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Monday, September 30, 2019

Two of the best books I've read this year

If you’ve been nostalgic for the 1960s after hearing about the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the Woodstock concert, this month’s Book Report will bring you right back to that time with two of the best books I've read this summer.
The first book is a memoir by Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy about growing up with her eight siblings in her Catholic family in Iowa of the 1960s and 1970s. Her father’s favorite saying, Many Hands Make Light Work, is the title of this sweet family story. 
Joe Stritzel was a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University. He and his wife, Marcella, and their nine children lived in a big, rambling home near the campus. “Mom radiated calm as powerfully as Dad radiated action,” explains how a family of 11 managed to get through the days in an orderly fashion.
Joe began buying up homes in the neighborhood to fix up and rent to the ever-increasing number of young adults heading to college. He managed to accomplish that by an using inexpensive labor force: his nine children, whom he dubbed “the baseball team.”
While other kids were spending their summers at the lake or playground, the Stritzels were hard at work on the houses. The little ones pulled nails out of wood and stacked it; the older kids tore up carpets, torn down wallpaper and dragged out furniture left behind.
There are so many wonderful scenes in this charming book. The kids like to sing, and Joe thought they were good enough to be on "The Lawrence Welk Show." They had an assembly line going when it came to pick the numerous cherry trees in their backyard. And once, Cheryl babysat for a family that had a lion as a pet — who hung out in the living room with her. That was crazy!
They rarely took a vacation, but one year they all piled into the station wagon and drove from Iowa to Ohio to visit Joe’s family. Mom made sandwiches for the two-day ride, but the highlight was stopping at A&W to get 11 root beers (the little ones got baby root beer mugs) and as a special treat, 11 ice cream cones, all vanilla.
Many Hands Make Light Work will inspire nostalgia for a simpler time. It is a book filled with humor and joy and you’ll find yourself smiling the entire time you’re reading it.
Cara Wall’s debut novel, The Dearly Beloved, is set in the 1960s New York City. Two young ministers — Charles, the son of academics who are perplexed by his choice of career, and James, whose father came home from World War II a broken alcoholic — are hired to be pastors of the historic Third Presbyterian Church in Greenwich Village. 
Charles is a student of scripture and wants to tend to his parishoners’ spiritual needs. James finds that he is drawn to the social justice needs of the people living in the city. He sees poverty and neglect, and believes that the church should be addressing society’s larger problems.
Charles’ wife, Lily, is not religious. Her parents died when she was a teenager, and she lost her faith because of it. She was a good wife to Charles, but she had no interest in being a traditional pastor’s wife or being involved in the church in any way. As society was going through major upheaval in the 1960s, Lily became more involved in women’s issues.
James’ wife, Nan, came from a religious family. Her father was a popular minister and her mother was a traditional pastor’s wife, something that Nan did her best to emulate. Nan became very involved in the church, starting a youth choir, and sat in the front row each Sunday.
Nan wanted to be friends with Lily, but Lily wanted nothing to do with Nan. The other thing Nan wanted was to have children. Lily didn’t particularly care for children. When Lily became pregnant, it caused further friction.
The Dearly Beloved is a moving story about faith, family, friendship and love. Charles loved Lily and respected her choice not to be involved in the church. Nan respected her husband’s choice to be more socially relevant, but she encouraged him not to neglect his own parish.
Both couples are tested by personal challenges over the years, things that could tear apart a marriage and friendship. I found myself involved in their stories, and moved by their circumstances. Wall writes these characters so beautifully, you may not understand their choices, but you will care deeply what happens to them.

If you read

BOOK: Many Hands Make Light Work by Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy
PUBLISHER: She Writes Press
COST: Trade paperback, $16.95
LENGTH: 289 pages

BOOK: The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster
COST: Hardcover, $26.99
LENGTH: 352 pages

Friday, September 27, 2019

Friday 5ive- The best views from Italy

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, where I talk about five things that caught my attention. This week it's the five photos from our trip to Italy that were just stunning.

1) I loved the town of Sorrento, right on the Bay of Naples. This photo is one of my favorites, taken from the main street in town, looking out to the bay.

2) We took a private boat around the island of Capri, and Captain Franco took us to the Green Grotto, which was just so pristine and beautiful. My advice if you go is to skip the touristy and very busy Blue Grotto and visit the Green Grotto.

3) The view of Capri from the boat was pretty cool, seeing those buildings stacked up the mountain.

4) When we were walking in Siena, we came up a hill and this view of the Cathedral literally took my breath away. The interior was just as amazing. 

5) We walked up the 463 steps of the Duomo in Florence and the it was worth the effort to get a view of the city that was spectacular.

I'll have more Italy photos next week. Ciao!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

September Books From the Book Expo

Continuing in my series of posts from the BookExpo, I'm posting about the books I picked up at the Book Expo in June. September is a big month for publishing, and I got nine books that I'm looking forward to reading.

Jacqueline Woodson's novel Red at the Bone is described as "an extraordinary novel (that) uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships" in "two families from different social classes joined together by an unexpected pregnancy." It tells the story of 16-year-old Melody and her relationship with her parents and grandparents. It's getting rave reviews.

The Starlet and the Spy by Ji-Min Lee is a slim historical fiction set in Korea immediately following the war. Alice is a translator for the American forces when she meets Marilyn Monroe, who is in Korea on a USO tour. The two women make a connection and it changes Alice's life.

Cathleen Schine's novel The Grammarians introduces us to twins Daphne and Laurel, who are obsessed with words. One grows up to become a poet, the other a famous language columnist. You know this book will be filled with beautiful language.

Dominicana is Angie Cruz's novel that was inspired by her own mother's story.  Ana is fifteen years old when she is married off to a thirty-year-old Juan who takes her from her home in the Domincan Republic in 1965 to move to New York City. Ana's family hopes that Ana will be able to bring them all to the United States, so Ana lives with her unhappiness for her family's sake.

William Kent Krueger's novel This Ordinary Land is set during the Great Depression and tells the story of four Native American orphans who escape from the school where they were sent to live, and make their way across the country, encountering others who are also lost souls.

The World We Knew is Alice Hoffman's highly-anticipated new novel. Set in Berlin in 1941, it's about a young girl sent away by her mother to escape the Nazis. She meets a rabbi's daughter, who creates a golem to protect the young girl. Fans of The Book Thief will like this one.

Ann Patchett's newest novel, The Dutch House, has been getting fantastic reviews. Set over 50 years, it tells the story of the Dutch House, a hugh estate outside Philadelphia, and the two siblings who grew up there and then were banished by their stepmother. Patchett never disappoints and I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Akin is Emma Donoghue's latest novel, about a retired chemistry professor who receives a phone call that he has an eleven-year-old nephew who is immediate need of a caretaker. He agrees and takes the young boy on his planned trip to France to discover more of his family history.

Lara Prescott's debut novel, The Secrets We Kept, was chosen as one of the BookExpo Buzz Books. It's about an attempt by secretaries recruited by the CIA to help smuggle the novel Dr. Zhivago out of Russia. This one has been talked about by everybody.

I've got to get busy catching up with all these great September books.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Don't You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

Don't You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062958464
Trade paperback, $15.99, 432 pages

Mhairi McFarlane's novel Don't You Forget About Me opens in 2007 as high school student Georgina Horspool is paired with shy Irish transfer student Lucas in her English class to discuss the book Wuthering Heights.

They get along so well that Lucas becomes Georgina's first real boyfriend, and when he asks her to prom, she is so excited, especially since they plan to spend the night of the prom together in a hotel. But as the most popular athlete pulls her off to the side, their plans are derailed.

Fast forward to today, and Georgina is a waitress at the worst restaurant in her town. When a food critic comes into the restaurant, and the food is abysmal, the owner throws Georgina under the bus and publicly fires her.

Her prospects for employment are dim, her roommate is awful, she catches her boyfriend in bed with his assistant, and her family thinks her life is going nowhere, so things are bleak.

When her kind brother-in-law gets her a job as a bartender for a hot new place opening up, Georgina is excited when she hits it off with one of the new owners, Devlin. Then she meets the other owner, his brother Luke- as in Lucas, her first love from high school.

Lucas doesn't remember her (or he pretends not to remember her), and Georgina is torn. She loves this new job and she is good at it, but she doesn't know if she can work with Lucas. He lives above the bar, and she will have to see him every day.

Devlin really likes Georgina, and he is impressed with how great she is at her job, so she decides to stick it out. A contest comes along where people are urged to talk about your worst date, and Georgina's screws up her courage to tell her story about her worse date with old boyfriend, and she is a hit with the crowd.

Just as you are wondering what happened back in 2007 to cause Lucas and Georgina to never see each other again, the entire story is told. Can they forgive each other and become friends or even get back to where they were?

Don't You Forget About Me is a terrific story, and I really liked Georgina and the brothers, and seeing their relationship grow. McFarlane has some very funny turn of phrases here, and the TripAdvisor reviews for the awful restaurant are classic and had me laughing out loud.

If you liked Bridget Jones Diary, and you want a book that will take you away for a few hours, Don't You Forget About Me fits the bill. I recommend it.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Mhairi McFarlane's tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Instagram Features

Tuesday, September 10th: Instagram: @owlslittlelibrary
Wednesday, September 11th: Instagram: @booksandblends
Wednesday, September 11th: Instagram: @somekindofalibrary
Thursday, September 12th: Instagram: @readingmama_reviews
Friday, September 13th: Instagram: @lauralovestoread
Saturday, September 14th: Instagram: @bookishanki
Sunday, September 15th: Instagram: @beritaudiokilledthebookmark
Monday, September 16th: Instagram: @bookapotamus
Monday, September 16th: Instagram: @kmc_reads
TBD: Tuesday, September 17th: Instagram: @book.hang.o.ver

Review Stops

Tuesday, September 10th: Instagram: @diaryofaclosetreader
Thursday, September 12th: A Bookish Way of Life
Friday, September 13th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Tuesday, September 17th: Stranded in Chaos
Wednesday, September 18th: PhDiva
Thursday, September 19th: Reading Reality
Friday, September 20th: Instagram: @bookishanki
Monday, September 23rd: Jennifer ~ Tar Heel Reader
Tuesday, September 24th: bookchickdi
Thursday, September 26th: Instagram: @storiesandcoffee
Friday, September 27th: Instagram: @beauty_andthebook_
Friday, September 27th: Booked J

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

New in paperback- The Glass Ocean by Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig

The Glass Ocean by Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062642462
Trade paperback, $16.99, 432 pages
Three writers — Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig — teamed up a few years ago to write a terrific novel, The Forgotten Room, and liked the experience so much they got together again to write another. One of the more interesting aspects of that book was how the writers wove familiar characters from their individual series of novels into one story. 
The Glass Ocean features three female protagonists telling their stories. Two of the women are sailing on the Lusitania ship from New York to England in 1915, and one woman in 2013 has gone to England to find out if her great-grandfather who worked on the Lusitania had any connection to its sinking. 

The novel starts out strong in New York City 2013, where author Sarah Blake is on her way to talk with a book club about her successful first novel. It doesn't go well, and we learn about the pirate websites, where unscrupulous people illegally upload books for people to read for free, and how that adversely affects authors. Sarah is broke, and decides to tell her great grandfather's story about being on the Lusitania.
In 1915, Caroline is traveling on the Lusitania with her wealthy husband, who is carrying a valuable piece of historical sheet music by Strauss that he sold to someone in England. Her husband seems very distracted on the boat, which concerns her.
Robert, a man from Caroline’s past, is also on the boat. Robert has very strong feelings for Caroline. She is torn between her love for her husband and her attraction to Robert.
A young woman named Tess is also on board the Lusitania. Tess and her sister have been paid to steal the sheet music and make a copy of it. Tess keeps bumping into Robert on the ship, and they form a bond, one that may endanger Tess’ task at hand.
The tension builds with the ship moving closer to England, as the reader knows that historically the Lusitania will be sunk by the Germans off the coast of Ireland. There are rumors that there are German spies on board the ship who are signaling the Germans with their location in order to sink the ship.
The Glass Ocean is filled with terrific period details, and the trio of writers clearly did a great deal of research to bring the reader right onto the massive ship. The mystery is masterfully plotted as well, and you will find yourself searching for clues to what is really happening on that ship before it is sunk. I highly recommend it.

You can follow Team W on Facebook here. Their third collaboration, All The Ways We Never Said Goodbye, publishes in January and I can't wait.
My review of The Forgotten Room is here.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me this tour. The rest of the stops are here:

Instagram Features

Tuesday, September 10th: Instagram: @katelynreadsbooks_
Wednesday, September 11th: Instagram: @downtogetthefictionon
Thursday, September 12th: Instagram: @readingbetweenthe__wines
Friday, September 13th: Instagram: @thats_what_she_read
Saturday, September 14th: Instagram: @jennsbookvibes
Sunday, September 15th: Instagram: @crystals_library
Monday, September 16th: Instagram: @girlwithnoselfie
Tuesday, September 17th: Instagram: @wherethereadergrows
Wednesday, September 18th: Instagram: @theshybooks

Review Stops

Tuesday, September 10th: bookish bliss and beauty
Wednesday, September 11th: Reading Reality
Thursday, September 12th: View from the Birdhouse
Friday, September 13th: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, September 16th: Instagram: @kraysbookclub
Tuesday, September 17th: Literary Quicksand
Wednesday, September 18th: bookchickdi
Friday, September 20th: Instagram: @book.hang.o.ver
Monday, September 23rd: Instagram: @lauralovestoread
Tuesday, September 24th: Write – Read – Life
Wednesday, September 25th: Audio Killed the Bookmark
Wednesday, September 25th: Girl Who Reads
Thursday, September 26th: Always With a Book
Friday, September 27th: Instagram: @somekindofalibrary
Monday, September 30th: Broken Teepee

Friday, September 13, 2019

Friday 5ive- Craftspeople in Italy

The Friday 5ive is back! Every Friday I post about five things that caught my attention. For the next few weeks I will post five things that I saw on our trip to Italy, which we took recently.

This week's Friday 5ive focuses on five craftspeople who impressed me with their artistic creativity.

1) On our trip to Sorrento, we took a tour of Il Turuziello, an agritourismo where Benedetto de Gregorio, AKA "The Cheese Man", shows the tour group how they make different cheeses, including mozzarella and ricotta, made before our very eyes. The entire group raved about the creamy ricotta in particular. Klaudia assisted The Cheese Man, and following the demonstration we toured the farm where we were all charmed by the baby calves. The newest addition was born 28 hours prior, and Klaudia named him after my husband Scott.
Scott, Klaudia and little Scott 

The Cheese Man making mozzarella

2) We had a fabulous dinner in a tiny little restaurant in Sorrento, la Locanda del Gusto. There are maybe two dozen seats in this compact restaurant, where Chef Carmen cooks every meal in her open kitchen located next to the little bar. Chef Carmen has run a cooking school for years, and last year opened this delightful restaurant. Our foursome had the lasagna, misto salad, and the best gnocci I have ever had. Chef Carmen came to our table after dinner so we could properly thank her.
The wall is covered with praise for Chef Carmen from diners


Misto salad

The gnocci

Chef Carmen came to our table

3) We headed to the town of Montalcino in Tuscany for a wine tasting at a lovely small winery, nostraVita (our life), that combines wine with art. Annibale Parisi and his wife Elena live on a beautiful vineyard overlooking a valley. They invite artists to stay at nostraVita, and in exchange for free rent, the artists leave their creations, which are located all along the property. Annibale is a real Renaissance man, an artist who paints each wine label himself. He is also hand copying a 15th century book about the region that he found in a bookshop. His home took our breath away.
Annibale painting a wine label

The finished bottle of Brunello

The book that Annibale is hand copying

4) The island of Capri is magical, and we were able to take a three hour cruise around the island with Captain Franco. He showed us sights that most tourists don't see, and each was more beautiful than the last. Captain Franco was a true artist, maneuvering his small boat into caves (grottoes) that had us shaking our heads in wonder. He also knows his way around camera phones, grabbing our cameras and taking the best photos of the day.
Captain Franco
A fabulous view from our boat

Capt. Franco and his boat

5) In Capri, I made a stop at Da Costanzo, where Antonio de Ruocco continues his father's tradition of handcrafting the most gorgeous sandals you'll ever find, right there on the spot. His father, Costanzo Ruocco, made an appearance in Adriana Trigiani's wonderful novel, Very Valentine, when shoemaker Valentine Roncalli goes to visit his shop while on the island of Capri. Antonio made me a fabulous pair of sandals, and we talked about his late father while standing next to a display of Trigiani's books.

Putting them together

Antonio and me and Adriana Trigiani's books on the shelf behind us

Antonio fitting my sandals
My new sandals!

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food.

Monday, September 9, 2019

National Geographic Almanac 2020

Almanac 2020
Published by National Geographic ISBN 9781426220524
Softcover, $19.99, 399 pages

National Geographic's new series of books are filled with fantastic photos and information, and Almanac 2020- Trending Topics, Big Ideas, Photos, Maps, Facts and More is perfect for anyone wants to know more about our world.

The book is divided into sections- Trending 2020, Exploration & Adventure, This Planet & Beyond, and The Science of Us among them. Each section starts off with Quiz Master, a page filled with questions that will be answered in the following pages.

There are so many interesting facts, such as the Netherlands, a small, cold climate country leads the world in tomato, potato and onion exports. Who would have guessed that? In Austin, Texas, restaurants are required by law to donate or compost unused foods, it can't go to the landfill. In Rwanda, 61% of their seats in the lower House of Parliament are held by women.

National Geographic magazine is known for their incredible photos, and there are many pages filled with the best of them. The ones of the Night Sky are stunning. You will immediately head to their Instagram page to follow them.

They have pages of maps, like the one of the United States National Parks, along with a sidebar of the Secret Gems found there that will help you plan a cross-country trip. If you prefer to travel world-wide, The Off The Beaten Path page has suggestions for the more adventurous places to visit. The map of disappearing languages is enlightening.

The Timeline pages of Human Evolution, Life Science, Earth Science, American History, and more would help trivia fans win contests. The photo graphics of backyard birds, seashells, and telltale tracks of various animals will interest nature lovers.

There is so much rich content here, it's a great book to keep on your coffee table and thumb through when you have a few minutes. You'll learn about the religious holidays of the most popular faiths, popular fairy tales from history and their modern takes,  and a page listing the peacekeeping missions of the United Nations. And for fans of the web series "Fun With Flags " (shout-out to The Big Bang Theory), there are pages of flags of the United States throughout history, state flags, and flags of the world.

Whether you are studying up to be on Jeopardy, have a budding scientist in the family, or are curious about our world (and beyond), Almanac 2020 is a wonderful book for the entire family. The eye-catching graphic layout is not your grandfather's almanac. It would make a great gift.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on National Geographic's tour. The rest of the stops are here:

Review Stops

Tuesday, August 27th: Amy’s Book-et List
Wednesday, August 28th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, August 29th: The Pages In-Between
Friday, August 30th: Bookapotamus
Wednesday, September 4th: Instagram: @sixminutesforme
Thursday, September 5th: Instagram: @book.hang.o.ver
Friday, September 6th: Broken Teepee
Monday, September 9th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, September 10th: Instagram: @love.books.and.coffee
Wednesday, September 11th: Instagram: @jennsbookvibes
Thursday, September 12th: Stranded in Chaos
Friday, September 13th: Jennifer ~ Tar Heel Reader

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Only Skill That Matters by Jonathan A. Levi

The Only Skill That Matters by Jonathan A. Levi
Published by Lioncrest Publishing ISBN 9781544504346
Trade paperback, $15.99, 185 pages

As someone who reads 100 books per year, I was drawn to Jonathan A. Levi's book The Only Skill That Matters- The Proven Methodology to Read Faster, Remember More, and Become a Superlearner. Levi, who bills himself as "a serial entrepreneur, keynote speaker, podcaster and bestselling author", struggled in school as child, having a difficult time keeping up with the other children.

Things turned around for him in high school, but when it came time to take an intensive MBA program, he was overwhelmed with the extensive reading he had to do. He met a couple who, using "neuroscience, memory, and learning theory", helped him to become what he termed a "superlearner".

With the couple, he built a hugely successful online course to help others become superlearners. One of the most important aspects of learning is measuring your progress, having goals. Levi created a SMART system (Specific, Measureable, Ambitious, Realistic and Time-Based) of goals. He uses the example of setting a goal of getting better at Excel. If instead you get specific, say set a goal of "learning six new features of Excel, including pivot tables and macros by December 31st", you'll be more likely to meet your goal. That makes sense.

Another interesting idea is that there is no such thing as "below-average memory". In a 2017, a study by Radboud University determined that practicing mnemonic techniques for 30 minutes per day can double memory capacity for anyone. As someone who has a difficult time remembering names of people, I guess I'd better start creating my "highly detailed visualizations."

As a big reader, I was intrigued by the mention of an app- Readwise. You can connect it to all your highlighted text in Kindle, Apple Books, and Instapaper (I highlight on Kindle frequently for book reviews), and then add all of the print books you have read. It will create a database, add the common highlights, and then send you an weekly email of the highlights. That will also help reinforce what you have read during the week. I'm definitely going to get that app.

The Only Skill That Matters will be most helpful to people who have to do massive amounts of reading and have to retain what they read- law students and medical students could benefit greatly.
Levi has a website- superhumanacademy.com- to learn more about it.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Jonathan A. Levi's tour. The rest of the stops are here:

Instagram Features

Tuesday, September 3rd: Instagram: @libraryinprogress
Wednesday, September 4th: Instagram: @happiestwhenreading
Thursday, September 5th: Instagram: @meganthemeganerd
Friday, September 6th: Instagram: @rynicolereads
Saturday, September 7th: Instagram: @megsbookclub
Monday, September 9th: Instagram: @rendezvous_with_reading
Tuesday, September 10th: Instagram: @sarahandherbookshelves

Review Stops

Tuesday, September 3rd: bookchickdi
Wednesday, September 4th: PhDiva
Monday, September 9th: Booked J
Tuesday, September 10th: Write – Read – Life
Wednesday, September 11th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, September 12th: Instagram: @book.hang.o.ver
Friday, September 13th: Kahakai Kitchen
Monday, September 16th: Instagram: @megabunnyreads
Tuesday, September 17th: The Desert Bibliophile
Tuesday, September 17th: Openly Bookish
Wednesday, September 18th: Iwriteinbooks’s blog
Thursday, September 19th: Jathan & Heather
Friday, September 20th: Comfy Reading
Friday, September 27th: Girl Who Reads
Sunday, September 29th: Instagram: @books_with_bethany
Monday, September 30th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, October 1st: Lit and Life
TBD: Thursday, September 5th: Ms. Nose in a Book