Sonny's House of Spies by George Ella Lyon

I don’t know what I expected from this book, but it wasn’t this. Sonny’s House of Spies opens in 1947 in rural Alabama. Six year old Sonny witnesses his beloved father leave their home after hearing a fight between him and his mother from the shadows and the last thing his father tells him is “A man can’t live in a house of spies.” From there, Sonny has no more contact with his father and we go forward to the year 1954. The house is now just Sonny, his mother and his older, smart mouthed sister Loretta, and his younger brother, Deaton. With the help of their hired help, a black woman named called Mamby, the family does the best they can to stay together.

There’s also a new uncle who has made his way into the lives of the family, Uncle Marty. Uncle Marty runs a local church and donut shop and has taken on Sonny as his hired help. He’s also offered to help Selma, Sonny’s mother as much as he can and almost takes on the replacement father role. But nothing can replace Sonny’s father. Sonny has lived through imaginings of what his father is doing, who is father is…and he’s heard rumors from others of what type of person his father is and why his father left them.

This is a beautiful book that in one page was able to anger me, sadden me, make me laugh aloud, and just put me in a melancholic, thoughtful state. It’s set in the 50’s for the most part, but it’s so relevant to issues that are still prevalent today. Mainly, biases…stereotypes…preconceived notions of things we don’t know about, whether good or bad. It tackles specific issues like racism, lgbt issues, feminist issues, gender roles/issues, disability issues, religion issues. So many things are addressed in this one book and they’re handled just perfectly.

Nothing is ever thrown in your face, nothing is ever there for shock value. It’s just a wonderful story…a sad story at times, yes, but wonderful. And it just has this fantastic, hazy feel to it. Have you seen The Virgin Suicides? I haven’t read the book, but the feel of this novel reminded me of the same feeling that the movie, The Virgin Suicides gave me. It had that melancholic, coming of age/innocence lost feeling to it. And it takes place in a time where everything just feels so much more innocent. Where there are creeks and peach pies and knee high socks and sweet tea and hazy summers.

And the characters are just perfect. I loved Sonny’s mind so much. The book is narrated by him, and so we see his thoughts on all of the goings on around him. We hear how he feels about who his father is, about how he feels about having a black woman work for him, how he cares for his little brother. And oh how I loved his little brother Deaton!! So freaking adorable and just the innocence that comes out of his mouth made me want to cry at times. And their older sister Loretta just made me laugh so hard sometimes. And more than anyone, I loved Mamby and her daughter Nessa to death. The wisdom that those two shared was just beautiful and so touching.

George Ella Lyon has written a true gem here that I hope gains a larger audience. I can’t thank Debi enough for telling me about this book. I wish I would’ve pulled it off my shelf ages ago. Now I’m imagining all of the other treasures that Ms. Lyon has out there waiting for me to read!

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Only Two Bad Blogger Books?!

Yes you read right…since my last bad bloggers post, I’ve only brought in TWO books. And to top it all off, they’re both E-books! So they’re not even taking up any shelf space! Can you believe that…this has to be some kind of record, eh? But fear not…I have 5 books on their way to me from PaperbackSwap with a sixth on the way from Amazon as we speak :p

The first book that I put onto my nook is called The Poet and the Murderer by Simon Worrall…I saw this guy talking on BookTV a couple of weekends ago and the book just sounded really good. It’s a true crime book about a poet who apparently forged Emily Dickinson’s poetry and murdered people throughout his career as a poet. At least that’s what I gathered. And the guy was apparently a mastermind when it came to lying to the point where he passed polygraph tests so that he could fool even himself. Just sounds interesting so I thought I’d give it a try.

And the other book that I got was Middlemarch! And I’m shocking the hell out of myself by enjoying it so far. I have Ana to thank for this one 😀 She’s getting a bad bloggers point for this one! If you haven’t already, you can go over to her site and sign up for the read-along she’s doing of Middlemarch this summer. It’s a book that I probably never would have read if it weren’t for her, so come read it with us!

And believe it or not, that’s it for me for now!

The Backyard Produce Section and Weekend Cooking

I want to start off this post by saying that if anyone ever wants to join me in posting about their own gardening and their own “backyard produce section” please do!! I’m not going to turn this into an official meme with a mr. linky and all because let’s face it, we don’t need another planned weekly post :p But I’m a total voyeur when it comes to pics of people’s gardens! And I’d love to see what other people are up to in their gardening and growing stuff and what you’re making with it and how it’s all progressing and if you have any useful tips! It’s not necessarily a bookish thing, but it’s fun nonetheless…so please join along whenever you’d like and drop me a note if you do!

So the garden is starting to come alive like crazy now 😀 Not that it’s loaded with vegetables ready to pick or anything, but there are signs of lots of new growth and veggies a plenty to come. Just this week I’ve picked three tomatoes! And have scarfed down one already which was absolutely delicious. I’m saving the other one two to make some fresh salsa with tomorrow with a little cilantro, lime juice and onion. I’ve tied the beans to their posts, spotted TONS of flowers on my two tomato plants, noticed that the eggplant that I was about to give up on is finally growing, spotted two bell peppers and I have little baby cucumbers growing like crazy!! Look how cute they are 😀

And of course, never being happy with just doing something as it is, I decided to go Etsy shopping this past week for gardening stuff :p The first thing I bought was a journal to start keeping a daily log of what goes on in the garden so that I can look back next year on what worked and what didn’t work. I also picked up some seeds from a fantastic seller that sells lots of heirloom seeds. She threw in some free hollyhocks too!! This round, I got some eggplant, carrots, cucumbers, jalapenos, and green beans. And I think my favorite find of all are these really cool antique hammered out spoons that I got from this great seller. I bought one for my cherry tomatoes, parsley, mint and lavender. Here’s a pic of the cherry tomatoes (no tomatoes yet…this is a new plant):

How’s everyone else’s garden doing these days? In the south, you can pretty much plant a garden and have it do well year round :p But I know it’s not like that everywhere.

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This is my first time EVER doing Beth Fish’s AMAZING Weekend Cooking 🙂 Mostly because I rarely cook, but since reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (everyone should read this book) I’ve got the fresh produce cooking bug! I found this recipe just the other day through Craftzine’s site which led me to a blog called Bless Her Heart. The recipe is for Blackberry Buckle and it’s so easy to make. Words cannot describe how absolutely amazing this is…seriously, give me a spoon and I could eat the whole thing. My picture is not nearly as beautiful as the one over at Bless Her Heart. This is what mine came out looking like:

Here’s the recipe for it…..I’m just going to copy and paste the directions from Bless Her Heart as those are perfect!

Blackberry Buckle

Fruit Topping:

4 Cups of Fresh Blackberries

1 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar

1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Batter:

6 tbsp butter

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

1 cup of milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 tbsp coarse or turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a small bowl, combine the first four ingredients in the Fruit Filling section and set aside.  Place the butter In a 2 quart baking dish and place it in the oven to melt the butter. In a medium bowl combine the flour, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.  In a small bowl combine the milk and vanilla.  Add this mixture to the flour mixture.  Mix until moist.  Remove the baking dish from the oven.  Spread the batter on top of the butter.  The melted butter will peek up around the edges a bit.  Layer the blackberry mix on top of the batter.  Press the blackberries down into the batter a bit.  Bake for 45 minutes.  Sprinkle with the coarse sugar and bake for 5-10 more minutes or until the batter has reached a beautiful golden brown.

Enjoy 😀 Have you cooked anything good lately? Tell me about it! Planted anything cool lately? Tell me about that too! I want to try some new stuff out in the garden. Or in pots….yeah…know anything that does really well in pots?

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

I don’t even know how to start talking about this book. It’s quite possibly the most influential book I’ve ever read and I’ve made so many changes to my own life since reading it. Simple changes, really that haven’t required much effort and honestly they’ve all been fun. I’ve embraced gardening and have started growing my own food. I’ve visited my local farmers market and purchased delicious produce, plants and seafood from my hard working local farmers. I’ve started cooking with local food. Today I made my own bread for the first time. I’ve started to be mindful of where my food comes from, what chemicals went into that food and how much fuel went into getting that food onto my plate and how that food was treated before it got onto my plate. And I plan on trying my hand at making my own cheese soon!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle looks at Barbara Kingsolver’s successful attempt to move to a life of eating locally. What this meant for her was growing what she could in the form of vegetables, fruits, herbs, grains and nuts; raising chickens and turkeys for eggs and meat; canning, preserving and freezing food and buying the rest from local farmers. She also made her own bread and cheese among so many other delicious sounding things. And it’s all free range and pesticide free so what’s going into her body is all natural. The other thing is, you only eat what’s in season. Truthfully, it’s not natural to have asparagus in November. If you live in the north, it’s not natural to have bananas ever, so they said goodbye to the banana. But they said hello to so many other delicious home grown fruits and vegetables with such delicious flavors while saying goodbye to produce that was shipped thousands of miles with little flavor.

Think of that tomato that you buy in December. It most likely comes from California where it was grown on a giant farm where it’s sprayed with tons of pesticides. On top of that, the tractors used to spray all of those pesticides are using lots of fuel. Then they go through processing and are packaged (more fuel). Then they are loaded onto an eighteen wheeler and shipped to wherever you live (a LOT more fuel). All for that one tomato. Now think of the fuel crisis we’re going through now and how DEPENDENT we all are on gasoline and how destructive it has become. For each meal we eat at our dinner table, an underestimate is that we might as well each drink a quart of motor oil when you consider the transport, packaging, and harvest.

Now think about this…you can get MUCH better tasting milk, cheese, oats, meat, vegetables, fruit, seafood, etc at your farmers market or even at the supermarket if your just mindful of where the food comes from. BUY LOCAL. And you stop this chain. The closer to home, the better the taste. Naturally, it’s fresher and it’s gone through less wear and tear. Even better yet, grow what you can. Even in an apartment you can do some patio peppers and tomatoes and herbs! I’m having so much fun with mine 🙂 Bake your own bread! It’s so easy in a bread maker.

As for the book itself, I didn’t ever want it to end. It was delightful. It was enchanting. Kingsolver never made her year of eating locally seem like a cakewalk, but she always made it seem wonderful and rewarding and she made me want to just move to a farm and live that life. We can’t all do that obviously, but we can make some better choices. Her writing is exquisite and I can’t wait to read some of her fiction now. I’m hoping to love it just as much. You’ll find the book to be enticing, I promise. You’ll WANT to start doing some of these things. You’ll start eyeing the mason jars at the hardware store and thinking of what you can can. You’ll start noticing seed packets in places you never noticed them before. You’ll start wondering where the best place is to start a compost pile in your backyard…and how your neighbors would feel about a couple of hens in the neighborhood…..

The best thing of all about this book is that Kingsolver is never preachy. She’s certainly less preachy than I’ve been in this post :p She just shares her story and I’m sure she hopes that other readers might follow her lead, but never says you should. She writes with love, with wonderful humor, with frustration, and with a great warmth. Her husband adds fantastic facts and numbers and resources throughout the book and her daughter shares some wonderful recipes and anecdotes. I sincerely hope that Kingsolver one day returns with a follow up to this one.

Friday Rambles, Fill Ins, And A Short Review

How’s everyone doing this Friday? I’m recovering from a three day migraine and sympathizing with all of my other migraine buddies. Sounds like lots of people are getting them as the seasons start to change over once again. Now we’re going into my most dreaded time of the year…the heat months. Some people just love summer…I can’t STAND it. It always just sucks the life and the energy out of me and it’s doing it early this year. We’ve already had heat indexes in the hundreds and I just can’t stand it. I’ll take the winter any day over the summer. I went and played in my garden for about 5 minutes yesterday and was dripping sweat 😦 I just pray for rainy days! I love rain in the summer…it’s my only relief.

Aside from the heat drain, things seem to be going well over here. Anyone else jealous of all of the BEA folk? ;p I’m enjoying hearing all of the sideline reports over twitter of what’s going on. It sounds like a lot of fun and it sounds like there’s a lot of promising books coming out! Can’t wait for all of the reviews of all of the ARCs to start rolling in!! I always love the roundup posts of the book conventions that follow…so we should have those coming up soon. I’m voting for vlogs from everyone 😉

Reading wise, I just finished two books. One is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver which is going to get it’s own post which will probably be lengthy because it was such an amazing book that I think EVERYONE should read. The other was amazing too, I’m just too lazy to type up a lengthy review right now :p It’s The Last Exit to Normal by Michael B. Harmon. SO good!! It was up for the Nerds Heart YA tournament last year and made it pretty far. It’s about a 17 year old boy named Ben who moves to a country town called Rough Butte after his father admits to being gay and starts a relationship with another man and divorces his wife. Living in the city, Ben turns to drugs, fails out of school and falls in with the wrong crowd so his father makes the decision to move their family to the country to live with Edward (his partner’s) mother.

Needless to say, Rough Butte is a bit of a culture shock to Ben who tends to wear his hair in spikes, skateboards and knows nothing about farm life, but he soon relates to an 11 year old boy who lives next door who is being abused by his father and no longer is in touch with his mother. And there’s also the fact that he’s fallen in love with Kimberly Johan, a local farm girl. I can certainly see why this book made it so far in the tournament and I would’ve loved to see it right up there with Charlie and My Most Excellent Year in the finals. I didn’t want it to end. Ben was such an excellent character….His dad was a realistic character…the story was REAL! No one was “right”. The book wasn’t preachy in the least bit. The book didn’t try to justify anyone’s behavior and I think that’s what I loved more than anything. It portrayed everyone as just being human and being able to make mistakes and showed that that in itself doesn’t make you a good or bad person. It’s what you do and who you ultimately are that determines that. Great book and I’d recommend it to teens and adults alike!

And because I haven’t done a Friday Fill Ins in a LONG time, I figured I’d go ahead and do it this week :p

1. Sandwiches and beer – the best food to take on a picnic. Oh, and you have to have nuts to feed the squirrels and bread for the ducks!!
2. Summer is the worst effing season of them all! It is evil!
3. I could live in flip flops. Seriously, if I could get away with wearing them at work, I would.
4. To love someone is a wonderful thing and I do it as often as I can.
5. When I go to visit Debi in August I so want to find a nature trail and go on a long hike.
6. When I crave food, it’s usually chocolate. Or sometimes something really bizarre and I have to have it that second and I will go to the ends of the earth to get it :/
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to taking it easy after work, tomorrow my plans include relaxing, running some errands and doing whatever the hell I want to do! and Sunday, I want to play in the garden, read some books, drink some coffee, and just have a damn good day!

Hope everyone has a fantastic weekend!!

Come to Me by Amy Bloom

My first experience with Amy Bloom was through her nonfiction in her book Normal. It’s focus was on transexuals and transgendered people and it was wonderful to read a book where the author wrote about a topic that’s regarded as taboo with such empathy and kindness. After reading Come to Me, a short collection of her short fiction, I see that she does the same with her fiction. What she gives us in this jewel of a collection is a glimpse into the lives of every day people behind their closed doors, behind the walls that they have put up for society’s purpose…or sometimes for their own.

Bloom writes with such a delicate hand. A gentle hand. You feel safe with her. Comfortable with her. Like the world is an ok place where things are just more accepted with her. Like she just gets it. Because she does get it. In so many words, Amy Bloom says what we all know to be true. We ALL have our skeletons in the closet that no one else sees. We don’t all cross dress, we don’t all have affairs, we don’t all cross sexual boundaries that are taboo, we don’t all daydream of another life, but we all have something somewhere that someone else somewhere would probably consider taboo. And that is normal.

These are the stories that Bloom shares with us. The stories of every day people. The way they relate to one another and the way those relationships are special, the way they are flawed, the way they are beautiful, the way they cause pain, and the way they cause passion. There wasn’t a story in this too short collection that I didn’t fall in love with. I could’ve read a thousand page anthology of Bloom’s fiction and never had enough. And I’ll certainly be adding everything she’s written to my TBR list.

Her writing itself is just beautiful. It’s simple and relatable and then all of a sudden she’ll just paint this beautiful solitary image with her words or throw one passage at you that just takes your breath away. It’s wonderful how she does that. I’m thinking of one scene in particular where a woman trips on a stone to be caught by a man around her waist and neck that ends up in a kiss that may not have happened. Just so much wonderfulness (is that a word?) in this collection. Yes, yes…I think I need more of Ms. Bloom’s work…

Oil On The Coast

I was going to write a review of Amy Bloom’s Come to Me tonight, but then I watched the local news. And got pissed off. And frustrated. And sad. And so many other emotions. This horrific oil spill just continues to snowball into a bigger and bigger disaster. It’s taken over all of our wetlands now and the majority of them are now beyond saving. If we can ever get this cleaned up, they’ll have to be rebuilt and what fun that will be trying to get federal funding. Pelicans and other birds are being found covered in black oil and will die within a few days of being coated if not washed. And they won’t all be washed…only a handful will. Turtles are dying, fish are dying. All of the tiny, microscopic organisms that keep our wetlands alive are dying. Oyster beds are all being closed. I don’t even know what I can do, so I write about it here hoping to just make people aware of it. BP IS NOT STEPPING UP TO END THE DISASTER THEY CAUSED. THE GOVERNMENT IS NOT STEPPING UP TO HELP THE GULF STATES OUT. So that leaves us as citizens. What can we do? I don’t know. I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago with some suggestions. Those are still good starting points…I recommend checking that out. Here are a few pictures I’ve found from local news stations to show what’s going on down here:

Sad, huh? Frustrating, huh? I guess all I’m asking is to keep this in the back of your minds while you’re making your everyday choices. Especially if your gas tank is running low and there is a BP around….PLEASE pass it up and go somewhere else. Those assholes don’t deserve a penny of anyone’s money. The bottom line is that this is a man made disaster and man has to start stepping up to the plate to fix it and no one is. And nature is starting to suffer for it now. And it just makes me so sad. Not to mention the thousands upon thousands of honest men and women who are now suffering as well and have lost their way of life because of this. It’s been taken away. Another scary thing is that the wetlands have always been Louisiana’s first line of defense against hurricanes and now with hurricane season approaching in just one week, they are all being killed off. What a disaster.