Book Club Mom’s summer recommendations – grab a book and some fresh air!

Image: Pixabay

Summer reads have a certain feel about them and grabbing the right book can take you back to when you had long lazy days stretching out in front of you. Now, for many of us, it’s more a matter of creating the mood of an endless summer. So steal an hour, find a nice place in a park, in your yard or even at home with the windows open, and dig into a book that will grab you right away. Here are some recommendations to help you choose:


Dig Right In

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin – light, entertaining historical fiction during the late 1800s when billionaire American families match their daughters with cash-poor dukes and princes in need of American money.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer – set in Greenwich Village, NY, Greta discovers her 1985 self living in two other time periods, one in 1918 and one in 1941.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin – historical fiction and fascinating portrait of Truman Capote and his distinct sides, as both pet and confidante to the New York upper class, and serious writer.

Things We Set on Fire by Deborah Reed – great story about a mother who believes she is doing the right thing, but can’t see its impact until decades later.


Family Dramas

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler – a complicated family from Baltimore, full of secrets and an unacknowledged division between its members.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – great family saga that begins in the 1960s with six kids from two different families, thrown together because of an affair, a divorce and then a marriage.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub – light beach read about a dysfunctional family on a trip from Manhattan to Spain for some forced family vacation fun.

When I Found You by Catherine Ryan Hyde – a man goes duck hunting and finds an abandoned baby boy in the woods, changing his life in unimaginable ways.


Historical Fiction

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín – classic tale about post-war immigration from Ireland to America.

The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor – set in NY in 1950 during the Red Scare, the story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, arrested for spying for the Russians.

Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor – biographical novel about Emily Dickinson and a fictional coming-of-age story about her young Irish maid.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – a look at Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Elizabeth Hadley Richardson and their six-year marriage, spent mostly in Paris.


Secrets and Suspense

The Dry by Jane Harper – atmospheric thriller set on the edge of the Australia’s bushland during a devastating drought.

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey – an old woman on the edge of dementia falls into a confused world of memories and suspicions, certain that her friend Elizabeth is missing.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian – a flight attendant wakes up after a night of heavy drinking and discovers she is in bed with a man who has been brutally murdered.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – Young Adult story about mysterious events of one summer, forcing a family through painful changes.


I hope you find a good place to escape for a bit. What will you read?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Celebrating 6 years of blogging!

The blogging anniversary is kind of a big deal, but I also celebrate with a little hesitation. “Look at me!” is built into the blogger’s mindset, but strangely, so is the “I hope this is good enough” feeling. How do you balance the two?

For me, the answer is to just keep going. I’ve talked before about my early posts and how I’m embarrassed to read some of them. I’ve deleted a few, but most are still out there. It’s a process, but just when do you hit your groove? I’m not sure because I’m always thinking of how to make it better.

One thing is certain and it’s the only good reason to keep a blog going (the non-profit ones, I mean). It has to be fun. And for me, it is, even with the slumps and occasional dry spells.

Likes and comments are the boosts bloggers need, so keep them coming! But the friendships with other bloggers are what makes blogging truly worthwhile. So thank you for all that!

In the spirit of celebrating six years, here are some of my top posts (based on views):


Top Post – All-Time:

Image: Wikipedia

“House of Flowers” by Truman Capote


Other Top Posts:

“Gryphon” by Charles Baxter


The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides


Author Interview – Jill Weatherholt


Life After Life by Kate Atkinson


First Post:

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell


Are you a blogger? How long have you been blogging? What keeps you going?

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Remembering American author Herman Wouk, 1915 – 2019

American author Herman Wouk passed away on May 17, days before his 104th birthday.

Wouk (pronounced “woke”) was an award-winning American author of fiction, non-fiction and plays, and the author of my number one favorite book, Youngblood Hawke. He may be the most famous for The Caine Mutiny, which won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but many readers in my age group will also remember his popular historical novels, also about World War II, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. The first book was made into the very popular 1983 television miniseries starring Robert Mitchum, Ali McGraw, Jan-Michael Vincent, John Houseman and Polly Bergen. Its sequel was released in 1988, with the return of Mitchum and Bergen and added others including Jane Seymour and Sharon Stone. You can check out the sequel’s full cast and crew here.

Another favorite, Marjorie Morningstar, was published in 1955. It’s the story of a nineteen-year-old Jewish girl from New York who dreams of becoming an actress. Warner Brothers made it into a movie in 1958, starring Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly.

Wouk had a long career. When he celebrated his 100th birthday in May 2015, he announced the January 2016 release of his autobiographical memoir, Sailor and Fiddler – Reflections of a 100-year-Old Author. He said it would be his last book, but his agent reported that he had been working on a new one at the time of his death.

Have you read any books by Herman Wouk? Click here for a full list. Do you have a favorite?

Want more Wouk? Check out these earlier posts on Book Club Mom:

Who’s That Author? Herman Wouk
Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

(Click here to read Herman Wouk’s obituary from the May 17 issue of the New York Times.)

June book previews: Lot Stories by Bryan Washington and Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Here are two books that have settled into a place on my coffee table. They have been patiently calling to me and I am determined to read them in June.


Lot Stories by Bryan Washington

A collection of 13 short stories set in the city of Houston, Texas. Told mainly by the son of a black mother and a Latino father, a young man who is just beginning to figure out who he is. “Bryan Washington’s brilliant, viscerally drawn world vibrates with energy, wit, and the infinite longing of people searching for home.” Because I like short fiction, I’m already drawn to this collection. I like that the stories are integrated and think I will enjoy this debut.


Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

I don’t know how best to describe this debut novel except to share parts of the inside jacket description:

“A literary courtroom thriller about an immigrant family and a young single mother accused of killing her autistic son…”

The book takes place in rural Miracle Creek, Virginia and is about “an experimental medical treatment device called the Miracle Submarine. A pressurized oxygen chamber that patients enter for therapeutic ‘dives,’ it’s also a repository of hopes and dreams…” During treatment, the oxygen chamber explodes and kills two people and these events lead to a murder trial.

I haven’t read a courtroom thriller in a long time, so I’m looking forward to what sounds like a unique story!

Do these books interest you? What is next on your list?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

 

 

On Mothers Day and every day-the 2:00 pm call

The 2 pm call

It was 2:00 pm and I was just getting back from class. I heard the phone ring as I walked into my apartment on College Street. “Hello?”

I walked down the hall and saw the red light blinking on my desk phone at work, waiting for me to pick up. “You have a call, Barb.” I looked at my watch. It was 2:00 pm.

I lowered my son into his crib, carefully slid my hands out from under his little body, and slowly backed out of his room. I tiptoed downstairs and into the kitchen. The phone rang. I looked at the clock. It was 2:00 pm.

The boys were in their swings under the deck and I took turns pushing them from the back, first one, then the other, with the baby tucked in the crook of my arm. It was hot that day, but cool under the deck and I knew they would be happy swinging for a while. I heard the phone ringing from inside the house. “I’ll be right back boys. Sit tight!” I held onto the baby and I ran up the deck steps, through the sliding door and grabbed the phone so I could bring it outside while we talked. It was 2:00 pm.

The newest little guy sat on the couch. We had just popped a tape into the VCR and he was already settled. Too old for a nap, he still needed his quiet time before the older boys came home from school. I looked at the clock. “Perfect, I thought.” It was 2:00 pm and the phone rang right on time.

Mom’s show, All My Children, used to drive the timing of her calls. Every day at 1:00 pm Mom took a break from her day and watched. And when the hour was up, she called. The years passed. My life changed. My family grew. Through college, work, marriage, children. Schedules changed, calendars filled. But there was one thing that stayed the same. The 2:00 pm call. Two people connected through one simple, consistent and repeating moment in time. A time when mother and daughter could exchange “What’s new?” between this time and the last, talk and listen and laugh.

All My Children ended its forty-one year run a few years back and when it did I felt a twinge of anxiety, the kind that comes before a change.  I liked knowing. I liked the certainty. I liked our routine. The anchor of a simple TV show was gone.

But now we have something new. I call. She calls. It’s 10:00 am or it’s 5:15 pm. Sometimes earlier or sometimes later. We take our chances and catch each other or we leave messages. It’s a fluid, changing system and when I press the numbers and Mom answers and I hear, “Oh, hi Barb, I was just thinking about you!” Then I know our new system is working! And I love it because the rest, the words and laughter and the love. Well that is just the same!

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Look what Barbie’s wearing! Barbie Fashion 1959-1967 by Sarah Sink Eames

Barbie Fashion – the complete history of the wardrobes
of Barbie doll, her friends and her family

Vol. I, 1959-1967
by
Sarah Sink Eames

Part two of three in a series celebrating Barbie’s 60th Anniversary

Just like in the real fashion world, Barbie’s styles have changed over the years and, while many of her outfits have included the latest fun trends, her timeless fashions from the 1960s are my favorites.

My work friend M. let me borrow this fantastic book detailing all of Barbie’s fashions from 1959–1967. I’ll show you Volume II (1968-1974) in a future Barbie post. This book is great for collectors. I was able to find many of the outfits I already owned and it was fun to sort them all out and see what years they came out and what accessories came with them. As you can tell, I’m a little obsessed.

So while this isn’t exactly a book review, it’s an example of the many ways books can bring happiness.

Here are the rewards of my efforts – I hope you enjoy this trip back in time!


I don’t have the original Barbie anymore, but I do have some of the outfits from this book. Here’s Barbie wearing one of my favorites from 1965-1966, “Golden Glory.” You may be wondering about this Barbie. When you’re a kid playing, sometimes things happen and you have to make do. The pull-string from my Talking Barbie broke, so for unexplained reasons, I transferred her head to this Twist and Turn Barbie.


Skipper was always one of my favorites and I loved her red velvet coat from 1964 – 1965. The coat and hat came with white gloves, white socks, white shoes and a red purse, long gone from my Barbie case. I also had the original Scooter doll, who hit the scene in 1963. Here Scooter is wearing one of Skipper’s outfits from 1967 called “Rolla Scoot.” It came with pink shoes and skates.

 


Casey had a great beach outfit and, despite many real trips to the beach with the doll, I was able to find most of it!


I don’t have the original Ken anymore either, but here’s Talking Ken wearing what’s left of one of the original outfits from 1964, called “The Casuals.” Anyone who had a newer Ken quickly discovered that the old Ken’s clothes didn’t fit. New Ken was bigger and more muscular and I had to squeeze him into this shirt!


I always liked Barbie’s other little sister, Tutti. Here she is wearing what’s left of the “Puddle Jumpers” outfit from 1966-1967. I added the hat for fun.


These are some great outfits, but the best clothes were the hand-sewn and hand-knitted ones that came from my grandmother. Aren’t these evening coats fantastic?


And look at this great sweater for Ken – too bad new Ken is too burly to fit into it!

 


Here are the full outfits, in order of appearance, taken from Barbie Fashion:


These are just a few of the outfits I have saved since I was a girl. I hope you’ve enjoyed taking a look. Do you still have some of your old toys or dolls?

To learn more about Carol Spencer, one of the most influential Barbie fashion designers: Dressing Barbie: A Celebration of the Clothes That Made America’s Favorite Doll and the Incredible Woman Behind Them – Carol Spencer

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Author teams and pen names – if the story’s good, does it matter? Not to me!

The book I’m reading and enjoying right now, A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd, was written by a mother and son team (Charles and Caroline Todd). I recently read another excellent book, Blue Monday by Nicci French. That’s a husband and wife team, Nicci Gerard and Sean French. Last year I read an engrossing YA story, Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman, written by a father and son. The Shustermans don’t combine their names, so it’s plain to the reader that it’s written by two people. That got me thinking. If a story is good, does it matter if it’s a collaborative effort? Do you feel tricked when the book has one author name but it’s really two people?

What about pseudonyms? Did you know that romance writer Nora Roberts also writes a police series as J. D. Robb? Using a different name is nothing new. Benjamin Franklin used many different pen names, including Martha Careful and Silence Dogood. And of course there are the Brontё sisters, AKA the Bells, Charlotte as Currer, Emily as Ellis and Ann as Acton. In fact, the more you look for authors who have used pseudonyms, the more you find. Take a look at this List of pen names on Wikipedia and you will see how many.

It doesn’t matter to me if a book is written by two people, even when they combine their names so it looks like one author wrote it. If the story is good, it’s good and the reader benefits. And it’s kind of like being in on a secret if you know.

Think about great shows and how many writers they have. Does that make the show less entertaining? Definitely not! That applies to music too. Great bands are great because they collaborate.

So I know that I don’t care if a story is written by one or a couple writers. But what do you think? Does it matter to you? Can you add to this list?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Dressing Barbie: A Celebration of the Clothes That Made America’s Favorite Doll and the Incredible Woman Behind Them – Carol Spencer

Part one of three in a series celebrating Barbie’s 60th Anniversary

In my room, in the back yard, on the beach and almost always with my friend Nancy, Barbie and her crew were a big part of my childhood. In the 1960s and 70s and admittedly, almost into our teens, we spread out wherever there was space for our dolls, outfits, cases, dream houses, cars, and even a swimming pool. We were open to ideas, and readily included accessories from other toys, whether or not they were exact fits. All the while, we played out scenarios. Many of them were typical story lines for girls back then. Barbie and Ken go for a drive. Barbie and Casey get ready for the prom. Barbie babysits little sister Tutti at the beach. But sometimes our Barbies argued, got lost, wiped out in the surf or fell out of trees.

Introduced in 1959 as a teenage model, Barbie was the brainchild of Ruth Handler, whose husband Elliot founded Mattel with Harold Matson. From the start, Barbie had a spectacular wardrobe. Early outfits resembled the classic style of Jackie Kennedy, including Spencer’s first outfit shown here:

I was especially thrilled when my sister handed down her Barbies and many of these clothes to me because they also included hand sewn and custom knitted outfits, created by our grandmother.

Barbie turned 60 this year. To mark this occasion, Harper Design released a new memoir about one of Mattel’s original fashion designers, Carol Spencer: Dressing Barbie: A Celebration of the Clothes That Made America’s Favorite Doll and the Incredible Woman Behind Them. Spencer was a designer at Mattel for over 35 years and her fashions became ours.

Raised in Minneapolis, Spencer learned to sew as a girl. In 1950, she graduated high school, broke up with her boyfriend and enrolled at the Minneapolis School of Art. From there, she got a plum job as Guest Editor at Mademoiselle, then returned to Minneapolis where she designed children’s wear for Wonderalls and “misses sportswear” for Junior House. Her career at Mattel began when she answered a blind ad in Women’s Wear magazine, seeking a fashion designer. She got the job in 1963 and joined a team of four other designers, under Charlotte Johnson, Barbie’s original stylist. The intense competition between designers resulted in a mini closetful of fun styles for Barbie, Ken, Skipper, Scooter, Casey, Francie, Tutti and friends. And many of Barbie’s fashions were inspired by Spencer’s personal wardrobe.

Dressing Barbie includes pages of beautiful high quality images of a fantastic collection of dolls and clothes. As times in America and across the world changed, so did Barbie and her clothes. From the mod clothes of the 70s, to shoulder pads and big hair in the 80s and 90s, Barbie tried on more than just the latest fashion. New multi-cultural versions of Barbie were introduced, addressing a need for a better representation of girls around the world. New careers also opened up and Barbie became an astronaut, surgeon, CEO and now runs for President every election year.

Aerobics Barbie, shown here, made a cameo in Toy Story II.

I enjoyed reading about Spencer’s experiences as a fashion designer at Mattel and learning about the process of creating Barbie’s clothes. When Spencer started her career, designing was hands-on, using glue and tiny patterns. Later, computer designs made the job easier, although Spencer had always enjoyed using her hands to craft her ideas. One of the challenges was to find patterns and prints that were suitable to scale for a doll. I had not thought of that and was interested to read how they determined what to use. The Oil Embargo in 1973 also had an impact on Barbie’s clothes because they were no longer able to use polyester, acrylics or nylon fabrics which use petroleum as a base.

Although I eventually outgrew playing with Barbies, I was sorry to put them away. But I never got rid of them – they still live in my closet. I was also sorry that the best-selling Barbie of all time came out long after I stopped playing with them. Totally Hair Barbie, shown here, had a mane of hair I would have totally loved!

Dressing Barbie is a reminder of how important imaginative play is to children. Spencer leaves the reader with these thoughts:

Because I’ve been in the toy industry for so many years, I can’t help but worry about future generations. As play becomes more centered on the virtual world, will children miss out on the real-life experiences and imagination that playing with Barbie dolls offered?

For more information, click here to read a recent article from the New York Times about Carol Spencer and Dressing Barbie.

For more visit: Look what Barbie’s wearing! Barbie Fashion 1959-1967

Images shown above are from the pages of Dressing Barbie.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Book Club Mom’s April recap – showers and flowers

Image: Pixabay

True to form, April came in with showers and today, on the last day of the month, there are plenty of flowers.

I was busy this month with more than just reading and blogging, and I took an unexpected week off from WordPress and all social media. I returned with energy and new ideas, some of which you will see in May!

Here’s a recap of my posts, with a bit of commentary, just in case you missed something.


I reviewed three books this month – all very good reads!

The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger

The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley


I posted about my blogging slump which led to a great discussion. Check out the comments and see how other bloggers feel about taking breaks from their blogs.

Blog views and other obsessions – when the slump sneaks up on you!


I made one YouTube video and I am still learning about what works on YouTube and will be making improvements in the coming months. Are you a YouTuber? What has your experience been like?

Thanks to my kids for giving me some good advice and exciting ideas for the future!

On YouTube today – catching up with Book Club Mom


Images: Pixabay

My Grammar Check post about whether you should correct someone’s grammar generated a lot of comments.

The general consensus was to keep mum unless you’re a proofreader.

Grammar check – speech is silver, silence is golden!


I introduced one indie author – H. W. Bryce and wrote a post about how to submit a profile to Who’s That Indie Author. I’ve lined up some new authors for May, so get ready to meet some new writers! In the meantime, check out Bryce’s book of poetry for some thoughtful insights.

Who’s That Indie Author? H. W. Bryce

And if you’re interested in being featured, learn how to Introduce yourself and make connections on Who’s That Indie Author!


Image: Pixabay

As anyone who likes to read knows, the “To Be Read” pile grows and grows. But making lists is part of the fun. Wondering where to get some good book recommendations? Visit your library – where browsing is always fun and books are free!

How to make a good book list – visit your library!


I’m working on some new ideas for May and I’m thinking about restructuring my blog posts this summer. I think it’s good to shake things up from time to time. Next month is looking good to me – here are those flowers I told you about!

Image: Pixabay

How was your month? I hope you had a good one!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

How to make a good book list – visit your library!

I’m surrounded by books at my library job and, as I travel through the stacks, I’m inspired by the many books on display. I also do a lot of book talking with my work friends and with people who come up to the desk. Yesterday, I walked over two miles and the sights were good!  Here’s a list of the books I’ve seen or heard about during my recent travels.

Take a look and be sure to check out the linked reviews by our fellow WordPress bloggers – it’s a great way to connect with readers!


Fiction

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – reviewed by HappymessHappiness
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – reviewed by Bookshelf Fantasies
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – reviewed by Traveling with T
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata – reviewed by Cover to Cover
Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reis – reviewed by Jenna Bookish

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly – reviewed by Dressed to Read
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – reviewed by Hannah and Her Books
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee – reviewed by Ally Writes Things
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward – reviewed by By the Book Reviews
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson – reviewed by BooksPlease

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – reviewed by Simone and Her Books
The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn – reviewed by Angie Dokos
There There by Tommy Orange – reviewed by I’ve Read This
When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger – reviewed by Rainy Days and Mondays
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – reviewed by Fictionophile

Nonfiction

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery – reviewed by Shelf Love
Hunger by Roxane Gay – reviewed by Taking on a World of Words
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – reviewed by Kavish and Books

I’ll be reading Lab Girl for my book club and I know I’ll get to the rest one day – just a matter of time! What are you reading right now? What do you recommend?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!