Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing by Marie Kondo
Published October 2014 by Potter/Ten Speed/ Harmony/Rodale
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary: 
Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.

My Thoughts: Although I didn’t start organizing my things when I was only five, as Kondo did, I’ve long been looking for the best way to keep the things we have organized and to keep the number of those things from becoming out of control. When this book first came out, I certainly considered giving Kondo’s methods a try. But the whole idea of touching every single item in my house and deciding if it “sparked joy” started to seem more and more preposterous and turned me off from looking into her methods further.
Having recently enjoyed Kondo’s Netflix show, I decided it was time to give it a try. I still think touching every single item in my house and deciding if it sparks joy is a bit nuts, particularly assuming you look at things strictly as needing to be something that makes you happy.

After watching the show and reading the book, though, I feel like I can broaden that out a little and make it work for me. Would not having a particular object make me unhappy, for example? Take, for example, a toilet plunger. I doubt even Marie Kondo looks at hers and finds that it sparks joy. But not having one would certainly make me unhappy.

I do think Kondo is all too eager to convince us to part with some things. She recommends, for example, we toss all boxes that purchases come in, suggesting we can always find another box to put that item in if the need should arise. This doesn’t take into account the fact that some manufacturers require you to return items in the packaging in which they arrived. It doesn’t take into account the idea that people may move frequently and having the originally packaging for an item will absolutely be the best way to pack that item up for transport, as my son has found in his many moves. Mind you, those boxes are stored in my basement, not his apartment, so that might not work as well if he had to find storage space for them. It also goes against Kondo’s dictum that shifting your things onto others is a no-no.

The absolutely craziest thing I found in this book was Kondo’s idea that dishes should be dried on the veranda. You know, the place were bugs might (in Nebraska, will) land on them. Sunlight may be a good disinfectant, Marie, but not good enough to kill off the fly poop that’s getting on my dishes outside, to say nothing of dirt. All that being said, I did find a lot of good to take away from Kondo.

I’ve previously tried the idea of getting rid of one thing every day. I’ve done 40 Bags In 40 Days for several years now, working on one area of the house each day. And still I feel overwhelmed by the amount of things we have. Clearly those methods are not doing for me what I need done. I like the idea of breaking the process down into categories and working through one category before moving onto the next. Kondo’s order that the categories should be done in makes perfectly logical sense to me, guiding people through the easier categories first and leaving sentimental items for last.

It makes perfectly logical sense to me to make sure we are gathering all of one category together before we start deciding what to keep. In my house, there are writing utensils in three different places on the first floor alone; there is no one to know if we are holding on to far too many pens in total if we never see them altogether. And Kondo provides good guidance on how to part with items we are only holding onto out of guilt. And while I balked when she started talking about getting rid of large quantities of unread books, suggesting that if you didn’t read them when they first came into your house, you never would, later she did make allowances for people who might want to hold on to more, as long as their remaining books made them happy.

Kondo clearly developed her method around the Japanese way of life. Some of the things she’s done to make her method work for her would not work for me. Kondo and I will just have to agree to disagree when it comes to talking for our inanimate objects and expecting a response. But, as I do with all methods, I’ll take what will work for me and give it a try. If it fails, Kondo would clearly believe it’s because I didn’t follow all the rules, including thanking my house and all of my things for the great job they are doing, but I’m good with that.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Read by: Hope Jahren
Published: April 2016 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
Geobiologist Hope Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility, and passion that drive every scientist. In these pages, Hope takes us back to her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father’s college laboratory. She tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work “with both the heart and the hands.” She introduces us to Bill, her brilliant, eccentric lab manager. And she extends the mantle of scientist to each one of her readers, inviting us to join her in observing and protecting our environment. Warm, luminous, compulsively readable, Lab Girl vividly demonstrates the mountains that we can move when love and work come together.
My Thoughts:
Finally – a book I feel like merits being on all of the best-of lists the year it was published! This is a book that is beautifully written, painfully open and honest, makes science come alive, and is one of the best read books I’ve to which I've listened.

Jahren is telling so many stories in the book – what it’s like to try to do scientific research in an age where there is shockingly little money for it, what it’s like to try to rise as a scientist when you’re female, her life outside of being a scientist including her battle with mental illness and a very dangerous pregnancy, and the story of the wonderful friendship she and Bill have had for decades.

When Jahren became convinced that she couldn’t become a doctor, she decided to major in English literature. It shows in her often poetic writing, never more so than when she includes passages from David Copperfield to illustrate points she is making in the chapter about her time working in the pharmacy of a hospital.

Oh, my lord, if you don't read this book for any other reason, you really do need to read it for the relationship that Jahren has with Bill. They have such a close bond that if her now husband would have had a problem with Bill, that would have been a deal breaker. They "get" each other in ways that are both poignant and so very, very funny.

Did I mention that the book is often hilarious? Jahren finds the humor in ridiculous situations but she also uses humor as a shield against pain. From her relationship with her mother to her bipolar disorder, from her pregnancy to her battle against men in her profession, Jahren is brutally honest about what she has been through and her ability, or inability, to handle these times.

Jahren’s passion for science shines throughout the book but she never gets dragged down by it. She finds a way to make plant life relatable to life’s events that is original and captivating. And Jahren as the reader of her own book is absolutely marvelous - she knows how to make a book come alive, how to make readers feel her pain and her passion.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Life: It Goes On - June 23

This past week I had to question that title. Last Sunday morning, we got the news that some of our oldest, dearest friends' son had been killed the night before in a motorcycle accident. The funeral was Friday. And still today I struggle to believe that it can be true. I'm so sad for my friends and their other children; I worry about how this is affect them as a family. Their family is our family. He and Mini-me were great friends. We just went to his wedding last fall. Right now I'm as angry as I am sad. This past week has passed in a fog and the only thing that has helped me get through it is to throw myself into books. I've got so many reading commitments I need to take care of, but what I really want to do is re-read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Hope Jahren's Lab Girl and started Mindy Kahling's Is Everyone Else Hanging Out Without Me?

Watched: A lot of the College World Series and, in an effort to find something that would be a comfort food kind of a movie, Reese Witherspoon in Home Again. I'm sad to say that I can't recommend it and know why I'd never heard of it before finding it on Netflix. In an effort to get over that Witherspoon memory, yesterday I started watching the latest season of Big Little Lies, in which she stars. I'm curious to see where they go with it now that they don't have source material to work from.

Read: I finished Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and read Melanie Benjamin's The Girls In The Picture. 

Made: It's been all I can do this week to scrounge up meals; I've had no interest at all in cooking so nothing note worthy has been made this week.

Enjoyed: Watching my three kids on Friday. I know they're all adults but watching them talk with our friends, meeting new people, and providing comfort to the family reminded me again of how incredibly proud I am of them.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On getting caught up on things that have fallen by the wayside this week.

Thinking About: Starting up Marie Kondo's tidying up process soon.

Feeling: Helpless. What to do to help? What to say?

Looking forward to: A quiet week.

Question of the week: If you've lost a child or know someone who has, I'd love your advice on how I can help my friends. What to say to help them through it? How much should I check in? When does reaching out become intrusive?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
Read by Rebecca Lowman
Published April 2018 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: checked out the audiobook from my library

Publisher's Summary: 
To be admired by someone we admire—we all yearn for this: the private, electrifying pleasure of being singled out by someone of esteem. But sometimes it can also mean entry to a new kind of life, a bigger world.

Greer Kadetsky is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a central pillar of the women’s movement for decades, a figure who inspires others to influence the world. Upon hearing Faith speak for the first time, Greer—madly in love with her boyfriend, Cory, but still full of longing for an ambition that she can’t quite place—feels her inner world light up. And then, astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of that sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life as it winds toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory and the future she’d always imagined.

Charming and wise, knowing and witty, Meg Wolitzer delivers a novel about power and influence, ego and loyalty, womanhood and ambition. At its heart, The Female Persuasion is about the flame we all believe is flickering inside of us, waiting to be seen and fanned by the right person at the right time. It’s a story about the people who guide and the people who follow (and how those roles evolve over time), and the desire within all of us to be pulled into the light.

My Thoughts:
It's official - I am not Wolitzer's biggest fan. I've suspected as much when I've read other books she's written (The Ten-Year Nap, The Uncoupling, and The Interestings) but this time I was certain that I was going to be blown away by her writing. I mean, this book got rave reviews. Kirkus Reviews, which I feel has issues with every book they review, called The Female Persuasion "the perfect feminist blockbuster." I'm all about feminism so this should be perfect for me, I should finally really be able to connect with one of Wolitzer's novels.

Meh - not so much.

An anonymous reviewer on Barnes and Noble's site had this to say:
"I'm considering building a video game where no one can find the plot to this book. People will search everywhere and it will go into excruciating detail about all the characters' back stories as well as forecast the details of their future. Gamers will try to guess what it is that will actually "happen" and keep playing and playing learning little cliches about how life is hard and disappointing but also sometimes kind of great. And sometimes the players will level up but it won't last, they'll end up going back down levels in confusion because, guess what? The game will have no plot, no way to win. No way to ever let the player succeed and I'm thinking that way players will *have to come back for more!"
It's perhaps a little harsh; the book is not entirely without a plot. But the larger point is that it keeps getting lost in never ending backstories that keep popping up well into the book. Maybe Wolitzer's point is to remind readers that things are not always as they appear on the surface. Valid point. And Wolitzer certainly explores many of the issues that face women these days, that are foremost in the minds of feminists (and should be foremost in the minds of most women). She addresses campus sexual assault and the responses of college administrations, abortion, social activism, sexual orientation, finding our voice, and empowerment. Along the way, Wolitzer touches on other important themes including fidelity, loss, compromise, chasing your dreams, and friendship.

There's a lot going on here and I'm not suggesting it's not a good book; it is a good book. And at least it didn't make me angry, like The Ten-Year Nap did. Like all of Wolitzer's books, it made me think, which I find important in a book. But I've been convinced to read four of Wolitzer's books now, which is a lot by one author for me. She has yet to really blow me away with her writing and I am always look for the books that will blow me away. It's time to stop looking at Wolitzer to do that.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert
Published February 2014 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy purchased the the Omaha Lit Fest and signed by the author

Publisher’s Summary: On the eve of the World’s Fair, Ferret Skerritt, ventriloquist by trade, con man by birth, is unsure how the fair’s events will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful and enigmatic Cecily, his purpose shifts, and the fair becomes the backdrop to their love affair.

One of a traveling troupe of actors that has descended on the city, Cecily works in the Midway’s Chamber of Horrors, where she loses her head hourly on a guillotine, playing Marie Antoinette. And after closing, she rushes off, clinging protectively to a mysterious carpetbag, never giving Ferret a second glance. But a moonlit ride on the swan gondola, a boat on the lagoon of the New White City, transforms everything when the fair’s magic begins to take its effect.

My Thoughts: I have long been a fan of Schaffert’s and grabbed this one up shortly after it was released when I was at an event where I could have it signed. And then it sat. Because I’m Facebook friends with him and I was sort of holding off on it until I knew he had another book headed to the publisher. Seems he’s still working away but I couldn’t wait any longer; it felt like this was just the book I needed.

I was right. The Swan Gondola absolutely enchanted me. Truly, I was under Schaffert’s spell from the beginning, when I was introduced to the Old Sisters Egan, two sisters who live on the plains of Nebraska and whose quiet existence is suddenly upended when a hot air balloon crashes into their house and Ferret Skerritt is deposited, broken bones and broken spirit, in their field. From there Schaffert weaves his story back and forth in time, including letters from Ferret and Cecily.

Of course, I’m particularly partial to the story because it’s set in Nebraska, most of it in Omaha. I was also eager to learn more about the World’s Fair that was celebrated in Omaha in 1898 and 1899. Nothing, no landmark of any kind remains of it today which makes it all the more fascinating and mythical – it hardly seems possible that it happened in what was then a dirty, rough city on the edge of the wilderness. I really only knew about the New White City portion of the fair – the beautiful, magnificent, educational buildings that appeared out of nowhere. What a treasure it would be if any of them had survived! But I had no idea that there had been an equally large midway and it’s really there that Schaffert sets his love story.

It's a love story that's melodramatic in all of the right ways and it feels every bit as Victorian as the time period it is set in. A murderous automaton, backgrounds that make both Ferrett and Cecily damaged goods, an incredibly wealthy man who will pull out all of the tricks to get what he wants, and a cast of characters that the Lincoln Journal-Star reviewer called lovable "Schaffert-esque." I know exactly what he meant - Schaffert always peoples his books with characters who are quirky, often damaged, and have emotional depth.

The Swan Gondola is certainly influenced by L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz but it is absolutely not a retelling, more of an homage. Schaffert includes a character named Dorothy, a balloonist who crash lands into another land, an Emerald Cathedral, and even a cyclone. To an extent, I suppose you could even say that the ending resembles Baum's book in a way. But it's also an ending that settles quietly, even as Schaffert throws one last surprise readers' way.

There is an element of spiritualism and even, perhaps, a bit of magic. You all know how I feel about magic in my books and I began to be concerned that a book I was enjoying so much was going to veer too far down that path. But Schaffert plays that perfectly for my tastes and I came away without feeling like he had copped out of trying to resolve his story in a mystical way.

I really don't know why this hasn't been optioned for a movie. In its scope, its characters, its story lines, I would love to see this on the big screen.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Read by Dion Graham
Published September 2018 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: audiobook borrowed from my library

Publisher's Summary:
George Washington Black, or "Wash," an eleven-year-old field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is terrified to be chosen by his master's brother as his manservant. To his surprise, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning--and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash's head, Christopher and Wash must abandon everything. What follows is their flight along the eastern coast of America, and, finally, to a remote outpost in the Arctic. What brings Christopher and Wash together will tear them apart, propelling Wash even further across the globe in search of his true self. From the blistering cane fields of the Caribbean to the frozen Far North, from the earliest aquariums of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black tells a story of self-invention and betrayal, of love and redemption, of a world destroyed and made whole again, and asks the question, What is true freedom?

My Thoughts:
Oh my goodness, folks, I absolutely loved this book on audio. Dion Graham does a phenomenal job of putting a voice to George Washington Black; his voice seems to pick up all the bits of accents that Wash would have acquired from the plantation to his time with Christopher Wilde (Titch) to his time in Canada and then on to England. I think I would have very much enjoyed this book as read even had it only been an average book. It is so much more, though, than an average book.

Washington Black begins as a novel about slavery in British-ruled Barbados just a few years before Britain outlawed slavery. Young Wash is cared for by Big Kit, a mother figure who sees that way things turn when a new, cruel owner takes over Faith Plantation.
“Death was a door. I think that is what she wished me to understand. She did not fear it. She was of an ancient faith rooted in the high river lands of Africa, and in that faith the dead were reborn, whole, back in their homelands, to walk again free.”
But Edugyan is not writing a book about slavery, she's writing a book about the relationship between a young man and the only father he has ever known. Titch is a white man who has stolen Wash, a man who is a secret abolitionist who has benefited his entire life because of slavery, and a man with a complicated relationship with his own father. It makes for a very complicated relationship made all the more complicated when Titch walks away from camp in the Arctic into a snowstorm, leaving a teenaged Wash to make his own way in the world.

Edugyan gives the book just enough tension, just enough violence to make readers understand that world that Wash must survive but the book never gets weighed down in that. This is Wash's story about learning to read the world to survive it, finding a new family, and becoming a man who never forgets the man who he loved but who left him.

Did I mention that I loved this book? I will not forget Wash or his story any time soon.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Life: It Goes On - June 10

Y'all know when I've actually had a weekend with plans when this doesn't show up until Monday, right?! Mini-me and Ms. S were in Omaha this weekend and my parents also came in yesterday. We had such a good visit and it felt so good to have them home. We ate too much, celebrated Ms. S's birthday (some of her gifts were too fragile and too irreplaceable to be shipped), and talked and laughed so much. They went home with a couple of pieces of furniture, the china set they'd chosen, and Mini-me "checked out" nine books from my "library."

Last Week I:

Listened To: Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion. I always have mixed feelings about Wolitzer's books but this one got such great reviews that I thought I'd give it a try. Guess what? I'm having mixed feelings about it. It'll expire in three days so we'll see if these last few hours suddenly wow me.

Watched: Lots of NCAA baseball.

Read: I'm reading Timothy Schaffert's Swan Gondola and really enjoying it.

Made: Ham and Swiss, beef and white cheddar, and portabello mushroom sliders for dinner on Sunday along with strawberry rhubarb pie since it was, apparently, strawberry rhubarb pie day.

Gallery pictures taken at the KANEKO gallery in Omaha
Enjoyed: Having my family back together, going to see the musical Ragtime with my book club on Wednesday, and going to a gallery opening (it was all about using repurposed objects) with friends on Friday.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On putting my basement back together. After all of the work we had done on it, we discovered that we had gotten water in it after the last storm (the first time we've had water in our basement in 23 years). Right now there is an industrial dehumidifier working it's magic down there. We were fortunate in that there wasn't much water in and nothing got damaged - it's just a pain to deal with.

Thinking About: Going to my 40th class reunion this weekend. There will be some people there that I'd really like to see; but otherwise, walking into a venue filled with people I don't really know anymore (and many I didn't really know 40 years ago), is so out of my comfort zone. I'm on the fence right now and didn't sign up to be at any of the meals.

Feeling: Happy.

Looking forward to: As much as I enjoyed all of the things we did last week, I'm looking forward to a quiet week this week.

Question of the week: What can you do with radishes besides put them on a veggie tray or in a salad? Mini-me brought us radishes, new potatoes, asparagus, and lots of lettuce from the organic farm he is working on this year and while I can imagine all kinds of ways we will use everything else, I'm at a loss as to how we'll consume a dozen enormous radishes! Can they be pickled?

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Published December 1983 by Cengage Gale
Source: my copy purchased through Better World Books

Publisher’s Summary: Seven months into her pregnancy, Rachel Samstat discovers that her husband, Mark, is in love with another woman. The fact that the other woman has "a neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb and you should see her legs" is no consolation. Food sometimes is, though, since Rachel writes cookbooks for a living. And in between trying to win Mark back and loudly wishing him dead, Ephron's irrepressible heroine offers some of her favorite recipes.

My Thoughts: Nora Ephron died seven years ago. I am still in mourning. There will be no more wonderful movies that will become classics. There will be no more books to make me laugh out loud, cry in public, and astound me with Ephron’s wonderful way with words. So periodically I watch one of her beloved movies. And every so often I read one of her books. There are so few of them; and while you can always reread and enjoy them, you can only read them for the first time once. So Heartburn’s been sitting on my bookshelves for a while waiting for me to need some Nora. Recently, I needed me some Nora.

Heartburn is a thinly disguised (and I mean very thinly) novel based on Ephron’s marriage to and divorce from journalist Carl Bernstein (you know, Watergate Carl Bernstein). When asked by her therapist why she has to turn everything into a story, even the sad or terrible things, Rachel says:
 “Because if I tell the story, I control the version.
Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.
Because if I tell the story, it doesn’t hurt as much.
Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it.” 
Which you can’t help but think is maybe the truest thing Ephron ever wrote. She and Bernstein divorced in 1980 and by 1983 the book was in print. Truth be told, don’t we all tell stories for much the same reasons, especially those stories about things that are painful? Ephron just does it so much better than we can. She can make you feel the pain behind the humor. She can make you find the humor in the pain. And as funny as this book is, it is also really sad. It’s hard to see a marriage fall apart; it’s hard to read about someone betraying a person they once loved so much they begged and begged for the marriage.

Does Rachel have any deep epiphanies about how she found herself in a second bad marriage? No. Does Ephron give us any deep conversations between Rachel and Mark to help us understand their marriage? No. But then we aren't really looking for that in this book; at least I wasn't. I was looking for what I always want from Ephron - humor, humaneness, wonderful conversations. My one little problem with the book is that it is written from Rachel's first person point of view which means that we are to believe that this is a book like the others she has written, books that general contain heaping helpings of stories with recipes. As such, "Rachel" also includes recipes in this book.  But here, they just sort of seem superfluous.

As someone who has always needed to use humor to survive the tough times, I could so relate to Rachel’s need to deflect her pain with her stories and her humor. I saw the movie adaptation of this book years ago. Even though I know what Ephron and Bernstein look like, I still kept picturing Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson as Rachel and Mark which made it slightly easier to imagine this as something other than autobiographical. A story. Because that’s the way Ephron wanted it.

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
Read by Mia Barron
Published March 2016 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
A warm, funny and acutely perceptive debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives.

Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs' joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems.

Melody, a wife and mother in an upscale suburb, has an unwieldy mortgage and looming college tuition for her twin teenage daughters. Jack, an antiques dealer, has secretly borrowed against the beach cottage he shares with his husband, Walker, to keep his store open. And Bea, a once-promising short-story writer, just can’t seem to finish her overdue novel. Can Leo rescue his siblings and, by extension, the people they love? Or will everyone need to reimagine the futures they’ve envisioned? Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives.

My Thoughts:
Guys, this book appeared on a lot of "best-of" books in 2016. I'm afraid I don't get it. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to like about this book. But "best-of?"

Why not? Because I really didn't care about these characters. Even unlikable characters need to make me care what happens to them (even if that means I'm hoping they'll get hit by a bus). Leo is an ass who cheats on his wife (who, as it turns out is a terrible person as well) and the other three are people who are mad because the windfall they were counting on to bail them out of the terrible decisions they've made is gone. It's not that these characters are stupid people who couldn't be expected to know better, they are just people who lived beyond their means. Yes, I know that a lot of people have found themselves in this position. But a whole family of them?

The truth of the matter is that the nest egg is merely a plot device Sweeney uses to explore a lot of different kinds of people. Each of the siblings represents a different kind of life, both in their life styles and their occupations, as do the many characters that Sweeney works into the story. In that regard, I did find the book interesting. Sweeney juxtaposes a young girl discovering she is gay with her middle-aged uncle who survived the AIDS epidemic because he settled into a long-term monogamous relationship with a man that he secretly married. We have the Plumb siblings' mother who could hardly be less motherly to compare against her daughter, Melody, who documents the amount of time she spends with each of her daughters to make sure they both get equal attention.

Do they all finally grow up and learn their lessons? I'm not going to give that away other than to say that I did find the end of the book satisfying and true to the character's characters.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Life: It Goes On - June 2

What a glorious weekend we are having in Omaha - warm, sunny, not too humid. We deserve it - we needed to dry out and recovery from the rains we've been getting and the hail storm that moved through our neck of the woods on Monday night. It was, for us, mostly a mess and a lot of damaged plants but it did break a skylight so we had a waterfall in a bathroom for a bit.  Others affected by the storms that have hit the country have had it much worse so I'm counting my blessings.

Last Week I:

Listened To: The Nest by Cynthina D'Aprix Sweeney, finished Washington Black (I only had one hour left but had to wait two weeks to get it back from the library), and I started Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion.

Watched: Book Club starring Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, and Mary Steenbergen. I'm a fan of all of those women but I can't say I cared for the movie. For one thing, it seemed to say that a woman can't be happy without a man in her life. Also, 81-year-old Jane Fonda's love interest was 69-year-old Don Johnson - yes, yes, a younger man might fall for an older woman; but that didn't seem to be the message here. Instead, Fonda, who looks fantastic for her age, was heavily filtered in what appears to have been effort to erase the age gap.

Read: I read Nora Ephron's Heartburn and started Timothy Schaffert's Swan Gondola (finally!). I started Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital by Eric Manheimer but it just wasn't the right time for this one.

Made: Honestly, it's another one of those weeks when I don't remember what we ate.

Enjoyed: Cocktails with friends on their deck on a beautiful Friday evening and Vintage Markets Days with my girl this afternoon. There were horses on the property there and Miss H decided she really wants a horse and I think that big boy she was petting would have followed her home!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: The work continues on Miss H's rooms - my goodness, does that girl ever have a lot of stuff! We are finally through sorting everything into bedroom, living area, box up for the future, and an office area in my office. Her living area is pretty much finished, just a bit more decorating to do. Then I'll touch up the paint in her room and get it redecorated. Not gonna lie, I've actually enjoyed this process - I do like to have a project!

Thinking About: Next weekend - see below.

Feeling: Happy and excited - Mini-me and Ms. S are coming home next weekend for the first time in almost two years!

Looking forward to: Seeing the musical adaptation of Ragtime with my book club on Wednesday.

Question of the week: If your kids were coming home for the first time in two years, what's the one dish that you make that you know they'll be wanting?

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Love, Water, Memory by Jennie Shortridge

Love, Water, Memory by Jennie Shortridge
Published  April 2013 by Gallery Books
Source: my copy purchased for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
If you could do it all over again, would you still choose him?If you could do it all over again, would you still choose him?

At age thirty-nine, Lucie Walker has no choice but to start her life over when she comes to, up to her knees in the chilly San Francisco Bay, with no idea how she got there or who she is. Her memory loss is caused by an emotional trauma she knows nothing about, and only when handsome, quiet Grady Goodall arrives at the hospital does she learn she has a home, a career, and a wedding just two months away. What went wrong? Grady seems to care for her, but Lucie is no more sure of him than she is of anything. As she collects the clues of her past self, she unlocks the mystery of what happened to her. The painful secrets she uncovers could hold the key to her future—if she trusts her heart enough to guide her.

My Thoughts:
Jennie Shortridge writes chick lit with depth and heart. Yes, they are love stories. Yes, you will have a pretty good idea how the book will end. In this case, that's one of the reasons I read this book when I did. I needed something that, even though there might be incredibly sad or difficult parts, would end exactly as I wanted it to end. On that score, Shortridge did not disappoint, which I'm sure won't surprise you.

Publisher's Weekly did have this to say about the book:
"They’ll have to swallow some implausible plot turns and dubious character motivations along the way, but most will likely be too interested in Lucie’s slowly unfolding backstory to mind."
They are absolutely correct. Right from the first few pages, I cared about Lucie and wanted to find out what had happened to her that resulted in her going into a dissociative fugue (the current medical term for amnesia). And I so wanted Grady to have a happily-ever-after. Still, Shortridge does, in fact, force readers to buy into some plot points which are improbable. For example, Grady seems to want very little to do with his family despite the fact that they also seem to be very close. And for a guy who seems to want all six of his sisters to butt out of his life, he fell in love with a woman who was every bit as controlling. And that is the least of the issues of believability I had with the book.

And yet...

Shortridge made me do some research into amnesia when I doubted that someone suffering from amnesia would come to with an entirely different personality. They can. Which was a good thing, because I don't think I would have cared what happened to pre-amnesia Lucie. Post-amnesia Lucie was a woman working very hard to win over the man who so clearly loves her (although she can't seem to believe it), to find her own, new happiness, and to find out what happened to chase her away. That answer turned out to be twofold. And even though I wised up to what happened before we go to that part, it was shockingly sad, nevertheless.

Is it a great book? No. Was it just the book I needed when I read it? Absolutely.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow
Published 1975
Source: my copy purchased years ago!

Publisher's Summary:
The story opens in 1906 in New Rochelle, New York, at the home of an affluent American family. One lazy Sunday afternoon, the famous escape artist Harry Houdini swerves his car into a telephone pole outside their house. And almost magically, the line between fantasy and historical fact, between real and imaginary characters, disappears. Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J. P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, Sigmund Freud, and Emiliano Zapata slip in and out of the tale, crossing paths with Doctorow's imagined family and other fictional characters, including an immigrant peddler and a ragtime musician from Harlem whose insistence on a point of justice drives him to revolutionary violence.

My Thoughts:
This is what I had to say about this book when I picked it as a favorite back in 2009:
"My favorite this week is E. L. Doctorow's "Ragtime," a brilliant exploration of a moment in time. Doctorow weaves fiction and reality in this novel and explores issues that resonate even today. Weaving in historical figures, including Harry Houdini, Sigmund Freud, and J P Morgan, with some of the most memorable characters in literature, Doctorow explores racism, sexism and class structure at the turn of the last century."
Ten years later, I've just re-read this book and I've gotta say that my opinion of it hasn't changed. I may be even more impressed with the way Doctorow managed to give readers such a complete sense of life at the turn of the last century - the mores, the business and political climates, the wealth gap, the transportation, the fashion, the status of women, and the prejudices against different races and cultures.

The three families that Doctorow writes about in Ragtime are symbolic of their peers - an upper-middle class white family, a black family, and an immigrant family. In order to make sure readers understand that these families are symbols, Doctorow strips the white family and the immigrant family of names, referring to them throughout the book only by their positions in the family - Mother, Tateh, Younger Brother, the little girl. But he writes each character so fully three-dimensionally that readers will still feel that they know these people.

I hadn't recalled just how much of the book is devoted to famous people of the time. Some are only mentioned in passing, others are given quite a lot of print space. Of those listed above, only Emma Goldman truly interacts for any time with the family. Often, Doctorow entirely goes away from the plot line that is entirely fictional, to write about the famous people and sometime, even on re-read, I struggled to find my way back to the meat of the story. Yet, their pieces are instrumental in setting up the climate of the time and in explaining why the things that happened with our fiction characters happen.

It's no surprise that this book connected with people when it was published in 1975 - that was a time of sexual revolution, the civil rights movement was still on people's minds, and the economic downturn the country was just beginning to recover from highlighted the difference between the haves and the have-nots. In 2009, I wrote that the issues Doctorow addressed still resonated; in 2019, I think that's even more true with the resurrection of a feminist movement, Black Lives Matter, the increasing gap between the top ten percent and the rest of us, and the pressure on police forces to reduce their abuses of power.

I believe I first read this book after I saw that 1981 Milos Forman movie adaptation. Since that time, it has remained one of my all-time favorite books. I've read so many books since that time that I feared a re-read would diminish the book in my opinion. It did not. This will continue to be a book that I recommend to everyone. It is a magnificent blend of fact and fiction filled with memorable characters and themes that will always speak to readers.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Life: It Goes On - May 26

It's an absolutely glorious morning here. It would be the perfect Sunday morning to spend lazily enjoying breakfast on the patio except that our neighbor started mowing right about the time we decided to eat. Nothing says summer has arrived quite like the suburbs coming alive early in the morning to the sounds of yard work getting done before it gets too hot!

Last Week I:

Listened To: Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's The Nest which I decided on while I was waiting for my next hold to come in which was supposed to be in a couple of weeks. It arrived three days later. But I was half way through The Nest by then so I didn't want to give up on that. Now I'm hoping to get through it in time to have time to listen to Marlon James' Black Leopard Red Wolf before it gets returned.

Watched: The Big Ten baseball tournament, the first episode of Gentleman Jack (quite liked it and am looking forward to watching more), and the final two episodes of this season's Grace and Frankie. Not sure how I'm feeling about that show this season - it's starting to feel played out and isn't as funny.

Read: A book I was supposed to read for review had to be rescheduled which left me with the chance to pull something older off the shelves (and my shelves, I mean my Nook). I'm racing through Jennie Shortridge's Love, Water, Memory. It has me doing research on amnesia and you know how much I like books that make me dig deeper!

Made: Quite possibly the best homemade mac 'n' cheese I've ever made. Which I will never be able to replicate because I just threw in whatever cheeses I had in the fridge in whatever quantity I had. I'm certainly willing to work hard to try to replicate it!

Enjoyed: Lots of time with my kids this week.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On spending the next couple of days rearranging and redecorating the better part of my basement to turn it into a living room for Miss H. Artwork is being changed out, slipcovers have been made, and rugs are being switched. Then it's on to her room which is sorely in need of a paint job and will need a decorating refresh since we've pulled out the things we're using downstairs.

Thinking About: Making some changes.

Feeling: Proud of Miss H who celebrated a milestone this week.

Looking forward to: My goodness - another quiet week!

Question of the week: Will you be attending Memorial Day services this weekend?

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini

Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini
Published May 2019 by William Morrow
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
After Wisconsin graduate student Mildred Fish marries brilliant German economist Arvid Harnack, she accompanies him to his German homeland, where a promising future awaits. In the thriving intellectual culture of 1930s Berlin, the newlyweds create a rich new life filled with love, friendships, and rewarding work—but the rise of a malevolent new political faction inexorably changes their fate.

As Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party wield violence and lies to seize power, Mildred, Arvid, and their friends resolve to resist. Mildred gathers intelligence for her American contacts, including Martha Dodd, the vivacious and very modern daughter of the US ambassador. Her German friends, aspiring author Greta Kuckoff and literature student Sara Weitz, risk their lives to collect information from journalists, military officers, and officials within the highest levels of the Nazi regime.

For years, Mildred’s network stealthily fights to bring down the Third Reich from within. But when Nazi radio operatives detect an errant Russian signal, the Harnack resistance cell is exposed, with fatal consequences.

Inspired by actual events, Resistance Women is an enthralling, unforgettable story of ordinary people determined to resist the rise of evil, sacrificing their own lives and liberty to fight injustice and defend the oppressed.

My Thoughts:
Mildred Fish Harnack? She was a  real person, an American living in German with her German husband as Adolf Hitler rose to power. An American who was so upset by what she saw happening that she decided to do something to help those at greatest risk. Greta Kuckoff? Also a real person. As was Martha Dodd (I talked about Martha when I reviewed Erik Larson's In The Garden of Beasts, the story of William Dodd's time as the American ambassador to Germany).

I'm always impressed when an author can weave together the lives of real people and a fictional narrative and Chiaverini is terrific at it. Her books never feel like she's tried to get everything she learned about a subject into a book and the fictional characters always blend so well with the real people she's included. You've heard me say many times that I'm sort of over reading books about World War II. But I keep going back to them because there continue to be new stories to tell. Here, Chiaverini looks at the rise of the Nazis through the eyes of several regular citizens of various backgrounds. In particular, through her characters, she explores the way the citizens of Germany fell under the sway of Hitler and the Nazi party. Chiaverini very much seems to be using this book, too, as a way to make people take a look at what is happening in our country these days. As a cautionary tale, it's scary as hell.

The book is very detailed as Chiaverini follows these women through about ten years, some times too detailed. At almost 600 pages, I did feel that the book could have been trimmed down some without losing any of the details that made us care about these women or any of the history that was so important to the story. It still would have been a frightening book, still a terribly sad book, still a book that tells important stories.

Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other opinions, check out the full tour.

About Jennifer Chiaverini

Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of several acclaimed historical novels and the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin.

Find out more about Jennifer at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

If you're interested in owning a copy of this book. find it at HarperCollins.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Castle On Sunset by Shawn Levy

The Castle on Sunset:Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont by Shawn Levy
Published May 2019 by Doubleday Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
For ninety years, Hollywood's brightest stars have favored the Chateau Marmont as a home away from home. An apartment house-turned-hotel, it has been the backdrop for generations of gossip and folklore: 1930s bombshell Jean Harlow took lovers during her third honeymoon there; director Nicholas Ray slept with his sixteen-year-old Rebel Without a Cause star Natalie Wood; Anthony Perkins and Tab Hunter met poolside and began a secret affair; Jim Morrison swung from the balconies, once falling nearly to his death; John Belushi suffered a fatal overdose in a private bungalow; Lindsay Lohan got the boot after racking up nearly $50,000 in charges in less than two months.

Perched above the Sunset Strip like a fairytale castle, the Chateau seems to come from another world entirely. Its singular appearance houses an equally singular history. While a city, an industry, and a culture have changed around it, Chateau Marmont has welcomed the most iconic and iconoclastic personalities in film, music, and media. It appeals to the rich and famous not just for its European ambiance but for its seclusion: Much of what's happened inside the Chateau's walls has eluded the public eye.

Until now. With wit and insight, Shawn Levy recounts the wild revelries and scandalous liaisons, the creative breakthroughs and marital breakdowns, the births and deaths that the Chateau has been a party to. Vivid, salacious, and richly informed, Levy's book is a glittering tribute to Hollywood as seen from inside the walls of its most hallowed hotel.

My Thoughts: 
I'm not sure when I first became aware of the Chateau Marmont and the reputation it has had in Hollywood over the years of being "the" place to go for privacy. In all likelihood, it was in 1982, when comedian John Belushi died there. Since I became aware of it, more and more often I find in mentioned in articles or on television programs or in books.

When it was built in 1926, it was built as an apartment building, close to Hollywood but not too close, on a dirt road that would become the Sunset Strip. Fred Horowitz had a vision - he just didn't have the money to make things work the way he wanted them to nor the real vision of what a building at that location could be. Over the years the hotel has had its ups and downs as it has changed ownership and the area around it has undergone changes. Because it was originally an apartment building, there are very few rooms at the Chateau and it lacked many of the amenities that the top hotels offered. It didn't include a full restaurant until the 1990's, for example. But it did have one thing that most other hotels didn't offer - place to go if you don't want to be seen and you don't want the world to know what you've been up to.

It's a reputation that all of the owners have worked to retain - it's the original "what happen here, stays here" place. It's been a refuge for those ending a marriage (including Desi Arnez), for writers to do the hard work (Dominick Dunne stayed frequently), and for rock stars to get crazy without landing themselves in trouble (Led Zeppelin had to be moved from the main building to the bungalows because of their antics). It's also been a place where things that were taboo in the wide world were overlooked and people of all colors were welcomed long before that was the norm.

Levy touches on all of the changes in ownership, focusing on just a few, and the people who worked at the hotel under those owners. In getting to know the owners, the book gets dull and sometimes it felt like Levy spent too much time focusing on what was happening to other businesses around the Chateau. All of that, I suppose, was necessary to get the full story - it just flattened out a book that otherwise bubbled with gossip.

The Chateau Marmont has an amazing history and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how it has survived all of these years, the changes that have occurred all around it, and the things people have gotten up to while staying there.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Life: It Goes On - May 19

Whew - was it ever a busy last few days at my house! Between getting ready for company and having a house full of company for two nights, I am happily exhausted today. Slowly putzing around today putting things back in order, but also taking plenty of time for reading and relaxing. I have one more set of sheets to wash and get back on the bed and then it will look like no one's been here. Which is both calming for this girl who needs order but also sad that a fun weekend has come and gone. Hoping you've all had a weekend filled with plenty of time for fun!

Last Week I:

Listened To: Mostly music. Still two weeks until my next hold is available from the library. For some reason, I just wasn't able to get into any podcasts this week.

Watched: Yeah, sure, the weekend was about the bride. But we also spent a lot of time watching the antics of my ten-month-old, very busy, great-nephew.

Read: Racing to finish both Jennifer Chiaverini's Resistance Women for a TLC Book Tour review this week and E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime for this month's book club. Ragtime is a re-read for me but it's been decades since I read it so I am discovering it all over again. Next month the community playhouse will be performing the musical adaptation of the book which my book club will be attending as a follow up to the book.

Made: We kept it pretty simple this weekend - Friday night we grilled turkey burgers and had them with tossed salad and fresh fruit, Saturday night my mom and I made up some pans of lasagna which we had with tossed salad and garlic bread. Dessert last night was s'mores - can hardly get easier than that when you have a gas fire pit...unless it's raining! Fortunately it stopped raining just in time for us to put the guys to work toasting marshmallows.

Enjoyed: Family time and getting to see my niece in the role of bride at her shower.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Miss H is no longer planning to move up (long story) so we are planning on a re-do of the basement family room so that it can truly be her living space. And, while we're at it, there will be a lot of things in my basement that are going to make their way to the Goodwill. There is so much furniture down there that I've been saving for the kids for "some day;" but since the boys have already taken what they need/want and Miss H isn't moving out for a while, it makes no sense to keep holding on to things.

Thinking About: How I'm going to fit some weekend trips in this summer. I need to go north and see Ms. S's and Mini-me's new house and south to meet my new great-niece!

Feeling: Pleasantly tired.

Looking forward to: A quiet week. I'm hoping to get summer decor out and do a lot of reading but otherwise, there's nothing on the calendar.                    I think.

Question of the week: Do you have big plans for the Memorial Day weekend?

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Published June 2013 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.

On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.

My Thoughts:
I finally decided it was time to read this book after catching the movie adaptation on t.v., which I thought was a lot of fun, if somewhat hard to keep track of who was who. I felt the same way about the book…for the most part.

Kirkus Reviews suggests this book is “Edith Wharton goes to Singapore” – which is funny because that’s exactly what I was thinking as I was reading the details of every dish served at every meal. That's actually one of my favorite things about Wharton’s The Age of Innocence; I could vividly picture the dining tables laden with silver platters of rich foods, could imagine the tastes of those foods, get a picture of the kinds of people who would sit around a table that overloaded with food. The problem here is that I have no idea what most of the dishes Kwan’s describing are – I can’t picture them on the table, can’t conjure up the flavors. So I skimmed the paragraphs where he described the meals. Yep, I get it – long paragraph about food equals lots of food on the table. Moving on. Ditto his descriptions of designer clothes, high-end automobiles, exorbitant jewelry, and private planes. I’m sure there are readers who will recognize all of the names; but I didn’t for the most part, so the only way I knew that the characters thought nothing of buying the most expensive clothing was because Kwan attached a name to it.

All that being said, I absolutely enjoyed learning about a part of the world which is so unknown to me. Kwan did a terrific job of making me feel the claustrophobia of these Asian cities that have had such tremendous growth along with tremendous wealth, of bringing his settings to life, and of explaining the complexities of the relationships between the various cultures. And, yes, of giving me a vivid image of what a room full of people dressed to impress looked like. I could also easily imagine how overwhelmed Rachel would have been amongst all of those people. Rich or not, I could easily picture a room full of those "aunties" bearing down on me and the struggle it would be to be "on" all of the time. Add to all of that terrific satire and some wonderful one-liners and you’ve got yourself a book I raced through. I really appreciated all of the footnotes as another tool for learning and because it meant that Kwan didn’t “Americanize” his characters speech and make it feel less authentic.

Will I read the next book in the trilogy? The verdict’s still out on that one. I have it on hold at the library but I feel like there are too many books I’d rather get to instead. I enjoyed that characters in this book; I’m just not sure I enjoyed them enough to read more about them.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Life: It Goes On - May 14

Sometimes life goes on a couple of days behind schedule. Like this week. Oh, well. It was a busy week last week, including Sunday and this week is going to be no better. So you might get next week's usual Sunday post on Wednesday, who knows.

Last Week I:

Listened To: Washington Black - oh, so good! I have a couple of weeks until my next audio hold comes in so I'll be catching up on some podcasts and listening to music until then.

Watched: Friday night I watched Dumplin' on Netflix, starring Jennifer Aniston. It's based on the book by Julie Murphy. It was sweet and fun and I recommend it when you want something that's not too heavy but also not utter fluff.

Read: I'm trying to finish up The Castle on Sunset and I've also started Jennifer Chiaverini's Resistance Women for a TLC Book Tour next week. Not sure how I'm going to get through it's almost 600 pages by Tuesday, especially with company all weekend. Note to self: start that damn book when it arrives in the mail.

Made: Lemon bars and brownies for dessert night with a couple of my besties and Miss H.

Enjoyed: Spending part of Mother's Day with my parents; spending a whole lot of time with Mini-him moving more stuff over, shopping for furniture, and decorating his place; and movie night with Miss H last night (courtesy of Mini-him who gave me tickets to go see The Sound of Music but was headed out of town and couldn't go with me).

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On putting my own house in order. We're hosting six adults and one baby this weekend who are all coming in from out of town for my niece's bridal shower.

Thinking About: How I'm going to spend my long Memorial Day weekend. The Big Guy is going to be busy much of the weekend so I'll have a lot to time to myself.

Feeling: Tired just looking at my to-do list. And after spending almost three hours just enjoying this beautiful evening on my patio, I'm already behind!

Looking forward to: A house full of family, especially my ten-month-old great-nephew.

Question of the week: Do you have a go-to bridal shower gift or do you order off their registry or look for something special?

Monday, May 13, 2019

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant To Be by Rachel Hollis
Read by Rachel Hollis
Published February 2018 by Nelson, Thomas Inc.
Source: checked out the audiobook from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
As the founder of the lifestyle website and CEO of her own media company, Rachel Hollis developed an immense online community by sharing tips for better living while fearlessly revealing the messiness of her own life. Now, in this challenging and inspiring new book, Rachel exposes the twenty lies and misconceptions that too often hold us back from living joyfully and productively, lies we’ve told ourselves so often we don’t even hear them anymore. With painful honesty and fearless humor, Rachel unpacks and examines the falsehoods that once left her feeling overwhelmed and unworthy, and reveals the specific practical strategies that helped her move past them. In the process, she encourages, entertains, and even kicks a little butt, all to convince you to do whatever it takes to get real and become the joyous, confident woman you were meant to be.

My Thoughts:
Maybe this one came too soon after How To Be A Bawse, which I thoroughly enjoyed and took inspiration from. Maybe it came too soon after Michelle Obama’s Becoming, which I was so sad to be finished with and knew would be hard to follow up. Maybe I’m just not that great at having people who don’t know me and haven’t traveled in my shoes telling me what to do. For whatever reason (and maybe all of them), I came away from this book with very mixed feelings. In fact, I finished this book last week and the more I think about it, the more problems I have with it.

No doubt about it, Hollis has overcome a lot of tough stuff and she’s very open about her failures in dealing with those hard times. She appears to want to help raise others up in the way of all people who have overcome adversity and who say to us “I’ve overcome my problems and you can to, if you just try hard enough.” Which is all well and good. I mean, we aren’t really going to listen to someone who has never struggled a day in their life try to tell us how to make ourselves better are we? And I’m all for someone encouraging me to lift myself up and reminding me that much of what holds me back is within my power to change.

On the other hand, sometimes I can get the feeling from these folks that it’s entirely my own fault my life is not better and that I’m just not trying hard enough. Interestingly, a lot of Christians (the book was published by a Christian publisher and Hollis references her faith quite a lot) have problems with this book because it tells readers that they alone are responsible for making their lives better and not suggesting to readers that they need to turn their problems over to God, that only he can make things better.

On the website for this book, there is this:
"Have you ever believed that you aren't good enough? That you're not thin enough? That you're unlovable? That you're a bad mom? Have you ever believed that you deserve to be treated badly? That you'll never amount to anything? All lies."
Here’s my problem with that - on the one hand, Hollis says those are lies; on the other hand, she actually does suggest that some of those things are true. For example, when talking about her experience as a foster parent, she makes no bones about the fact that she feels the biological, addicted parents are bad parents. Are addicts bad parents? That’s a whole rant I’m not going to go on here. But the point is that she says that it’s a lie that you’re a bad mom and then accuses people of being bad parents. The truth is that some people actually are bad moms. Including, at least at one point, Hollis, who turned to alcohol when dealing with her children became too overwhelming. Hypocritical, no?

And as for that lie that you’re not thin enough? In point of fact, Hollis doesn’t believe that people should love themselves no matter their weight and she flat out says so. There’s a whole piece about how people who are overweight are, basically, dishonoring God by not keeping their bodies in the shape he designed them to be in. It’s a good thing that wasn’t the first lie she addressed or I would have gone no further.

And let’s don’t even get started on the chapter where she described an emotionally abusive she had when she was just 19 years old then essentially said, to quote Charlotte Bronte, “Reader, I married him.”

Hollis is a highly successful, extremely driven woman whose brand continues to grow. It’s always nice to see a woman succeed, even if she didn’t have to break the glass ceiling to do it. And Hollis can be very amusing (although not as amusing as she seems to think she is) and readily admits that she still doesn’t have it all right. I appreciate what she has tried to do with this book, even when I didn’t necessarily agree with everything she said. While we certainly don’t all start from an even playing field and pulling yourself up is a lot harder for some than it is for others, it’s always good to be reminded to do your best and to keep trying.

**My daughter listened to this book before I did and really liked it a lot at the time. There were a lot of places where she felt the book really spoke to her. While she had some of the same issues I had, I think she got more out of it than I did.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming by Michelle Obama
Ready by Michelle Obama
Published November 2018 by Crown Publishing Group
Source: borrowed the audiobook from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

My Thoughts: 
Does it tell you how much I liked this book when I say that I held off listening to the last hour for a full day just because I didn't want it to end? Or that I seriously gave some thought to just listening to music for a week instead of starting another audiobook when this was finished because I couldn't imagine hearing anyone else's voice in my ear right away?

I've been a fan of Michelle Obama's since she first came onto the public scene when Barack Obama made his first run at the White House. She has always struck me as a warm, intelligent woman who is fiercely loyal to her family. This book has shown me that she is also driven, funny, down-to-earth, and vulnerable; and the book feels remarkably honest.

Obama shares the story of her growing up years and the sacrifices her parents made so that she and her brother, Craig, could chase their dreams. While her parents set high standards, much of what drove Obama was the example set by her parents, brother and other family members. She also has always had an innate desire to prove herself "good enough," something that drove her to always push for the best. Sometimes, that lead her down paths that weren't necessarily her heart's desire. She went to Harvard, for example, and practiced law for a few years after passing the bar despite the fact that she had no real desire to practice law.

But then, practicing law put her in the right place at the right time to meet Barack Obama, someone who made a terrible first impression on a woman is always punctual, when he showed up very late for his first meeting with her when he came to do some training at the law office she practiced at. As it turned out, Barack is the yin to Michelle's yang. She learned to accept that he was just going to be running late; he taught her to relax more. Obama is open about the fact that marriage hasn't always been easy and that the couple sought, at one point, counseling. She is also remarkably honest about their struggles to have children and how hard it was to raise them once they were in the White House. Dad can't just drop his daughter off to grade school when it takes an entire motorcade to transport him any where. Mom can't sit at the volleyball games without creating a distraction.

Of course, Obama discusses politics and the Republican party does not fare well in her hands. It may be the only flaw that I found with the book, in that she was so quick to support her husband and unwilling to admit to any flaws in his presidency. But then, she's a wife whose husband has been attacked for years about everything from where he was born to the fact that he wore a brown suit. Those attacks didn't stop at her husband. Michelle was vilified for a clip that was taken out of context which appeared to suggest that she'd never been proud of her country until her husband was running for president. She constantly under attack for what she wore from being too casual to spending too much money to posing for an official picture with bare arms. The far right frequently posted racist things about the Obamas and there is a not insignificant number of people who contend that Michelle is actually a man. How would you react to having your family attacked so viciously and relentlessly? I can't really blame her for taking this platform to get her side of the story out and for defending the choices she and Barack made.

Let me just finish by saying that if Michelle Obama ever finds herself in need for some cash (ha!), she could absolutely become an audiobook reader; her voice is soft and comforting. I loved listening to her. Also, I'm pretty sure that she would make a great friend. Now I just have to figure out a way to meet her!

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
Published May 2018 by Gallery/Scout Press
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased...where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

My Thoughts: 
Maureen Corrigan, of The Washington Post, called this book "superb." Kirkus Review says it is "expertly crafted." Lisa says "if I gave books grades, I'd give this one a B-." That's right, you heard me, I'm saying Maureen Corrigan has overpraised The Death of Mrs. Westaway.

Apparently Ms. Corrigan missed the bit where Ware three times said that Hal was using an item as a shield in front of her. Once, sure. Twice, ok, I'll let you get away with that. Three times? Now it feels like you're struggling to come up with new ways to explain things. Is that a niggling little thing? Yes, it is. But it's not the only niggling little thing that colored my impression of this book. Hal has found herself struggling financially since her mother died, to the point where she turned to a loan shark. Mind you, Hal is doing the same job that her mother used to do which supported the two of them so I wasn't clear on why Hal wasn't able to support just one person doing the same thing. And it felt a bit like the loan shark was too easy a tool to explain why Hal chose to try to claim an inheritance she knew she wasn't entitled to having. Also, why does Hal continue to use the scary attic room at Trepassen when she wouldn't need to use it? And I thought the final showdown played a bit like one of those movie scenes that improbably goes on and on until you just want someone to die and get it over with.

You'll have noticed, though, that I still gave this book a B-, which would seem to indicate that I found more good than bad with The Death of Mrs. Westaway. I did. It feels gothic and old-fashioned - an eerie house filled with secrets, a Mrs. Danver's like housekeeper, a bickering family, and lots of dark and dreary weather. Hal is a great character - edgy but someone you really care about. I did not solve the mystery (although, I did have a suspicion about a part of it which turned out to be correct). I enjoyed the way the clues evolved and the way that Hal used what she'd been taught by her mother as a means of putting everything together. I seriously could not put the book down and found myself wishing I had it on both audio and in print to I could keep reading it no matter where I was at. No doubt about it, Ware writes a compelling mystery that pulls readers through her books. Now I just need to find my copy of her debut novel, In A Dark, Dark Wood.