zone

The Hot Zone
By Richard Preston

What an incredibly gross, terrifying and amazingly interesting book we read this month!  It was made even better by a super-fun, show-n-tell book club filled with expert knowledge and hands-on experiences (and gourmet food and wine, of course!)

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston is an engrossing book that traces the roots of Ebola from Africa through an outbreak outside of Washington, DC.

First published in 1994, it’s over 20 years old but it is still relevant in describing Ebola and the history of various strains and virology in general.  There are more recent events and new procedures in safety that made for very interesting discussion. Not every book club is fortunate enough to have a member and hostess who is a biosafety laboratory professional and has been the president of the international association for her industry.

But more about that later.  First, the food!

Book Club Food Ideas and Recipes for The Hot Zone

We had a lot of fun with the theme this month!  Our ladies are up for any challenge when it comes to cooking! So much deliciousness!

Our amazing hostess created an African couscous paella.  Here is the recipe from Food.com.

African couscous paella

She also made wonderful yummy monkey bread, which lead to an interesting discussion about how it got the name monkey bread.  Which led to asking the source of all knowledge …Google…

Monkey bread, also called monkey puzzle bread, sticky bread, African coffee cake, golden crown, pinch-me cake, and pluck-it cake is a soft, sweet, sticky pastry served in the United States for breakfast or as a treat. It consists of pieces of soft baked dough sprinkled with cinnamon.”

Wikipedia says, “The origin of the term “monkey bread” comes from the pastry being a finger food, the consumer would pick apart the bread as a monkey would.”  But we also heard it was because the dough looked like monkey toes.

All I know is that it is incredibly delicious!  Here’s the doughy, buttery, yummy recipe!

We had a Lentil and Fennel Dish with Ricotta and Anchovies.  The recipe is detailed at the end of the post.  It was surprisingly delicious and fresh tasting with the lemon.  I had an anchovy and I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it either. They’re so salty! But I hear they’re good for you. Isn’t it a fascinating shape?  Like a turtle or skeleton or some creature.

Here’s a gross looking but delicious dish.  Ebola is a string virus, shaped like a tube or noodle, so red beet noodles were perfect!  Someone said she didn’t like beets but enjoyed this.  Roasting them makes them taste less like dirt!  Here’s the recipe for Spiralized Mediterranean Beet and Feta Skillet Bake.

Other wonderful savory dishes included cheese balls with salami and a white pizza with spinach and artichoke hearts.

 

 The sweets were also wonderful. Homemade banana cream pie and monkey balls,

 

and coconut macaroons (sooo delicious) and hemorrhagic cupcakes…I’m so sorry I didn’t get a picture of the bloody, oozing cherry filling!!  Love the warning sign she put on them!

Decor for The Hot Zone Book Club

We were warned as we entered…

 

Our hostess, Melissa, created an awesome table setting that included safety suits for biological and chemical situations, Ebola and Black Plague stuffed “animals” (You can buy them at giantmicrobes.com! who knew!), Moroccan spices, blood sample shooters, “bacteria” Good n Plenties in Petri dishes and all kinds of information about biosafety.

 

 

Melissa and her lovely assistant, Mindy, gave a demonstration of how to put on a biosafety suit with HEPA filter and mask.

 

 

 

The Hot Zone: Book Club Discussion

Melissa’s father was an army veterinarian with U.S. Army Veterinary Corps and was a colleague and personal friends with Drs. Jerry and Nancy Jaax, the army veterinarian and pathologist who were key contributors to the Ebola removal operation in Reston, Virginia in 1989 and featured in The Hot Zone.  He shared some background with us and as a special treat, we connected with the Jaaxes, recently retired from working at the Biosecurity Research Institute at Kansas State University, over FaceTime from Maryland to Kansas!  

They were awesome!  They said that, though Richard Preston put a few words in people’s mouths, the details and events of the book were accurate.  The book is accessible to everyone from 4th or 5th graders to microbiologists.

The book gave the public relations and advertising the army couldn’t buy and the Jaaxes were able to give talks while they were still on active duty.  They are still “trotted out as talking heads” any time Ebola experts are needed, like the 2014 doctor and healthcare workers who returned to the U.S. from Africa with Ebola. They said there were so many people who told them they became virologists or veterinarians or biologists because of reading The Hot Zone.

They also talked about the biowarfare and weaponization of viruses and diseases programs in the U.S. and Soviet Union. President Nixon halted the very robust U.S. offensive operations but defensive programs continue.

I asked if they were scared during the operation in Reston and he said, no, “It was cool”  He really enjoyed being a part of things during that time, exploring, learning about uncharted territory!  They were discovering new things. They trusted the protocols and equipment. They said the equipment that was state of the art then is now in high schools. They took their kids to see the monkeys at their offices at USAMRIID.  Now they would be locked up for that!

Jerry Jaax received over 50 vaccinations.  Nancy joked the worst one she got was botulism because not only was the “bot shot” very painful, it made her immune to botox.

We toasted them with test tube blood sample shooters made with cranberry juice, Tito’s vodka, and Malibu rum!

 

Melissa led a continuation of the discussion. Our group has 4 lab scientists and several nurses so we had a lot of scientific knowledge in the room. Melissa told us about her career and the path that led to it. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry with a premed focus, a master’s degree in Environmental Management and an MBA, but there is no degree for what she currently does. ABSA International is creating programs.

She is in charge of the division of research safety and serves as the institutional biosafety officer for a major university medical health system. She tries to make sure everyone goes home healthy and doesn’t bring home anything that could harm their family.

Her focus is in biosafety and biosecurity. There’s a lot to that-conducting biorisk assessments; establishing written biological safety policies and procedures; developing exposure control; emergency response planning; participating on engineering project teams to build or renovate biological laboratories, high containment facilities, and animal facilities; partnering with occupational health professionals to develop and implement medical surveillance programs for personnel working with infectious agents; providing technical advice on shipping, importing and exporting biological materials; auditing biosafety and biosecurity programs; and managing regulated agents and materials. She has other staff that focuses more on the chemical and radiological hazards in the research lab.

Here’s our girl on the job!

She showed us pictures from the lab where she works and the latest in safety equipment and procedures. We talked about recent situations in the news including bird flu, MERS, and smallpox. We also talked about movies like Outbreak and Contagion.  Jerry Jaax had contrasted Hollywood’s version of how things work versus real life.  Melissa and the Jaaxes agreed that Contagion was the real experience.

This may have been the best book club ever! The book was a unanimous thumbs up for everyone. It was awesome!  It was fun and we learned a lot.  Here’s another recipe!  Happy reading!!!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Lentil and Fennel Dish with Ricotta and Anchovies

Ingredients

4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to drizzle
Pinch of red chili flakes
Zest and juice of ½ lemon
2 cups green or black lentils
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
2 sprigs fresh sage
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium heads fennel, halved lengthwise
2 cups fresh ricotta
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Anchovies, if desired.

Directions

Place lentils in a heavy, medium pot with both garlic-head halves and sage. Cover lentils with 2 inches water and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Set pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer lentils until tender but still whole, about 20 minutes. If necessary, add extra water to keep lentils submerged throughout cooking. Strain lentils and season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Slice fennel into very thin slivers. If fennel is woody, sprinkle with lemon juice to soften. Season with 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

Place ½ cup ricotta on each plate. Season cheese with salt and arrange dressed fennel on top. Spoon lentils generously over fennel. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and chopped parsley and anchovies, if desired.

Do you change your Goodreads ratings?

Do you change your Goodreads ratings? Confession. I change mine. ALL. THE.TIME. www.sweettnbooks.com

Do you spend a lot of time thinking about how you rate a book on Goodreads?

If any of you don’t know what Goodreads is or don’t use it, it’s a wonderful website and app where you can loose lots of time!  You can store the books you’ve read, the books you want to read, and you can rate, review, and discuss them with other book lovers.  It’s one of my favorite apps. ever.  I LOVE it!  I want all my friends to use it.  It helps me figure out what to read next and what to pick for book club (since my book club makes me pick most of the books we read).

And did I mention you can make lists?  And vote for books on the lists  – Best Books Ever, Books That Everyone Should Read At Least Once, Best Historical Fiction, Best Books of the 20th Century, Best Book Boyfriends, Best Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction and many many many more!

I don’t always agree with the rankings – The Hunger Games is definitely not the best book ever.  But it’s fun!

My Daddy likes books where things blow up.  I did a search for that and unfortunately only came up with  Fictional Books About Nuclear War, The Blitz, Best Bloke Books (seriously), and Must Read Books Before the World Blows Up.

So back to the book ratings on Goodreads. Do you ever change your ratings? Friends – more than one – have made fun of me for flip-flopping.  I think it’s funny they notice! And this was before I started blogging and posting them online with bright pink stars! They call me fickle.  And maybe I am a little. Sweet T, the fickle pickle.  I might have a product there???

I’ve changed a rating then changed it back.

(more than once)

Do you do it, too? Why?
I mean, what is our problem? Why do we care?

Sometimes a book stays with me and I keep thinking more about it so it has a bigger impact than I first thought.  I changed my rating for These Is My Words from 4 to 5 because I loved it.  It wasn’t the most life-changing book in the world and I think that’s why I held back at first but I loved it and that’s enough!

I changed my rating for Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, several times.  I was really mad at her for being so dumb but it was such a powerful book, especially the more I thought about it.  And it was one of the best book club discussions ever.

Sometimes I change it because I like a book less.  I loved Big Stone Gap when I first read it years ago.  When we reread it for book club, it just didn’t resonate the same.  Sure I was influenced by other’s opinions but it just didn’t sing to me like it had before.  I still liked it but I wasn’t in love with it.  It’s not you, it’s me.  Can we just be friends?

Sometimes I change it based on other books. One 4 just doesn’t compare to another.  That’s probably not a good reason but it is. I rate the majority of the books I read as 3 stars. It’s easy.  It feels comfortable.  I don’t feel as much pressure to convince others they should like it.(Hmmmm, that says a lot about me, doesn’t it.  Psychology folks, analyze that!) There is a lot of wiggle room, a wide variety of likability in the 3 area!

Timing is SOOOOOO influential to how well I like a book.  What I’ve read before – not just what I’ve read in the past but the book I read immediately before.  ONe friend read The Help recently.  She didn’t like the book we read for book club. SURPRISE!  There are very few books that would hold up to that book depression. I just Googled post reading book depression and there were a lot of hits!!!  The struggle is real, y’all!

If I had read The Alchemist in my 20’s, I would have probably rated it a 5 but since I didn’t read it until I was in my 40’s, I had read other books that taught the same lesson and had so many more experiences that made it feel small and trite. I just noticed I rated it a 2.  I kindof want to change that to a 3 right now…

ARGHH!!

10 Things to Know about Hygge AKA How to Get Your Hygge On!

10 Things to Know about Hygge aka How to Get Your Hygge On

I’ve been hearing a lot about this Danish thing called Hygge.  So on my recent little get-away to Florida to escape the cold, I checked out a book from the library called The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking and read it on the plane. Yep, in one little two-hour flight.  Here are 10 things I learned.

My picture with bare feet and sunshine are not common to the Danish environment for the majority of the year but you’ll soon see it is very hyggelig!. Here are 10 things I learned about hygge.

1. Books are very hygge.

And this one ‘s size and feel are super awesome!  It made me happy just to hold this small, pretty book – and that is hyggelig (hygge-like).  It’s the same size as The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo‎. Both have such a pleasant feel and spark joy when you hold them!  The cover is pretty and the inside art is cute.

2. It’s pronounced Hue gah.

It kindof rhymes with cougar without the r, if you’re from Boston. Kindof.

Here’s a  jazzy guy spending way too much time explaining it with a French lesson thrown in.


And here is an adorable Danish couple pronouncing it, many times, so you get it.

3. So what the heck is hygge?

It’s a feeling of coziness and friendship and happiness when things are warm and slow and natural – casual.  It’s wearing a thick, soft sweater in front of a fire while wearing cozy socks, drinking a warm beverage and spending time with friends or family or reading a book while a stew is simmering on the stove.  It’s about switching off – less cell phone and tv, more conversation and reading.

I would like to think book club is hygge but we may need to spend more time in socks.

Here is a some hygge from Gaff Interiors, who interviewed the author for design inspiration.  Don’t you want to spend a lot of time there?!

4. Soft light is an essential element of hygge

Whether it is candlelight, firelight, or soft diffused lamplight, the right lighting is a very important part of the ambiance of hygge.  Fireplaces are very important. The soft glow of the setting sun in my Florida picture with the book is just perfect!

Danes are apparently crazy about candles.  I found these survey results really interesting.

5. Texture is key

Soft cozy blankets and cushions, animal skins, rugs, natural wood, ceramics and a warm drink, tactile elements make a hyggelig setting.

A Hyggekrog, which roughly translates as ‘a nook’, is the place in the room where you love to snuggle up in a blanket, with a book and a cup of tea. Then bring in nature. Danes feel the need to bring the entire forest inside. Any piece of nature you might find is likely to get the Hygge greenlight. Leaves, nuts, twigs etc. Basically, you want to think: How would a Viking squirrel furnish a living room? Then think tactile. A Hyggelig interior is not just about how things look, it is just as much about how things feel. Letting your fingers run across a wooden table, a warm ceramic cup is a distinctly different feeling from being in contact with something made from steel, glass or plastic.”

6. Dressing hygge is all about casual, minimalism and warmth,like soft, bulky sweaters and warm wool socks,

Oversized sweaters, cardigans, pajamas, and slippers. Wiking says Danes wear lots of black, and scarves.  The Sarah Lund sweater from the Danish tv series The Killing (Forbrydelsen) is a great example of casual even at work; she’s a police detective. I have never seen The Killing but I like the sweater. It does look comfy cozy! The British call it a jumper. I don’t get it.

7. You need a warm beverage.

Live today like there is no coffee tomorrow.”

Tea, coffee, hot chocolate – the book has recipes for grogg and mulled wine – a hot drink is the number one thing Danes associate with Hygge.

8.  Food

Sweets make people happy and Danes love them. Pastries and baking are very hygge. I mean, come on, they have the Danish.  Things that take a long time to cook are very hygge.  The book has recipes for skibberlabskovs (skip-er-lap-scows) or skipper stew, boller karry (ball-r e cari) or Danish meatballs in curry and Snobrod (sno-broed) or twistbread.  I’m telling you, this would make a great book club menu!

9. Danes are not the only ones who practice it.

Meik Wiking, the author, is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute based in Copenhagen, Denmark.  He has spent years studying Danish life and what makes people happy.  According to many studies, Denmark is the happiest country in the world.

Other countries have similar traditions and expressions. The word hygge originally came from a Norweigian word.  Canadians call it hominess, The Dutch call it gezelligheid, and Germans talk of Gemutlichkeit.  According to Wiking, it is different in Denmark because of its importance in culture and national identity.  They talk about it often and the lanugage is rich when it comes to talking about it.

10. There are many books about it.

I created a list on Goodread’s Listopia with 55 books that have Hygge in the title.  Here are a few I’m thinking of reading. They have pretty covers.

  


The Little Book of
Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well
by Meik Wiking

Sweet T’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
It was an interesting concept to learn about and a super cute book!

 

Book Club: The 13th Tale

Book Club Ideas for The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield from www.sweettnbooks.comThe 13th Tale 
By Diane Setterfield

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sweet T Book Club Selection for August 2016 (originally July 2016)

The mysterious story of world-renowned, reclusive author Vida Winter, who has grown ill and needs to tell someone the story of her life. At least the version she wants told.

She chooses Margaret Lea, the daughter of a rare bookseller, to write it.  But Margaret has never read any of Vida Winter’s books and she has only written a quaint biography of a little-known author. Why has this woman chosen her when she can have anyone write her story.

As Ms. Winter tells the strange story of her family and growing up on the estate, Angelfield, I found myself drawn in along with Margaret.  These people were so strange – the beautiful Isabella, her doting father and her cruel brother, the red-headed twins who were left to their own devices to roam and live as they pleased, a ghost, a governess, strange experiments, and a fire.

Vida Winter’s story makes Margaret confront her own troubled past.

I love this photoshoot by palewinterrose inspired by the story.

And this one from Wickedmistress777.

I feel like this book may have been a little cursed.  Originally we were supposed to read this in July, but almost everyone had a conflict on our original date so I postponed it for a week, then the day before our gathering, I fell in a cycling accident and broke my wrist. I’ll spare you the beautiful X-rays and gory details.  But it was a doozy!

We finally met to discuss it in August.  It was a good book.  The writing is eloquent and elegant and so gothic and creepy and beautiful.

Here is a quote …
“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”

This was the first time we got a Book Club to Go kit from the library. It’s a ginormous canvas bag with10 paperback copies of the book and a discussion guide. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Ruthie Henshall and Lynn Redgrave.

One of our funny ladies likes to read and float in the pool. Unfortunately, her book didn’t survive very well, at least not to the library’s standard! lol!  Our book club now owns this lovely book and we’re getting some mileage out of it!  One member who moved to California took it with her to read by the pool there!

There is also a BBC movie out starring Vanessa Redgrave, Olivia Colman, and Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones. But it doesn’t seem to be available in the US.  Boo!!

My favorite book club blog, Delicious Reads had a lot of fun with this book.  Read about their quotes quiz and cool bibliotherapy prescriptions!

Book Club Ideas: These Is My Words

Book Club Ideas for These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 from www.sweettnbooks.com

These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901

by Nancy Turner

Goodreads

Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Sweet T Book Club Selection for September 2016

This is s a love story with a strong female protagonist set in the wild west. Our book club loved this book (most of us). It was a great book to discuss and I highly recommend it for book clubs.

We liked this book because it made us wonder what we would do in the same situation, in such a different surrounding than our own. We thought about whether we would want to be pioneer women, leading a life of adventure and terror! We loved it because it was a funny, sweet, heartbreaking and heartwarming story about love and family.

Told from the point of view of Sarah Agnes Prine over twenty years of her life from a girlhood traveling with her family on covered wagons through working a ranch in the Arizona Territories to forming her own family, it is a story of physical and emotional hardships. Life in that time was rough and short for many, especially children.

But it’s also a story of family, friendships, and love filled with humor and sweetness.

The beginning was CRAZY and confusing. You were hit with the chaos of traveling in wagons and Indian attacks and people moving around and dying before you really got to know any of the characters. I think that was a taste of what life was like as a settler in the territories back then. It certainly wasn’t quiet and routine. They were trying to survive and create a new home.

Sarah is everything. We were impressed by her general badassedness. She did everything the boys could do – and she did it better. She saved her friends from a terrible assault. She won a shootout with a bunch of grown men. She shot a rattlesnake that was inches from her tiny daughter. And the only thing that made all of this even better was that she was so modest, even a little embarrassed about all of these things. She was strong and fierce and skilled and tough and smart and resilient and sensitive and hopeful and scared and vain and real.

Sarah began unschooled and rough but she really wanted an education.  When she found an abandoned cart of books, it was a great treasure. Throughout the book strove to learn through reading. She built a shed to house and protect her treasured books. Her personal learning is reflected by the building of a school then university in town, the community’s learning institutions mirror her progression. Her language and writing improved and became more mature and educated

We set the scene with delicious settler themed victuals – chicken white chili and vegetarian chili,  jalapeno cornbread, a beautiful salad with make-your-own add-ins, trail mix, flaky apple pie, homemade apple berry cobbler, and banana bread. It was delish!

Cobbler and photo credit Sherry LaRose-Cooke.

We loved the Jack. He had a perfect blend of cockiness and gentleness. Sarah and Jack had such a strong relationship, but it didn’t change who they were as individuals. They needed each other, but they also still needed to be the people they were before they met each other. I love that Sarah took care of the ranch and her soap business by herself while Jack did his thing with the army. I appreciated that they weren’t willing to sacrifice the things that were important to them. They were fiercely in love but their relationship had its difficulties and trying circumstances.

This book made me feel the power of women. A member of an online book club I admire, The Life of Bon, said this.

“Feminism is multi-faceted. Sarah is tough and skilled like a man, and most of the men in her life treat her much like an equal. Savannah embodies more of your generally “feminine” characteristics with her mild temperament, “genteel” behavior, naturally nurturing inclinations and even dignified submissiveness. I loved both of these women. They were both strong, humble, good people, not to mention excellent mothers. Sarah wanted to emulate Savannah, thinking that she was somehow lacking what she needed to be a “real” woman and Savannah looks the same way at Sarah. She admires her strength and resiliency. She loves her so dearly, and she needs her.

There’s no “right” way to woman. Woman how you wanna woman, women! Sarah is amazing. Savannah is amazing. Even Mama with her mental illness is still pretty amazing. Women are amazing and when you see all they’ve gone through (which we usually don’t have the benefit of knowing) they are even MORE amazing.”

Now that’s a quote for you!

The author, Nancy Turner started this book as a community college fiction assignment when she was in her 40s. She decided to keep going, and These Is My Words was published in 1998.

It’s a fictional account of the life of her great-grandmother Sarah Agnes Prine, who died in Texas in the 1960s. The series was inspired by a handwritten 1920s memoir of Sarah’s brother, Henry Prine, who came to Arizona in the 1870s as a teen. I have also read the sequels, Sarah’s Quilt and The Star Garden and enjoyed them. When Nancy was asked if she would write more, she declined saying, once the story gets into the 1920s it would reference people who are still alive or whose children are still alive.

This was the book club where Sweet T was born! I told the group about a project for my graduate class in emerging media applications where I had to create a web site and social media about me as a brand and as a lifestyle. EEK! I want to make it about my love of reading and sharing books with others and book club. We brainstormed together and Angie burst out, “Sweet T!! You’re sweet, you’re southern, that’s it.”  And it is!  So, that’s me! My Granmama always told me to be sweet!

 

P.S. Here’s a fun Pinterest Board on the Arizona Territory from 1863 to 1912.

 

Book Review: Britt Marie Was Here

Book Review of Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman from SweetTnBooks.comBritt-Marie Was Here
by Fredrik Backman

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars (3.5???)

Good for book club? Sure but I would read  A Man Called Ove by Backman instead like we did.

Oh, this book…THIS.BOOK. WTF Fredrik Backman. I spent hundreds of pages frustrated. I almost abandoned it. Several times. I was so irritated by annoying, bland, insipid Britt-Marie. She’s a character from My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry but this is not at all a sequel. It’s barely related.

I’ve been reading this book since January. I’ve listened to seven audiobooks in that same amount of time. SEVEN! Including A Visit From The Goon Squad, Daring Greatly, and The Goldfinch which is over 700 pages! It wasn’t until I was over halfway finished that it caught my interest. It wasn’t until the last hundred pages that it grabbed my heart and twisted it and made me feel so many feelings, like a flood, a flood of feelings.

Backman’s style is flowy (yes, that’s a technical term), thoughts are often incomplete. The story is told from the black and white, stodgy point of view of sixty-something, Britt-Marie, who has lived an orderly, mostly eventful life. One day she suddenly, uncharacteristically leaves her cheating husband, Kent. She just walks out the door and drives away.

Her car breaks down in a broken-down town that could be any small town in the world affected by recession. She meets Somebody, who spends the whole book as Somebody. She meets the children, the men with beards and hats, the women with walkers, and a whole cast of characters.

Britt-Marie believes everything can be cleaned up with baking soda and Faxin. And who knows, maybe it can. Backman’s books shed light on characters who are not charming or outgoing. They are not easy to be around and are hard to get to know. He wants you to know they are worthy of being known. They are valuable even though they are different. Somehow, he also seems to be applauding those forceful personalities who bully people into friendship.

Part of me wants to give this book 4 stars.  Part of me, that mulish part with its bottom lip stubbornly stuck out still feels resentful about this book being at least 150 pages longer than it needed to be. I’ve gotten so used to audiobooks.  When a book is slow at the beginning or in the middle, they keep barrelling through toward the finish.

Bottom line, Backman has a great sense of humor and a giant heart that won me over in the end.  It honestly should have been a quick read that took me too long.

Book Club Ideas for Daring Greatly

Book Club Ideas for Daring Greatly from SweetTnBooks.comOur book club’s February book was Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

As I said in my Daring Greatly book review, “Quite simply this book helps give reasons to believe we are enough. It’s a guide for overcoming fear and living whole-heartedly. It is based on a solid foundation of research by Brown because of her own personal struggles with shame and vulnerability.”

There is so much in Daring Greatly for a book club to discuss, I feel like an hour and a half was barely enough time to scrape the surface of what we could have talked about!  We all felt like this was information we already know but it was good to have a reminder.  It was also interesting to see research backing up what we know and showing how many others feel the same way.

I think ALL the amazing ladies in our book club are already daring greatly in their lives.  From those riding hundred mile bike rides, doing triathlons, to some who walk or are just starting to run, we all are leading active and healthy lives.  Our girls don’t just step out of comfort zones, they barrel heart-first.  One competed in fitness contest for the first time over age 50 – wearing a bikini onstage in front of hundreds of people!!  And rocking it! And she keeps doing it!

Our gals are starting businesses and have amazing careers, are earning new college degrees, and traveling the world while caring for family and reaching out to those in need. Whole-hearted for sure and not scared of change and opportunity!

We talked about our incredible support groups and what Brené calls “stretchmark friends, those where “our connection has been stretched and pulled so much that it’s become a part of who we are, a second skin, and there are a few scars to prove it.”  or those who have seen our stretch-marks and don’t judge us for them.  I.e.  they know we’re dorks and we know they are, too!!

For this book club, some of my ideas were from the amazing Delicious Reads Book Club.  They always have interesting and creative ideas for book club food, decor, and parties.  Some of their ideas I straight up stole, some inspired me to do something else and one I meant to steal but left at work.  Ding dong! That was the sign for the front door.  Here is what was supposed to greet the ladies as they came in from the cold.  The beautiful quote from Teddy Roosevelt that inspired the title, Daring Greatly.  And a little invocation!

Before we met, I told everyone to bring an item of food that they loved. I said, “It can be anything. There is no shame involved. If you love a fountain drink Dr. Pepper from the gas station, then bring it. Brussels sprouts? Potato chips? No food or drink is a wrong choice. And it doesn’t have calories for this night! Be YOU and bring what you love. If we all end up bringing chocolate, well, we will have a lot of what we love! And we’ll be happy and hyper!”

Food for our Daring Greatly Book Club

I went to Wegman’s and got sushi because I love sushi, and a family sized side of roasted butternut squash with onions, cranberries and spinach – delicious! I was pinched for time and wanted some to have for leftovers so I bought it premade but it’s easy to make. I’ve made it from scratch before. Here’s the recipe. Wegmans is starting to win me over, especially as I go more organic. Thier convenience foods are just so much healthier.  And their cut up and spiralized veggies aren’t much more expensive.  I

Wegmans is so large and has so many choices, it overwhelms me but it’s starting to win me over, especially as I go more organic. Thier convenience foods are just so much healthier.  And their cut up and spiralized veggies aren’t much more expensive.  I swear, the key to healthy eating is chopping, cutting, slicing, and chopping some more.  Soooo much chopping!!

Wegman's butternut squash

I also made cream cheese and pepper jelly but I made it a little different this time.  Usually I take a block of cream cheese and dump the pepper jelly on top. It’s really pretty like this example from Sometimes Martha, Always Mary.  But this time I mixed it together.  I saw it on Delicious Reads and had never done it that way before. It was good too!  It really is one of my favorite things.  It may not be particularly Southern, but I claim it as one of my Granmama’s Southern delicacies!

 

We handmade chocolates from our local Bomboy Candy in Havre de Grace!!  YUM!

 

We had Oatmeal peanut butter protein balls, trail mix, assorted cheeses with grapes and pears, veggies with an assortment of delicious dips.  We also had Gail’s quick but delicious and fascinating pringles shaped chocolates, covered with blue cheese and honey.  Try it, it’s incredible.

And what’s book club without wine!  I loved these from Middle Sister because they have such fun labels!  The Rebel Red says, “If anyone tells you they don’t like red wine, sto talking to them.  You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.”  The Drama Queen pinot grigio says, “I just rescued some wine, it was trapped in a bottle.” I love to shop for wine that complements the book we are reading.

And these napkins are fun, too!

There are many book club resources that provide reading guides and discussion questions for Daring Greatly starting with the multitude of materials on Brenebrown.com.

The Live Happier Book Club has a great set of Daring Greatly book club questions to ponder.

We always have quotes as part of book club and since this was basically a book filled with quotes, that was what triggered most of our conversation.  Each of us picked a quote or two that resonated, read it, and talked about what it meant to her.  That sparked a lot of conversation!  We are very good at that!  Here are more quotes from Daring Greatly.

I don’t think everyone loved this book as much as I did. More thumbs were sideways than completely thumbs up, but we had a great time discussing it! Our book club won’t be reading a lot of self-help books in the future but this was an interesting departure. I recommend it! Happy Reading!  Happy Living, y’all!

P.S.  In case you missed my review of Daring Greatly, here it is.

 

Book Review: The Goldfinch

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch

by Donna Tartt

This book, the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner, has been on my To Read List for a while and I kept putting it off because it’s so long, plus, if you’ve read my blog, you know about previous Pulitzer experiences with Pulitzers and a bad taste they’ve left in my mouth (See A Visit From the Goon Squad and Angela’s Ashes).  I should keep a score somewhere of the Pulitzer likes and dislikes that are kindof becoming a thing for me.

I listened to The Goldfinch as an audiobook. It was wonderfully narrated by actor and director, David Pittu, who won an Audie award for his voice talent on this book. He voiced foreign accents and different characters so wonderfully.  You could easily tell one from the other and weren’t distracted by the changes. It was 32 hours but I listened to it at 1.8 times the normal speed and finished it in a week. It had some really dark parts and the characters, especially the main character, struggles with heavy issues, drug addiction, and devastating loss.

It was 32 hours long (that’s over 800 pages), but I listened to it at 1.8 times the normal speed and finished it in a week. I started it at 1.2, then ramped it up slowly to 1.5, then 1.8.  After listening to it for a while, it seemed like normal speed to me and normal seemed like molasses dripping on a turtle in a rush hour traffic jam.

It had some really dark parts and the characters, especially the main character, struggles with heavy issues, drug addiction, and devastating loss. Theo Decker loses his mother in a museum bombing in New York when he is thirteen years old. During the bombing, he meets a man and a girl and steals a painting, The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius.  This brief encounter has resounding repercussions. It’s a terrible age to lose a parent, especially when his father is a jerk and is nowhere to be found. The story travels through Theo’s adolescence spent struggling with this loss and loneliness, self-identity and choices. Fascinating people enter his life during this time and are with him for the rest of his life, for good and bad. Andy is his childhood friend, wealthy, nerdy and knowing.  Boris is a charming, reckless nomad.  These two vastly different boys have a powerful

The story travels through Theo’s adolescence, spent struggling with this loss and loneliness, self-identity and choices. Fascinating people enter his life during this time and are with him for the rest of his life, for good and bad. Andy is his childhood friend, wealthy, nerdy and knowing.  Boris is a charming, reckless nomad.  These two vastly different boys have a powerful effect on Theo.

Through the worlds of New York socialites, art dealers, and international criminals, from New York, so important, it’s a character in itself, to Las Vegas, to Amsterdam. The painting really exists.  In fact, many works of art are mentioned in this book.  Here is a wonderful article about the works mentioned in the novel.  There’s also a Pinterest board.

I loved the characters.  Boris is fascinating, the bad boy, bad influence that you love anyway and trust, though you don’t want to. And Hobie, so dear and wise. The story made me cry. It held me in suspense.  I couldn’t stop listening. I was fully immersed.

I think it would make a GREAT movie, which is already in the works from Warner Brothers. It will be directed by John Crowley, the director of  Academy Award nominee Brooklyn, also a great book. It needs the right script, of course.  Someone suggested Nicholas Hoult should play Theo, and, wow, that seems exactly right.  He’s got a good mix of vulnerable, attractive, young yet worldly, naive but addicted.

I don’t know why I think if someone is an addict, they have more world experience… more grittiness. This is a flawed view.  Addicts can be naive emotionally. Addicts can even be wholesome as Theo sometimes seems. In essence, addicts are no different than anyone else except they are controlled by a terrible need. And sometimes that need makes them do terrible things.

So anyway…Nicholas Hoult??

    

PopSugar has some fun suggestions for casting, too. Jeff Bridges as Hobie? I don’t know about that.  I was picturing more tall and skinny but Bridges is a master.  There are some actors who can be anyone. The most interesting suggestion is Ezra Miller as Boris.  While, I’m not sure about that…  He’s definitely got the not dirty/dirty hair thing going on.

Ezra-Miller

This book really made me think. I’m still thinking.  I probably will for a long time. The ending was cathartic in that it wrapped up well for Theo but it wasn’t all roses and puppies.  It was a dark view of life, that we’re just here to suffer through it.  I don’t believe that at all but I respect that someone who has had a different experience than me, someone like Theo, feels that way. It makes me wonder what happened to Donna Tartt.  I will definitely read some of her other books.  Have you read any of them?

A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.”

This really struck me.  The whole book culminates to this point. We can choose how we act, how we respond, what we show the world, but we can’t choose what we love, what drives us deep down or what we desire. Sometimes those things are not the best thing for us, or the good thing or the right thing.

I’m so lucky and blessed that I’ve had the life I have and, more than anything, have the outlook I have – to always choose to be happy and make the best of everything.  I’m so lucky I never became addicted to anything worse than chocolate and cycling (that should have been the name of my blog).  I have friends and family members who are alcoholics and addicts who make terrible decisions. It’s so frustrating to watch, yet it’s so human of them.  I’m not saying I’m perfect, I’m certainly not, but I’ve made a lot of safe choices, taken another path when friends jumped off the cliff. This book made me appreciate those choices for myself and also understand the choices they made.

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Book Review: Daring Greatly

Daring Greatly book cover

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

by Brené Brown.

Daring Greatly is our book club selection for February.  I read this book a few months ago and was so inspired.

I am generally an extrovert and don’t have problems with vulnerability and sharing but this book spoke to me on so many levels.Ours is a world filled with situations and messages that make us ashamed of our bodies, our imperfections and of not living up to the expectations of others and of ourselves.

Quite simply this book helps give reasons to believe we are enough. It’s a guide for overcoming fear and living whole-heartedly. It is based on a solid foundation of research by Brown because of her own personal struggles with shame and vulnerability.

For the first few chapters, I was a little skeptictical, as I usually am of self-help books like this. I thought I had read something by Brene Brown years ago – around the same time Oprah was recommending books and world views from authors like Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) and Sarah Ban Breathnach (Simple Abundance). I soon realized I had not read her work.

At first, I argued that some shame is necessary to know we’re doing something that is at odds with our moral or ethical beliefs. She quickly defined that feeling as guilt, which can be good, and is different from shame.

I recommend this book to everyone. I think there is some nugget that will speak to every point of view. Her early research only involved women because she thought shame was more of a female issue, then she realized the differences between male and female shame. Women’s is multifaceted, shame over weight and appearance and not being a good mother. Men’s shame tends to come down to one thing – not being a p#ssy.

I thought about skipping the chapter on parenting because I have no children, then found myself weeping as I realized what a wonderful job my mother did – even in the things she did wrong. She had me at 17, how did she know how to do it all so right when she was so young? She gave so much love and support and allowed me room to fail and take risks and be creative. Things Brown says are key.

I will definitely reread this. If you haven’t already, at the very least, watch this Ted Talk she did in 2010 about vulnerability.

Our book club has never read nonfiction, other than biographies, as a group. It can touch on deeply personal issues, something some will be uncomfortable with but as Brown says,

Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.”

Read more on her web site brenebrown.com. I can’t wait to read this book with my book club and discuss it with my friends.  Join us virtually on social media and share your thoughts!

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

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