Top Five: Best of My Spring Reading 2021

The Summer Solstice passed quietly around here last weekend. No party for us again this year (we thought about it, but couldn't muster the energy in time to make a go of it), but we did toast Summer's arrival - just the two of us - out on our patio.

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Now that Summer is officially here, it's time for me to share the best of my Spring reading. Looking back over the last 3 months of books . . . well . . . I read a lot! Some of the books I read were pretty awful, actually. But a lot of them were excellent. After reviewing all the books I read since my last Top Five list, here is my new Top Five: Best of My Spring Reading 2021 list:

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First up . . . Shuggie Bain (5 stars) by Douglas Stuart. I know I've talked about it a lot already (being our last Read With Us selection and all), so I won't say any more about it now. But it deserves its place at the top of my list because - hands down - this was the best book I read during the last three months.

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Next . . . The Office of Historical Corrections (5 stars) by Danielle Evans. I was actually reading this one while coming up with my Top Five Winter list, so it nearly found a place on my previous list. But I wasn't technically finished with it, so it had to wait. (You know. Arbritary Rules.) Anyway, I thought this short story collection was absolutely brilliant with layers of nuance, exquisite writing, strong characters, and gasp-worthy storylines. I’ve always been a short story fan, but Danielle Evans really elevated my standards for the entire genre with this collection. While each story is strong and entirely unique, “Boys Go to Jupiter” had the biggest gut-punch for me, and I especially enjoyed the cleverness of “Why Won’t Women Just Say What They Want.” In the end, though, it was the title novella that really stole the show.

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Then . . . I've got another excellent short story collection, Milk Blood Heat (4 stars) by Dantiel W. Montiz. I’ve heard this collection of short stories described as “visceral” and “raw,” and . . . yes. I'd have to agree. Visceral and raw, indeed. These are stories that grab you by the heart and then make it skip a beat, with writing so clear it sings. And even though most of the stories don’t end with resolution . . . I never cared. (Ambiguous endings FTW!) Dantiel Montiz is an author that gives you just what you need. And no more. What a gift.

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Next . . . Secrets of Happiness (4 stars) by Joan Silber. (Although the title sounds like a "self-help" sort of book . . . trust me. It is not.) Now Joan Silber is one of those authors I love reading so much that I will drop whatever I may be doing to grab her latest book. She is simply a master with interconnected stories, a genre I particularly enjoy. It’s so easy to just sink down into her books and make friends with her various narrators and characters. Although it's always hard to leave someone you’ve come to love when the story moves on, Joan Silber has them popping up in some other new-and-wonderful narrator’s story later on, so it’s not all bad. This particular batch of stories feature wonderfully developed characters revealing slowly-emerging connections just brimming with hope, redemption, and love . . . all in pursuit of happiness (however you define it).

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And last, I've got Writers & Lovers (4 stars) by Lily King. I picked up this book because I wanted something a little “lighter” to read after Shuggie Bain. . . and it was immediately available through my library. What a delightful surprise! I thoroughly enjoyed the well-drawn characters (ALL of the characters, major and minor), the storyline, the setting, the pace. And the writing was just so . . . smooth; very engaging and a pleasure to read. The book was clever and funny and quite a bit more romantic than I expected (despite the word “lovers” right there in the title). I loved the bits about the writing life, and the main character’s commitment to her craft. And while I’d say the main character is too old to feature in a typical coming-of-age story, it’s still kind of a coming-of-age story. I guess it’s more . . . a becoming-a-full-adult kind of story; a perfect bridge between “idealistic youth” and “git’r’dun adulthood.” Although everything does wrap up maybe a little too neatly in the end, I didn’t mind a bit much.

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How about you?
What books would make it to your Top Five list of Spring reading?

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If you want to see what I'm reading now, or check out my recent reviews on Goodreads, just check out the sidebar here on my blog.  You can find me here on Goodreads.  And you can read my past Top Five lists by clicking the links below:

Top Five: Best of My Winter Reading 2021

Top Five: Best of My Fall Reading 2020

Top Five: Best of My Summer Reading 2020

Top Five: Best of My Spring Reading 2020

Top Five: Best of My Winter Reading 2020

Top Five: Best of My Fall Reading 2019

Top Five: Best of My Summer Reading 2019

 

 


Fit To Be . . . Tie-Dyed

I haven't been knitting much lately.
Or stitching.
Or sewing.
Or painting.

(Life is full.)
(Life is good.)

But that doesn't mean I haven't been making anything at all.

When Erin was visiting, we decided to try our hand at some tie-dye!

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I've done some tie-dye before, but never as The Instigator. And Erin had never tried it before. So the first thing I did . . . was to contact Vicki, Auntie Camp Tie-Dye Expert, for some advice and pointers. Vicki . . . sent me to Dharma Trading for supplies . . . and we were off to the races!

Dharma Trading sells everything you need for all kinds of dying projects, including kits for home tie-dying (dyes need to be ordered separately). And there are instructions (not always the most clear, but pretty clear) and inspiration guides for various projects and styles of tying/dying. We followed the steps very carefully to assure good results. There was a lot of mixing and soaking before we could apply any of that "inspiration." (Just sayin.)

If you've never worked with fiber reactive dyes before, the mixing process can sound a little . . . technical. Complicated. Science-y. Maybe a little intimidating, even. (Or maybe that's just me . . . the wife of a chemist.) Anyway. Tom wasn't intimidated at all, and he jumped right in to help us mix up our dyes. (Thanks, Honey.)

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And then . . . we got to the fun parts.

The tying.

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And the dying.

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After 24 hours of "curing," we were so excited for our Big Reveals.

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Erin went with a purples/blues/pinks palette for her tees. (And tank tops and sweatshirts and aprons.) (We did a lot of tying and dying.)

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And I went with a more . . . citrus-y/tropical palette.

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Really . . . you can't go wrong with tie-dye! Everything turns out COOL. (Even the hooded sweatshirt I did at the end . . . using all the leftover dyes. I call it "fireworks" -- because it's kind of like the end of a fireworks show when they send everything up into the sky at once. It's pretty . . . busy. But even that worked!)

We had a lot of fun. We were pleased with our results. And I thank Vicki for her inspiration and advice.

Five stars!
Would do again!

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How about you? What are you making these days?

 

 


Read With Us . . . This Summer

RWU Summer Logo

Every year for many, many years I've followed the Women's Prize for Fiction (through several sponsorship and name changes) with great interest. Born of frustration over the lack of recognition for women writers among the top fiction prizes, the Women's Prize was established in the early 1990s, and has since become one of the most prestigious literary prizes out there. It is awarded annually to a female author of any nationality for the best original full-length novel written in English and published in the UK in the preceding year.

I mark my calendar every year with with announcement dates for the Women's Prize - the Longlist, the Shortlist, the Winner. . . and then I get to reading as many of the books as I can get my hands on. By the time they've narrowed it down to the Shortlist, I'm never disappointed! (Last year's winner was Hamnet, a favorite of mine -- and I know a fave for many of you, too.)

Bonny, Carole, and I are really excited to announce that our summer Read With Us book selection . . . is lifted directly from the 2021 Women's Prize Shortlist!

Unsettled Ground

We'll be reading Unsettled Ground by British author Claire Fuller. NPR has this to say in its review:

'Unsettled Ground' is a terribly beautiful book, and although its premise may seem quiet, it is full of dramatic twists and turns right up until its moving, beautiful end.
            --- Ilana Masad, NPR

Although I haven't had a chance to read it yet, I've been waiting to pick it up since the Women's Prize Longlist announcement back in March! Unsettled Ground was only released in the US about a month ago, but I've seen on Goodreads that a couple of you have already had a chance to read it (lucky you!). My library hasn't got its copy yet, apparently, but I am #1 on the hold list, so I'm sure it won't be long. The book is available in hardback and Kindle on Amazon, and I'm sure you can pick up a copy at your local bookstore as well.

We'll be talking more about the book and providing some background information later in July and August. Then . . . mark your calendars now for our blog book discussions AND a Zoom discussion on Tuesday, September 14 (7:00 pm Eastern time; Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel).

I see (on Goodreads) that many of you have this book on your "to read" lists, so I'm hoping you'll be eager to join in and . . . Read With Us!

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Previous Read With Us book selections:

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Fever by Mary Beth Keane

I'm Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur

The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

 


On Filling the Emptiness

Hey, there!
I'm back.
After quite a whirlwind week of joy and activity!

As most of you know, I have two grown kids. Erin . . . who is married to Keith and lives in California (Bay Area). And Brian . . . who is married to Lauren and, after several years out in Boulder, now lives closer by here in Michigan. We all took the pandemic Very Seriously. Erin and Keith have been hunkered down in California, and we haven't seen them since Christmas 2019. Brian and Lauren? Well, we've seen them. But not much. And until very recently, only masked and outside.

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As is the case for so many of you, it's been hard.
Really, really hard.

I mean . . . Zoom calls and FaceTime are great, sure. But . . . they only go so far.

So it was a wonderful surprise when Erin called to tell us she was coming for a weeklong visit . . . having successfully completed her vaccine regimen.

And we had a GREAT time together last week. It kind of makes my head spin to think of all the STUFF we crammed into her visit! Lake time up north. Forest bathing. Birthday celebrations. Actual browsing in actual stores. A bit of gardening. Family time. Watching the entire season of Ted Lasso (yes; again). Tie dying in the back yard (more on that another day). A trip to Lake Michigan. Ice Cream. (So much ice cream.)

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Really.
We had a great time.

And now she's back home in California with Keith and their cat, looking forward to getting back to work and feeling more  . . .  connected . . .  again. (Sometimes you just need to hug your mom, y'know?)

And I'm . . . feeling The Emptiness.

I know most of you know this feeling all too well.
That lingering, kinda lonely feeling that shows up when your grown kid leaves after a visit (or you leave them). There's just . . . an emptiness for a few days.

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It's real.
And it's . . . there.
And it's kind of . . . icky.

And it happens (for me, at least) even when I know it's time for them to go home again . . . to their life. And it's time for me to get back to my own.

Still. There it is!

When I was suffering from The Emptiness yesterday, Tom made a great suggestion (he's pretty wise most of the time). He suggested I try to fill The Emptiness . . . with Gratitude.

So I did.

I'm grateful that Erin could arrange to come home for a visit.
I'm grateful that she WANTED to come out for a visit; that she wants to spend time with us!
I'm grateful that we had such a fun time together.
I'm grateful for real, in-person, no-mask. . . conversation and sharing and time together.
I'm grateful for an entire week with my wonderful daughter.
I'm grateful for every. single. moment.
I'm grateful that she had a safe journey; that's she's back at home with Keith and her kitty, ready to get back to work at a job she loves. 
I'm grateful that she's happy and settled in her own life.

Really. Could a mom want any more than that?

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So.
Yeah.

The Emptiness . . . is Real.

But Tom was right. You can fill that emptiness with gratitude!


Working From Home

We've been up at our cabin this week . . . and we've come home for a day before turning around and heading back. (Gotta pick up the mail. Water my containers. Check out the garden. Go to the library.) (And do something extra exciting, too!*)

Before heading up north last week, though, I was busy . . . working from home.
My office . . . 

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I finally got my containers planted!

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Those photos are all a week old now. I'm amazed at how much/how quickly things have filled in since then! It's hot and dry here this summer, so I'm not sure how they'll do longer term. Especially because I'm not here every day to water. But I have a trick up my sleeve! (I just received some self-watering "devices" I'm going to try. I'll keep you posted.)

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*And now . . . for the excitement!

Tonight, we pick up our California girl at the airport for a week's visit. I can hardly contain myself! We haven't seen her since Christmas 2019!

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I'll be taking a blog break next week . . . to enjoy every moment of Erin's visit. See you in a week! Enjoy yourselves!

 


Even Up North

A couple of month ago, I shared a post proclaiming my love (and Tom's too) of bulletin boards. (You can read it here in case you missed it.) This morning, I realized that my love of the humble bulletin board extends to our up north cabin!

Here's the view of our back hallway (back hallway? HA! What am I talking about? I mean THE hallway!) . . . 

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What's on it?
Certainly not as much "stuff" as we have on our bulletin boards at home. But an interesting collection all the same!

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Something to make you laugh. Some phone numbers. The complete rules to horseshoes. And a spare "head net" for when the bugs are just TOO buggy. (One size fits all.)

For Tom and I . . . there is no escaping the blank canvas of a bulletin board!
Even Up North.

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My view from the pontoon yesterday . . . 

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Heavenly!

Hope your week is going well. We're heading back home this afternoon. There is excitement afoot . . . 

 


Summer Ease

I am all about the ease this summer. 

No big plans. No big events. No big expectations. Just . . . ease.

Relax.
Enjoy.
Kick back.
See what unfolds.
And drink it in.

That's my plan.

My knitting right now is all about ease, too.

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This is the back piece (now complete) of this summer tank top. The yarn I'm using - Berroco Mantra (stonewash variety; it also comes in solid colors) - is 100% silk. It knits like a dream. It drapes like a dream. I'm hoping it fits like a dream. 

It's a perfect project when your goal is . . . summer ease.

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How about you?
What are you making right now?

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Be sure to visit Kat today for more Unraveled posts.


Read With Us: Let's Talk About It

Read With Us

Welcome to Read With Us book discussion week!

Bonny and Carole and I are each posting a different question (or questions) on our blogs today about our latest RWU book . . . Shuggie Bain. Join the discussion (which you're welcome do even if you didn't read the book).  I'll be answering your posts within the comment section for this discussion -- and you can comment on other people's comments, as well. Y'know . . . like in a real book group. (Please know . . . that because of the limitations of Typepad, I can't "layer" or "stack" the comments in my comment feed. Sorry. Bear with me.)

Let's begin. . . 

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First . . . I'd really like to know what you thought of the book. How did it make you feel? Did you like it? Do you think it deserved to win the 2020 Booker Prize?

Next . . . The author uses Scottish dialect throughout the novel. What does this add to the narrative, and how did you find reading it if you weren't familiar with some of the words?

Last . . . Shuggie has two older siblings who eventually escape their dysfunctional mother. How do you feel about them leaving Shuggie behind? Was it their responsibility to protect him? Or were they right to try to save themselves?

I can't wait to hear what you think!

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Don't forget: We'll be discussing the book on Zoom tonight - 7:00 pm Eastern Time. There's still time for you to join us! Just let me know of your interest either with a comment or by sending me an email (see sidebar, above) -- and I'll send a Zoom invitation. 

PS - If you have signed up for the Zoom, but you haven't received an invitation from me by noon today, please let me know so I can re-send the invitation to you.

 


Rocking the COVID Hair

The New Yorker did a special photo feature last week . . . The Unexpected Beauty of COVID Hair. It's pretty fabulous to see all that gray!

Several of my local friends decided to just let their gray hair grow out during the pandemic. A couple of them are leaving it; a couple of them have decided to go back to coloring. As for me? Well. I already had the gray thing going with my hair. (That was a post-chemo thing for me, when I decided I didn't want to waste my time, energy, and money coloring my hair any more, so my hair has been gray since 2009 when it grew back.) But it's been fun to feel "in sisterhood" with all the others using the pandemic as an opportunity to grow out those roots.

I didn't need to "go gray" during the pandemic (since already did that), but I did use the pandemic as a "cover" while growing my hair longer.

I had actually decided to grow my hair out some months before the pandemic arrived. I had a style in mind back then -- something "to grow for" -- and my hair stylist was helping me "manage" my hair so I could get there - eventually - without looking like a feral animal in the process. 

Here I was . . . back in mid-February 2020 . . . right after (what - surprise! - turned out to be) my last haircut for a very long time! (I thought it was long then. Just sayin.)

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I didn't get my haircut again until I had it trimmed up a few months ago. By then, I'd gone through several awkward stages, grown out my bangs, and completely given up on that style I was working toward before the the pandemic hit. (Because who needs to fuss with a round brush and flat iron every day, huh?)

My hair now? At this end of the pandemic?

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My hair hasn't been this long since, oh . . . 1983?

Friends ask me . . . what are you going to do with it now that you can get a haircut? And I have no answer. I just don't know. I have no plan for my hair. It's far easier to deal with now than it was when it was fussy and required styling every day in the Before Times. I like being able to pull it back in a ponytail. And I got through the hard part of growing it out when I wasn't going anywhere or seeing anyone anyway. (Besides, Tom says my hair reminds him of Emmylou Harris now. And that is NOT a bad thing.)

So I think I'll just keep going with it for awhile and see where it lands.

(Kinda like I did after chemo.)
Apparently I mark challenging times with a change of 'do.

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How about you? Are you rocking any COVID hair?

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Don't forget: TOMORROW - Tuesday June 8 - is Read With Us book discussion day for Shuggie Bain. Visit Bonny, Carole, and I on our blogs tomorrow to check out our discussion question posts AND then . . . join us for the Shuggie Zoom later that same evening at 7:00 pm Eastern. Let me know in the comments (or email me) if you'd like to join the Zoom so I can include you on the invitation.

 

 

 

 


Garden Explosion

"In early June the world of leaf and blade and flowers explodes and every sunset is different."
                --- John Steinbeck

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This is truly a wonderful time of the season in my garden.
John Steinbeck was right. Leaf and blade and flowers . . . everything is exploding right now! The Bloom Show is about to begin.

Last night, as the sun was beginning to go down, the dogs and I headed out to water the trees. We're having a terrible drought here in my corner of the world; most unusual for this time of year. And, sadly, my sprinkler system is not up to the task and we're having trouble getting anyone out to look into it. Covid, they say. Short-staffed, they say. Let's just say . . . I'm dragging hoses to the garden beds and giving up on the grass.

Anyway.

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Things in the garden are looking good.

The plants have grown up enough to cover up the (never-ending, always-growing) weeds. Plus, Tom's freshly laid mulch helps! And the flowers are beginning to put on their show.

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Lots of purples right now. (And I really wish you could smell that wisteria. The whole backyard smells divine.)

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(This is Baptisia, or wild indigo. It doesn't bloom for long, but it's glorious at the moment.)

My Satomi dogwood is really putting on a great show this year, too.

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I love dogwood trees . . . but the Satomi is my favorite. It blooms later and for longer than most dogwoods, and while the flowers are white at the beginning, they gradually turn pink as the show continues. It's pretty fabulous.

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I really love this time of year in the garden.

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So much hope. So much promise. 
(So much work.)

But now is the time for the payoff.

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JoJo thinks so, too!

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Have a lovely weekend, everyone.
(Mine will be lovely . . . once I get some dental work done later this morning. Ugh. I cracked a tooth and now need an unexpected crown. . . )

Enjoy whatever's blooming in your world.