Book Review: Sister Mother Husband Dog etc. by Deila Ephron

sistermotherhusbanddogTitle: Sister Mother Husband Dog etc.
Author: Delia Ephron
Genre: Nonfiction, essays
Publisher: Plume
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Number of pages: 221
First line: Two weeks after my sister died, I took my dog to the doggie dermatologist.

Goodreads blurb: In Sister Mother Husband Dog, Delia Ephron brings her trademark wit and effervescent prose to a series of autobiographical essays about life, love, sisterhood, movies, and family. In “Losing Nora,” she deftly captures the rivalry, mutual respect, and intimacy that made up her relationship with her older sister and frequent writing companion. “Blame It on the Movies” is Ephron’s wry and romantic essay about surviving her disastrous twenties, becoming a writer, and finding a storybook ending. “Bakeries” is both a lighthearted tour through her favorite downtown patisseries and a thoughtful, deeply felt reflection on the dilemma of having it all. From keen observations on modern living, the joy of girlfriends, and best-friendship, to a consideration of the magical madness and miracle of dogs, to haunting recollections of life with her famed screenwriter mother and growing up the child of alcoholics, Ephron’s eloquent style and voice illuminate every page of this superb and singular work.

I want Delia Ephron to be my friend. She is witty and wise, and as one of four sisters, I can completely relate to her. Delia is one of the lesser-known Ephron sisters, and while she worked with her more-famous sister Nora on hit films like Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, her name is not nearly as recognizable. I read – and enjoyed – her novel The Lion Is In last year (my review) and hoped I would enjoy her nonfiction as well. After reading through this delightful, funny, and personal collection of essays, I have a bit of a girl-crush on Ms. Ephron.

As the less-pretty and less-skinny sister, I empathize with Delia. Not that she’s fat and ugly – I don’t even know what she looks like! – but she has lived and worked in her sister’s shadow. In the first essay, “Losing Nora,” she talks about how many of the quotes people attributed to her sister while speaking at her memorial service were actually lines that Delia wrote while they were working together. That’s how their collaboration often went. Her essay about Nora is honest and introspective, not resentful, but not overly gushing, either.

This collection is eclectic, with topics ranging from her hair and her dog, to having her name hijacked on the internet and not feeling Jewish enough during a speaking tour of Jewish authors. My favorite piece by far, however, was “Blame It On the Movies,” in which Ms. Ephron explains how the film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers changed her life. I knew then that we were kindred spirits and destined to be great friends – if we should ever meet in person. You see, I watched that movie – and sang along with it – several dozen times as a child. While I loved Adam and Millie, the main characters played and sang by Howard Keel and Jane Powell, I really wanted to be Dorcas. I know – horrible name. But Dorcas got to marry Benjamin, Adam’s quiet but hunky younger brother. He was my favorite of the seven. Each of my sisters had a favorite as well. The actor who played Benjamin (I have no idea who he was) got less screen time, since he obviously couldn’t dance a step without tripping over his feet, but I still found him dreamy. And as a girl, I had no grand ambitions about a career or profession – I wanted to be a wife and mother. So, of course, the idea of a movie where seven brothers fall in love with and marry the first girls they meet was a huge hit. (I over-looked the little bit about the men abducting the women, Sabine-style.) Ephron’s essay reminded me how much I adore this film, and I know I will be watching it again sometime soon – probably the next time my name is chosen for Family Movie Night.

While I loved some of these essays more than others – I’m not a dog-person, and so could have done without some of the gushing over her animal – this is a solid collection, and one I highly recommend. And, Delia, if you are ever in Eastern Washington, and want to get a coffee – call me!

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Book Review: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

thinkingwomansguideTitle: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic
Author: Emily Croy Barker
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin Books
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Number of pages: 563
First line: Much later, Nora would learn magic for dissolving glue or killing vermin swiftly and painlessly or barring mice from the house altogether, but that morning – the last normal morning, she later thought of it – as she padded into the kitchen in search of coffee, she was horribly at a loss when she saw the small brown mouse wriggling on the glue trap in front of the sink.

Goodreads blurb: Nora Fischer’s dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman. During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, Nora wanders off and walks through a portal into a different world where she’s transformed from a drab grad student into a stunning beauty. Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally—and a reluctant one at that—is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel’s student—and learning magic herself—to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her “real life” against the dangerous power of love and magic.

I remember reading a lot of fantastic reviews of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Magic when it was released in hardback, but my public library never got a copy. I am so envious of people who live in big cities with fantastically funded library systems! Our little rural library district has limited funds, and while they will sometimes purchase books on request, they aren’t always able to do so. When I was offered a review copy for the paperback release, I jumped at it – and am so glad I did.

Emily Croy Barker has created a wonderfully imaginative fantasy world, and thrown an equally wonderful character in the middle of it. Nora is a character many women will relate to – she’s a bit unsure of where her life is headed, and things never seem to go quite the way she wants them to. Then she is makes a wish that her life would be different, and is suddenly transferred into another world – a world of wizards and magicians (there is a difference), evil and manipulative faerie folk, and a completely immersive setting. I adored reading of her adventures in this world, and the relationship between Nora and Aruendiel unfolds with delicious slowness, leaving me wishing I knew the release date for a sequel.

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The Sunday Salon – September 21, 2014 (the “blogging fatigue” edition)

sundaysalon2It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’m dealing with some pretty major blogging fatigue – I either don’t have the time, or else when I do, there are other things I’d rather be doing. My reading hasn’t suffered – I’m reading more than ever. I simply have no desire to write reviews on the books I’m reading. Which is bad, since I’ve still got a few review copies on my shelf. I have no idea if this is a permanent state of mind, or if it is temporary – but I am thinking it’s not going to pass. I’ve been here before, and while each time I’ve found renewed desire to blog, it has been in a more reduced state. Now I’m finding I don’t even have the desire to write my Sunday Salon posts, which are usually my favorite posts to write.

I’m not saying any of this to elicit sympathy or people telling me they enjoy my blog. I know that my blog gives me as much as I give to it – and I have so appreciated all of you who are still reading after all these years. But it just doesn’t hold the joy for me that it once did. I’m not sure what that means, or what the blog will look like in the months to come. If I decide to stop altogether, I will definitely let you all know.

I have made a few decisions of how things will go from this point forward:

First, no more accepting review copies. I want to read what I want to read, when I want to read it, and I only want to talk or write about it at my own pleasure.

I will, however, review the remaining review copies I have on my shelf – at least the ones that were solicited review copies. I don’t feel right simply abandoning those commitments, and so will follow through.

I may or may not post Sunday Salon posts. I guess this depends on my mood each week.

I may or may not continue to read your posts. This may sound harsh, but please know that it is a “it’s me, not you” type of thing. I’m dealing with some stuff in my own life – change of life issues. I’m not simply talking about hormones, although that is a factor, but also the fact that Natalie is a senior this year and is taking college classes; Noah is about to get his driver’s license; etc. I’m realizing that my time with them is winding down. Also, living with my parents – while a blessing and something I am so very grateful for – isn’t always easy. Any time you put two families together under one roof, there are adjustments to be made. Financially, we are still in a very reduced situation, and so it doesn’t look like that is going to change any time soon. All of that adds up to a woman who needs to take some time to care for herself emotionally and physically (I need to get back on track with my attempts to lose weight), and I only have so much energy. While I love catching up with each of you every week, sometimes reading people’s posts can bring about the worst in me. It’s not something I’m proud of, but envy rears its ugly head from time to time. I am trying to learn to be grateful for what we do have, but it gets extremely exhausting always telling the kids, “No, we can’t go see that movie – I can’t afford to take you.” Or, “No, I can’t get you this or that fun thing because we need the money for groceries or fall clothes.” Again, I’m not saying this to gain sympathy – just trying to be honest about the place we are at. And so when I read posts about vacations and dinners out and weekends away with husbands – I admit it, I get jealous. It’s a character quality in me that makes me feel ashamed, and so I’m thinking maybe focusing on being grateful for my own life, and the blessings I have (a lovely house to live in, healthy kids who are growing into wonderful adults, a husband who loves me, etc.) is the best thing I can do for my emotional life right now. So, reading blogs may be a thing of the past for me – at least for a while.

Things I haven’t decided about yet:

The “I’ve Always Meant to Read That Book!” Challenge – While I plan to continue reading the selected books (Frankenstein for October; A Passage to India for November; Catcher in the Rye for December), I’m not sure if I will review them or post discussion posts. While I had many people vote on the selections for each month’s read-aloud, I’ve had very few people actually read along or contribute to the discussions. I did finish Watership Down this week – did anyone else read it, too? Is anyone dying to have a discussion about it? If so, I will put something up on the 30th; if not, I’m probably going to pass.

The future of blogging for me. I’m definitely not going to shut the blog down – it will always be here, and so coming back to it will always remain a possibility. But right now I’m leaning toward simply finishing out my few review commitments, and then giving it up for a time. I think I might do a written book journal to track my reading, and I will continue to use Goodreads to manage my to-read list and track my reading each year.

So, there you have it. Not quite my typical Sunday Salon post, but these are the things that have been rattling around in my brain for the past few weeks. I know many of you can relate – and have found ways to make blogging work for you. I’m not sure yet if I know a way to go forward, but we shall see.

Posted in sunday salon | Tagged | 21 Comments