Sunday, May 31, 2020

Life: It Goes On - May 31

Happy Sunday! Can you believe that tomorrow is June? In so many ways that past few months have seemed to drag on and on. And yet, here we are, almost half way through the year. Maybe it's because, with almost no events on our calendars to mark off time, it just seems to disappear?

Last Week I:

Listened To: I'm listening to The Jane Austen Society right now for a review tour. As much as I love Jane Austen, I'm not usually a fan of spin-off books. But I took a chance on this one and I'm really enjoying it.

Watched: Last night we watched Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, and Antonio Banderas in The Laundromat. It was not what I expected at all but we both liked it. There are a lot of cameos in it, including Sharon Stone, James Cromwell, and Jeffrey Wright. Will Forte appears on screen all of about three seconds. Only a director like Steven Soderbergh could convince actors to do that!

Read: Guys, I'm still working my way through Gods, Graves and Scholars. I just can't make myself sit down to read for any period of time, even when it's as interesting as this is. I did also pick up Florence Adler Swims Forever which took a turn early on that I did not see coming and which made the book all the more interesting for me.

Made: That towel rack I was telling you about last week is finally made and on the wall! I'm not 100% loving the "hooks," but they really don't show once I have three towels up and they will work until I can find what I really want. Meanwhile, I like the look of it so much more than what we had!

Enjoyed: Friday night was gorgeous and my patio is nearly to where I want it to be so we had friends over. It's still weird to sit so far apart from each other, to not be able to share a bottle of wine, and to have two separate snack plates. But the guys played cornhole and we all enjoyed some s'mores so it felt a little bit more normal.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finishing up work on the patio (although the search for chair cushions continues - I want a certain look, he wants a certain price tag!). Then it's on to the garage for the annual "what the hell happened in here in the past year" clean up. 

Thinking About: The protests. I can't condone proper destruction; but I also don't know what you do with the kind of anger people of color are feeling. There are a lot of great things to read and watch out there and I highly recommend, if you want to understand, watching Trevor Noah's explanation.

Feeling: Nervous, angry, disappointed, sad, proud - it's been a weekend for all of the feelings.

Looking forward to: Celebrating my parents' anniversary today. Their wonderful neighbors decided that since they had been unable to celebrate their 60th anniversary a couple of years ago, they wanted to throw them a social distancing driveway anniversary party. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why my parents' neighborhood is the best!

Question of the week: How has all of this changed you? In the past two months, I have been in the salon once. I have not been in any other store. I almost went into the garden center of Lowe's yesterday but I couldn't make myself do it. Not when I saw that half the people going in weren't wearing masks to help protect me. I wonder when I will feel safe around people again.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston
Introduction by Deborah G. Plant
Read by Robin Miles
Published January 2020 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary: 
In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.

In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo’s past—memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.

Based on those interviews, featuring Cudjo’s unique vernacular, and written from Hurston’s perspective with the compassion and singular style that have made her one of the preeminent American authors of the twentieth-century, Barracoon masterfully illustrates the tragedy of slavery and of one life forever defined by it. Offering insight into the pernicious legacy that continues to haunt us all, black and white, this poignant and powerful work is an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.

My Thoughts:
A bust of Oluale "Cudjo" Kossola sits outside Union Missionary
Baptist Church, the church he co-founded in Africatown,
This is one of those small books that packs a big punch, especially when you take into account the "Introduction," which is essentially half of the book (which is why I included that piece in the book info piece).

That introduction raises some questions about Hurston's plagiarism in her initial research about interviewing Lewis. Hurston worked as an assistant to an anthropologist when she first tried to interview Lewis and got so little information from him that she "borrowed" heavily from other pieces without credit. It's a little crushing to learn that about an author you respect.

But Hurston was not done with Lewis's story and when she went back again, she came away with an incredible story. She made no attempt this time to simply be an observer; she befriended him. Hurston plied Lewis with peaches, watermelon, and a stipend provided by a patron. Mostly, she treated him respect and dignity. She referred to him by his African name, Oluale Kossola (Kossula) and let him led the way through his story. Although he'd told his story before, he had never told it in this way and it had never been written in this way; his words are written exactly as he spoke them. It makes the book feel much more as though you're sitting on that porch with Hurston and Kossola. What's more, it makes the story so much more moving and tragic. It's a good thing Hurston's actual work was only two hours of the audiobook; I'm not sure I could have taken any more.

It's a shame it took nearly 90 years for this book to be published. It's an important part of our history that deserves to be told.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

What You Wish For by Katherine Center

What You Wish For by Katherine Center
Published July 2020 by St. Martin's Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
Samantha Casey is a school librarian who loves her job, the kids, and her school family with passion and joy for living.

But she wasn’t always that way.

Duncan Carpenter is the new school principal who lives by rules and regulations, guided by the knowledge that bad things can happen.

But he wasn’t always that way.

And Sam knows it. Because she knew him before—at another school, in a different life. Back then, she loved him—but she was invisible. To him. To everyone. Even to herself. She escaped to a new school, a new job, a new chance at living. But when Duncan, of all people, gets hired as the new principal there, it feels like the best thing that could possibly happen to the school—and the worst thing that could possibly happen to Sam. Until the opposite turns out to be true. The lovable Duncan she’d known is now a suit-and-tie wearing, rule-enforcing tough guy so hell-bent on protecting the school that he’s willing to destroy it.

As the school community spirals into chaos, and danger from all corners looms large, Sam and Duncan must find their way to who they really are, what it means to be brave, and how to take a chance on love—which is the riskiest move of all.

My Thoughts:
This is my fourth Katherine Center book - I guess you could say I'm a fan. I've come to know what to expect from Center. There will be a love story, there will be great relationships between friends and family, there will be some heavy subject matter that never seems to weigh the book down, and there will be a happily-ever-after. Given the times we're living in right now, knowing that everything would be fine in the end is one of the reasons  I jumped at the chance to review this book.

As with all of her books, Center has filled What You Wish For with humor - Sam's best friend is a math teacher who wears t-shirts every day with math jokes on them, Sam dresses like Ms. Frizzell from The Magic School Bus, and the dialogue often felt like it was straight out of a rom-com movie. It's not all fun - Center tackles divorce, the struggles of having epilepsy, death, and school shootings. But Center never touches on the tough subjects without also offering hope. The message here is that we should all "pay attention to the things that connect you to joy."
"'What does joy have to do with anything?' 'Joy is important.' Was it? I don't know...[j]oy seems pretty expendable. But Max just smiled. 'It's one of the secrets to life that no one ever tells you. Joy cures everything.'...'Joy is an antidote to fear. To anger. To boredom. To sorrow.' 'But you can't just decide to feel joyful.' 'True. But you can decide to do something joyful.'"
Isn't that what we've all been trying to do lately? Having to decide to do something joyful? Center suggests that it can be as simple as wearing fun cloths:
"I wasn't hiding anymore. I was a lady with a flower hat now. Faced with darkness, I had chosen flowers. And polka dots. And light."
I loved that message; I needed that message right now. It was enough to keep me reading even though I didn't entirely buy on to the reason Sam left the school she used to work work and even when, at times, it felt like Duncan's and Sam's relationship went forward and backward a little too much. I cared about these characters and I wanted them to heal and find the happiness. And light.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Life: It Goes On - May 24

Happy Sunday! Ours is off to a rocky start - spent a good part of the past couple of days spray painting some outdoor furniture this lovely textured stone. Last night it rained. Turns out that spray paint is not waterproof. So I'm hiding indoors (because it was totally my fault) while The Big Guy is hosing the texture off the patio, the rug, the chairs...Needless to say, he is not a happy camper! I had no idea they made spray paint that was water soluble. Lesson learned the hard way. Guess I need to uncheck that project on my to-do list!

Speaking of projects, I've been on a roll lately with getting things done around the house. Remember that floating shelf project I posted about last week? That room's still not done. I'm making a new towel rack from things I already had on hand. Which means staining and painting and figuring out how to hang it. Everything else is back up on the walls, so there's that. And the rack is ready to have the hooks screwed in and then hung so we're almost there. But that floating shelf? After all of that, I decided it was just too big for that small space and it's now going to be hung in my bathroom. And you know what that means!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I'm about half way through Emily St. John Mandel's lates, The Glass Hotel. It feels much more in line with her books prior to Station Eleven. Which is to say that I'm really liking it but it hasn't sucked me in like Station Eleven did. I also put together what I call a "crooners" playlist on Spotify that was really working for me this week.

Watched: Peanut Butter Falcon. It's one of those movies that people were telling me to watch but, for some reason, just didn't grab me. But I just happened to turn on the tv while I was working on a project last Sunday and caught it at the beginning. It is so good and Shia LeBeouf finally lives up to the potential it always seemed like he had.

Read: I'm still plugging away at Gods, Graves and Scholars. It is really interesting but not the kind of thing that you pick up and just can't put down. Now that I've fallen hopelessly behind on the readalong, I may just set that one aside for something that will really pull me in.

Made: Pasta alfredo with crab, lots of salads, and a cheesecake for later today. But the most exciting thing that happened in my kitchen this week was Miss H choosing a recipe and making a meal again all by herself. It was delicious and I love watching her gain confidence in the kitchen.

Enjoyed: Social distancing patio time with Mini-him, social distancing deck time with our friends, and Zoom book club. As an introverted homebody, I have really settled into being at home and have become less and less anxious to be able to get out. Which I know is bad for me so I'm grateful for the pushes I'm getting to see people.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: a celebration for Miss H for this evening. Yesterday she celebrated two years clean. She can't celebrate like she usually would since they are still not having in-person Narcotics Anonymous meetings so we're hosting a driveway/driveby celebration so the people who best understand what she's accomplished can fete her. I'm almost certain she doesn't read my blog so I don't think I'm ruining the surprise. I hope! 

Thinking About: Projects I want to get finished while I still have the extra time I've gained by working from home. Getting that floating shelf hung, changing up the artwork in a  couple of rooms, going through all of the scrapbooks and working to reduce the space those take up, painting some furniture...the list is never-ending!

Feeling: Frustrated. By the spray paint that isn't waterproof. By my grocery orders that have only once been entirely right this whole time (seriously, they could not possibly have been entirely out of grated Parmesan cheese by 8 a.m. yesterday). By people who think their choice not to wear a mask should be ok even though it means they could kill people. On the plus side, I'm channeling the energy of that frustration to get things done so that's good.

Looking forward to: Having tomorrow off. I've only used a half a day of PTO this year; I've been hoarding it in case I get sick and have to be off work a couple of weeks. Plus, with working from home, I've felt a little bit like I'm not really working since I don't have to drive anywhere. But it's needed.

Question of the week: I read the other day that Target's online business is up 141% while small businesses are going under every day. I'm working to try to find ways to shop local and shop small. Have you been doing that and, if so, what kinds of things are you buying from small shops?

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Case Histories (Jackson Brodie Series #1) by Kate Atkinson
Published November 2004 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: bought this one ??? years ago

Publisher's Summary:
Case One: Olivia Land, youngest and most beloved of the Land girls, goes missing in the night and is never seen again. Thirty years later, two of her surviving sisters unearth a shocking clue to Olivias disappearance among the clutter of their childhood home. . . Case Two: Theo delights in his daughter Lauras wit, effortless beauty, and selfless love. But her first day as an associate in his law firm is also the day when Theos world turns upside down. . . Case Three: Michelle looks around one day and finds herself trapped in a hell of her own making. A very needy baby and a very demanding husband make her every waking moment a reminder that somewhere, somehow, shed made a grave mistake and would spend the rest of her life paying for it--until a fit of rage creates a grisly, bloody escape.

As Private Detective Jackson Brodie investigates all three cases, startling connections and discoveries emerge. Inextricably caught up in his clients grief, joy, and desire, Jackson finds their unshakable need for resolution very much like his own.

My Thoughts:
As you can see above, I've had this one for a  long time. I think I bought it at Borders so that tells you something about how long it's been languishing on my shelf. I finally picked it up as part of a readalong and I'm so glad to have had that push. How silly to have waited so long to find out about Jackson Brodie but how lucky I am to still have the rest of the books in this series to look forward to reading.

Stephen King called this book the "best mystery of the decade." I don't read that many mysteries so I can't laud it to that extent. I'm not sure I've ever read another mystery with so many threads, so many mysteries that Atkinson manages to interweave wonderfully along with Jackson's own personal life and another client who turns out to be pivotal in the book.

As paths begin to cross I started to think I was figuring things out. I wasn't wrong but that was only one of the many mysteries and it turned out to be a little tidbit that Atkinson threw out to us so that we got all cocky and thought we knew everything. We didn't.

One character literally drove off into the sunset and I have a feeling that she's going to show up again later in the series; Atkinson spent way too much time developing her for that to be the end of it. So, if I didn't already want to see what happens next for Jackson (surely he doesn't stay with the woman he was with at the end of this book!), I need to find out what becomes of her. And I can't wait to get to know Jackson's surrounding cast again as well!

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Splendid and The Vile by Erik Larson

The Splendid and The Vile by Erik Larson
Read by John Lee
Published February 2020 by Crown Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary: 
On Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally—and willing to fight to the end.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

The Splendid and the Vile takes readers out of today’s political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when, in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill’s eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.

My Thoughts: 
This is essentially the story of Winston Churchill's first year as Great Britain's prime minister, just as World War II really began to take off and Hitler set his sites on England. In a normal life, at a normal time, one year might not amount to much. But this was not, obviously, a normal time. It's no surprise to find, in listening to this book, that Winston Churchill was the right man for Great Britain in a time of war. Despite almost certain destruction (and let's be honest, if the United States had not gotten into the war, Great Britain would almost certainly have fallen), Churchill managed to keep his nation's spirits high. He did it in no small part by being astonishingly calm throughout the bombing of London, often refusing to leave 10 Downing Street during bombing raids. Churchill also seemed to have had an uncanny knowledge of how to get Franklin Roosevelt to step up and help, working behind the scenes to get what he needed long before the U. S. finally came to England's aid.

The Splendid and The Vile is not just a book about Churchill but also those who surrounded him, his family, his aids, the people who helped save England and also, to an extent, the German leaders. It being written by Larson, the book is exceedingly well researched and the stories of everyone involved are woven together so that readers can see the full picture of what Churchill was going through both as Prime Minister and husband and father. Larson does a tremendous job of making readers feel what it must have been like to have lived in England during the bombing and he doesn't spare readers the brutality those bombs wrought. It's not an easy read.

When I pick up a book by Larson, I know I'm going to learn things that you won't find in your history books unless you're a scholar of that time and place. For example, I had no idea that Rudolph Hess had flown a plane to England, believing he might be able to bring England to the negotiating table and thus avoid war on two fronts.

The book includes an epilogue detailing what became of most of the main players in the book. The audiobook also includes, as a bonus, a Christmas speech Churchill gave after the war. I imagine the print book includes photos and I do love photos in history books. But if I'd picked it up in print, I would have missed John Lee's remarkable reading of the book.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Life: It Goes On - May 17

Happy Sunday!

How did this happen? How are we only two weeks away from the end of spring? It seemed like time was moving so slowly for so long; all of those funny memes that said something to the effect of: February was 29 days long, March was 17 weeks, and April was 5 years long felt so true. And now, here we are, almost to summer.

My Big Guy, who has suffered all of this remarkably well for a guy who likes to be going somewhere or doing something all of the time, has handled all of this isolation better than I would have thought. But this morning he was the first guy at the lumbar store, picking up wood to build his own corn hole game set. When I questioned the need for something else that will clutter up my garage, he told me he's going to need something to do this summer. Fair enough. I'm just wondering if he's remembered that someone is going to have to sew the bean bags and I didn't ask to have anything more added to my to-do list!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Colum McCann's Apeirogon on Thursday but can't seem to settle on anything to listen to next. Which is bad because I have three books on audio to listen to right now.

Watched: Cats last night on The Shows Must Go On, which Andrew Lloyd Webber has been providing for free for the past few weeks. It's no secret that I'm a musical geek so I'm sure it's surprising to hear that I've never heard all of Cats before. Maybe even more surprising to hear that I don't get it. Honestly, I was a little bored and might have shut it off except that I was annoyed with BG and left it on just to annoy him. I did like it better once I read that it was based on T. S. Eliot poems.

Read: I'm scrambling to catch up with a readalong of Gods, Graves and Scholars, a book about the history of archaeology. This is certainly an instance of a readalong getting me to read a book I might not have otherwise and of me being glad to have had the push.

Made: Ricotta-stuffed jumbo shells, chicken nachos, and lots of salads. Miss H bought a giant container of spinach last weekend for the dinner she made me and we are scrambling to get it all used before it starts to go bad.

Enjoyed: Being out of the house for a couple of hours to get my hair done. I'm not sure which was better for me, psychologically - getting rid of the grey or doing something that felt (except for the mask) almost normal. Then Friday it was warm enough at last for what I call my Tier One friends and I to do a socially distancing happy hour. It was so good to see them in person but so weird not to be able to hug them!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: I ordered a floating shelf a month or so ago and thought I knew where I was going to hang it. Until I realized that hanging it in that spot meant I needed to figure out a new place to hang hand towels. Of course, as soon as I started actually working on getting the shelf hung, it meant everything had to come off the walls to clean, patch holes, touch up know how that goes. Short story long, I'm planning to finish that project today. 

Thinking About: Getting rid of stuff. I know I just did 40 Bags in 40 Days but our neighbors got a dumpster that is much bigger than what they need for the project they're working on and told us we could put stuff in it, too. So far, all of the pallets Miss H had been saving and two patio chairs have gone into it. But, damn, I want to make sure I've taken full advantage of this opportunity!

Feeling: Productive. I got a lot of gardening work done yesterday between finding homes for some new plants BG got me and moving some lily-of-the-valley. I got the bathroom cleared, cleaned and prepped for painting. I got as much done as I could on my wedding album project until I get the rest of my supplies. I'm having one of those weekends where the more productive you are, the more productive you want to be.

Looking forward to: Book club this week. I'm trying to figure out if it will be warm enough to do a driveway, social distancing, version this month instead of Zoom.

Question of the week: What projects have you been working on through all of this?

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan

The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan
Published April 2020 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Maggie, Eliza, and Tricia Sweeney grew up as a happy threesome in the idyllic seaside town of Southport, Connecticut. But their mother’s death from cancer fifteen years ago tarnished their golden-hued memories, and the sisters drifted apart. Their one touchstone is their father, Bill Sweeney, an internationally famous literary lion and college professor universally adored by critics, publishers, and book lovers. When Bill dies unexpectedly one cool June night, his shell-shocked daughters return to their childhood home. They aren’t quite sure what the future holds without their larger-than-life father, but they do know how to throw an Irish wake to honor a man of his stature.

But as guests pay their respects and reminisce, one stranger, emboldened by whiskey, has crashed the party. It turns out that she too is a Sweeney sister.

When Washington, DC based journalist Serena Tucker had her DNA tested on a whim a few weeks earlier, she learned she had a 50% genetic match with a childhood neighbor—Maggie Sweeney of Southport, Connecticut. It seems Serena’s chilly WASP mother, Birdie, had a history with Bill Sweeney—one that has remained totally secret until now.

Once the shock wears off, questions abound. What does this mean for William’s literary legacy? Where is the unfinished memoir he’s stashed away, and what will it reveal? And how will a fourth Sweeney sister—a blond among redheads—fit into their story?

My Thoughts:
I "met" Dolan when she was writing the blog, The Chaos Chronicles and podcast by the same name. When I first started following her, she was working on her first novel, Helen of Pasadena. Having read that, and her second book, Elizabeth, the First Wife, I thought I felt sure I knew what I was getting with this book. Turns out I was only partly right.

Like Dolan's first two books, the writing is smart, it's filled with smart women, and the setting is integral to the story. This one, though, is the grown up version of those two, which bordered on chick-lit (albeit, really smart chick-lit with depth). It's less about the humor and finding love (although there is that, as well) and more about the relationships between the sisters and the relationships they had with their parents. The sisters, including the sister the Sweeney girls never knew they had, are all as different as they can be but Dolan makes it clear that even so, sisters have bonds that can't be broken. Just as in real life, each of the sisters has had their role to play in the family.  But, as they deal with the death of their father (and face the fact that he wasn't necessarily the man they'd grown up idolizing), each of them grows and changes and finds their true place.

It's not the book I was expect, exactly. Less funny, less light. I didn't know exactly how it would end but I knew that these characters would land in a good place. Dolan gave me exactly what I needed right now. Depth, characters I cared about, and a family who loved and support each other.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Say Nothing by Patrick

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder And Memory In Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
Read by Matthew Blaney
Published February 2019 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary:
In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible. But in a climate of fear and paranoia, no one would speak of it. In 2003, five years after an accord brought an uneasy peace to Northern Ireland, a set of human bones was discovered on a beach. McConville's children knew it was their mother when they were told a blue safety pin was attached to the dress—with so many kids, she had always kept it handy for diapers or ripped clothes.

Patrick Radden Keefe's mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath uses the McConville case as a starting point for the tale of a society wracked by a violent guerrilla war, a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with. The brutal violence seared not only people like the McConville children, but also I.R.A. members embittered by a peace that fell far short of the goal of a united Ireland, and left them wondering whether the killings they committed were not justified acts of war, but simple murders. From radical and impetuous I.R.A. terrorists such as Dolours Price, who, when she was barely out of her teens, was already planting bombs in London and targeting informers for execution, to the ferocious I.R.A. mastermind known as The Dark, to the spy games and dirty schemes of the British Army, to Gerry Adams, who negotiated the peace but betrayed his hardcore comrades by denying his I.R.A. past—Say Nothing conjures a world of passion, betrayal, vengeance, and anguish.

My  Thoughts:
In 2013, Patrick Keefe happened upon the obituary of Dolours Price, formerly a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He knew a great story when he saw one. After reading that obituary, Keefe began a four year journey that would take him to Ireland seven times and have him interviewing more than 100 people. Many people refused to be interviewed and others backed out - The Troubles may have ended, but the fear had not left Northern Ireland. Many of the primary "characters" in the book were either dead or refused to be interviewed. Keefe was left to piece together the truth, as best he could, from other interviews and extensive research.

Top to bottom, left to right: Marian and Dolours Price at
10 Downing Street, Dolours Price, Dolours Price from the
book cover, Dolours and Marian Price at the march that
radicalized them, Marian's and Dolour's mug shots.
It's telling that I have looked at the front of the this book perhaps a hundred or more times at this point and it never once occurred to me that the person on the front of the book, a person I understood to be a member of the IRA, was a woman. That is not a man. That is Dolours Price. I am not alone in not thinking of a woman as an violent radical; Dolours and her sister, Marian, used their femininity to get into places they could not have gotten into if they were men and back out of plenty of trouble. The Price sisters were, in fact, more than willing to resort to violence for their cause as part of the branch of the IRA known as The Unknowns. They were inexplicably tied to many others who believed in the fight to rid Northern Ireland of the British including Brendan Hughs and Gerry Adams, who led the IRA (although Adams denies any involvement); Pat McClure, who led The Unknowns; and Bobby Sands, the IRA soldier who was the first IRA member to be allowed by the British to die on a hunger strike.

Jean McConville with three of her children, Gerry Adams
and Brendan Hughs at Long Kesh internment camp, newspaper
headline about the death of Bobby Sands, the aftermath of the Old
Bailey bombing for which Dolours and Marian were arrested.
It's clear that Keefe has little sympathy for the British but finds plenty of blame for what happened in the thirty-year period known as The Troubles. That bit of bias takes nothing away from this book. It is deserving of every accolade it earned last year. Keefe dives deep into the history of the IRA and The Troubles and the lasting impact of the divisions. Three decades after the Easter Sunday peace accord was reached, The Disappeared still have not all been found, the IRA, while, in theory, disarmed, still strikes fear into people, and Britain is still in Ireland, a fact that many still fight against.

Matthew Blaney is marvelous reading the book but the audiobook doesn't include the notes. They weren't necessary for me to be blown away by the book: I didn't even know they existed until the end of the book. But once I was aware for them, I really wished I had a copy of the physical book to refer to while I listened. If you're going to read this book, and get your hands on both the audio and print book, I certainly suggest you do that.

If you're looking for a book filled with fascinating people, a little known history (at least in the U.S.), and a remarkably well-told tale, I'd highly recommend Say Nothing.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Life: It Goes On - May 10

Happy Mother's Day to those of you who are mothers in any way!

We had planned to head to my parents' to drop off a Mother's Day dinner for my mom and to chat through the screen door for a bit. It not that warm and felt certain they wouldn't want to sit outside to talk. Imagine my surprise to pull into their driveway and find that they had set up two eating areas, socially distanced from each other, on their driveway. So we got to spend a couple of hours in the sun, talking, and feeling like things were at least a little bit normal. It was marvelous!

Then my daughter made us dinner in the evening. Mind you, if I ask her to cook some dinner, it's a given that it will be spaghetti or boxed mac 'n' cheese or chicken nuggets. My boys are both great cooks but my daughter NEVER really cooks. Not only did she make a delicious meal, she did entirely without any help or guidance from me at all. What a great gift that was! Of course, she probably didn't understand that now that I know she can make spinach-stuffed chicken breast (and even improvise!), I'm going to expect more going forward!

Last Week I:

Listened To: Apeirogon by Colum McCann which I'm really enjoying - so interestingly written.

Watched: Some Mrs. Maisel, some Grace and Frankie, more of the documentary about the Chicago Bulls, The Last Dance, and The Voice.

Read: I feel like I'm moving to a different kind of reading lately, working in more light stuff to balance my usual fare. My latest effort at breezier reading is Katherine Center's latest, What You Wish For; I know there will be some dark issues but that things will end, more or less, happily and that Center will give me a lot of book gems to enjoy along the way.

Made: Chicken nachos, reuben sandwiches, BLT salads, oatmeal butterscotch cookies, twice-baked potatoes, and strawberry shortcake. I've been trying very hard not to bake too much through all of this but lately I've been craving all the sweet treats - we'll see what this week brings!

Enjoyed: See above - it was so wonderful to finally be able to see my parents. I'd show you a picture of us eating on their driveway but none of us with hair want anyone to see pics of us just now!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: I give up with the planning. Every week I have a plan on Sunday and then I get distracted by something else I'd rather do. This week I took the three books we had from our engagement/wedding and started blending them altogether into one book. So my plan is to finish that this week. But we'll see what this week brings!

Thinking About: How blessed we are with the artistic family we have. My living room is full of paintings by family members. This week I got a custom picture frame made by my brother-in-law (Red Cedar Works) to frame a photo I got from my brother's business (See-Nile Photography) a couple of years ago. It turned out exactly the way I'd been envisioning it - love it!

Feeling: It's been a tough week emotionally. No real reason, just the times. I had two panic attacks. No reason, just the times. Today was just what my heart needed.

Looking forward to: Getting my hair done on Wednesday!

Question of the week: No question - just wanted to talk a moment to let you know that I'm hoping that you're all holding up well through all of this and that I'm here for any one who ever needs someone to talk to.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Book of Longing by Sue Monk Kidd

The Book of Longing by Sue Monk Kidd
Published April 2020 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In her mesmerizing fourth work of fiction, Sue Monk Kidd takes an audacious approach to history and brings her acclaimed narrative gifts to imagine the story of a young woman named Ana. Raised in a wealthy family with ties to the ruler of Galilee, she is rebellious and ambitious, with a brilliant mind and a daring spirit. She engages in furtive scholarly pursuits and writes narratives about neglected and silenced women. Ana is expected to marry an older widower, a prospect that horrifies her. An encounter with eighteen-year-old Jesus changes everything.

Their marriage evolves with love and conflict, humor and pathos in Nazareth, where Ana makes a home with Jesus, his brothers, and their mother, Mary. Ana's pent-up longings intensify amid the turbulent resistance to Rome's occupation of Israel, partially led by her brother, Judas. She is sustained by her fearless aunt Yaltha, who harbors a compelling secret. When Ana commits a brazen act that puts her in peril, she flees to Alexandria, where startling revelations and greater dangers unfold, and she finds refuge in unexpected surroundings. Ana determines her fate during a stunning convergence of events considered among the most impactful in human history.

My Thoughts:
Anytime you write a fictionalized account of Jesus' life in the unknown years, you've risked alienating a whole group of readers. When you decide to give him a wife, you are, as they publisher's summary says audacious. When you take it even a step further and suggest that Jesus did not grow up believing he was the son of God, you've ventured into territory that could really upset some people. I mean, it's not The Last Temptation of Christ but it could certainly be considered controversial.

I spent a lot of time at the Presbyterian church up the street from us when I was younger; I grew up with the story of Jesus. What we're taught about him is, in my mind, mostly incontrovertible. So, even though I'm more what I would call spiritual rather than religious these days, I confess to having had problems with the liberties Monk Kidd took in the story of Jesus. I'm not opposed to filling in those missing years; I'm not even opposed to making him a little more questioning or giving him a wife. I think what I struggled with was the idea that, while Jesus was faithful (although struggling with that), his movement was more akin to the teaching of Martin Luther King than God, the idea that change in the government could be made through peaceful means.

It wasn't the only thing I struggled with in this book. Do you ever watch action movies, where everything bad that could happen, does happen? This book felt like that to me. Ana's mother doesn't like her, her father sells her off in marriage then tries to barter her off as a concubine. She has only one friend who is brutalized and banished, most of her in-laws don't much care for her, and her uncle confines her to the house for a year and a half. All of that and we already know how things are going to end for her brother and her husband.

I always want to love passionate, intelligent women in books. I wanted to love a character who fought back, who told the stories of women and stood up to men. Early on, It's not that I didn't like Ana. She was a strong young woman who stood up for what she believed, admitted her faults, and wore her passion on her sleeve. But it so often felt like her story got lost in all of the dramatic events and Jesus' story.

I loved The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings. I felt certain that Monk Kidd could take this idea and create something that would impress me. I wish it had. I do recommend, if you read it, reading her notes at the back about why she wrote it and her research. It truly is a well-researched book.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie

Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie
Read by Amy McFadden
Published February 2020 by St. Martin's Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Agnes Murphy Nash is in big trouble. When she returns home one evening only to find the locks changed on the gates of their mansion, the security guard breaks the news: her famous producer husband has filed for divorce. And he’s not going to play fair. Trevor Nash wants custody of their tween daughter, Pep, but only for the sake of appearances. And Agnes can’t let him win.

With the help of her ex-con sister, a Hollywood psychic, a ballsy female lawyer, and a host of friends and “frenemies,” Agnes realizes that when he changes the locks, she needs to change the rules. But a crisis can lead to opportunity, and for Agnes, this gigantic betrayal brings her to a crossroads that will have her asking herself what she really wants out of life, who she really wants to be, and which man she really lovesl

My Thoughts:
Guys, I've been on the struggle bus with my reading. Even books I've loved have been work to get through; I just can't stay focused. I knew I needed something light and fun. I read and enjoyed Levangie's The Starter Wife (my review) and when I saw this available, I jumped all over it, knowing it would be just the right thing.

Levangie knows how to have fun with her characters - sure, there are caricatures aplenty but it's all done tongue-in-cheek. The woman who is convinced to go to rehab because she thinks it'll be a great break from her regular life, the woman who starts a Go Fund Me because she's so broke she has to drive a brown BMW, the producer who can't fall asleep without a sleeping companion, the older father who jumps from one girlfriend he meets online to the next, and the sister with the shady morals who might just turn out to be the person Agnes most needs - there's not a lot of depth but that's exactly what makes the book fun.

Nothing is going Agnes' way and it's not all her fault (although, a far amount of it is and you can't quite believe she doesn't see somethings coming). But you know everything will work out in the end, but Levangie keeps you wondering how until the very end. The way Levangie wraps things up keeps up the fun factor.

My favorite part of the book - Amy McFadden's reading. She does a terrific job of voicing multiple characters, including men, and brings just the right breezy feel to the book. You might enjoy this one in print but I'd really recommend you listen to it instead.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Life: It Goes On - May 3

Happy May! Hope you've all had as beautiful a week where you're at as we've had here. I've so enjoyed working from home now that it's warm enough to throw the windows open and catch a breeze. On the long list of things I'm going to miss when I have to go back to the office, that's near the top, just below no commute and no makeup.

How are you all holding up through this? Is your state starting to ease up on restrictions? Nebraska is, even as our numbers continue to grow exponentially. I am pretty excited to have a hair appointment next week; but, otherwise, I don't see myself returning to normal routines any time soon. It will be interesting to see what happens as things start to open back up.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I'm finishing Zora Neale Hurston's Barracoon today and will start Colum McCann's latest, Apeirogon tomorrow. I had just started listening to Motherless Brooklyn on iBooks when the other two became available through the library but it will have to wait a couple of weeks.

Watched: Awkwafina's The Farewell; The Highwaymen, starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson; a couple of episodes of Case Histories, based on the Kate Atkinson book of the same name; and the most recent episodes of The Last Dance, the documentary about the year the Chicago Bulls won their sixth championship. It's been a good week for t.v. viewing.

Read: I finished both Say Nothing and The Splendid and The Vile on audio and started Lian Dolan's latest, The Sweeney Sisters.

Made: I ordered a pork roast last week and made a whole boatload of pulled pork. We've had it twice and I sent a dinner of it to Mini-him and the rest is going into the freezer which will be nice to have on hand once we're back to the office. We did an egg casserole breakfast dinner one night and another night finished dinner off with the first strawberry shortcake of the season. The Big Guy is determined that we have enough food on hand for a month at any time so my dinner dilemma problem right now is too many choices!

Enjoyed: Lots of sunshine and patio time but the most exciting thing was a social distancing evening on our friends' deck. We snuck around back and had to leave once we needed to use the facilities, but for a couple of hours, things felt normal.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: It's going to be cooler and rainier here this week so there will be less patio time which means I might actually get to the organizing I need to do in the house. I started sorting through some pictures yesterday and came across this one of us with a group of long-time friends from 1991. Marie Kondo says to go through your pictures and get rid of most of them because you have your memories. I don't know about you, but I need the pictures to jog the memories. I love, love the looks on the kids' faces. That's me in the front in the striped shirt, holding Mini-him. Don't he and his buddy look ornery? That's because they were!

Thinking About: How much I'm going to miss my work buddy when I have to go back to the office. She's the best therapy on stressful days!

Feeling: Relaxed. Which is rare for me. I'm sure it won't last long!

Looking forward to: See above reference to hair appointment. I'm so over the grey and bangs that are in that awkward in-between phase!

Question of the week: What's the one thing you regularly do that you haven't been able to do in the past couple of months that you're really missing? I'm missing Friday happy hours out with friends and thrift store shopping.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Book of V by Anna Solomon

The Book of V by Anna Solomon
Published May 2020 by Holt, Henry and Company, Inc.
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
For fans of The Hours and Fates and Furies, a bold, kaleidoscopic novel intertwining the lives of three women across three centuries as their stories of sex, power, and desire finally converge in the present day.

Lily is a mother and a daughter. And a second wife. And a writer, maybe? Or she was going to be, before she had children. Now, in her rented Brooklyn apartment she’s grappling with her sexual and intellectual desires, while also trying to manage her roles as a mother and a wife in 2016.

Vivian Barr seems to be the perfect political wife, dedicated to helping her charismatic and ambitious husband find success in Watergate-era Washington D.C. But one night he demands a humiliating favor, and her refusal to obey changes the course of her life—along with the lives of others.

Esther is a fiercely independent young woman in ancient Persia, where she and her uncle’s tribe live a tenuous existence outside the palace walls. When an innocent mistake results in devastating consequences for her people, she is offered up as a sacrifice to please the King, in the hopes that she will save them all.

In Anna Solomon's The Book of V., these three characters' riveting stories overlap and ultimately collide, illuminating how women’s lives have and have not changed over thousands of years.

My Thoughts: 
I can't actually recall requesting this book but I can tell you two reasons why I would have - I love the cover of this one and that opening paragraph comparing this book to Fates and Furies, a book I very much enjoyed and which was a probably the most talked about book in 2015. Comparing any book to it is a bold statement. Unfortunately, for me, it wasn't a comparison this one could live up to.

Perhaps if I'd more recently read the Book of Esther, this one would have had a greater impact on me. Because I hadn't, I didn't see where Solomon had veered away from that part of the Christian and Hebrew bibles and it made the final chapter of her story less impactful. Unfortunately, this storyline was also the storyline in which I had the least interest which was a problem given that it's the story that the other two storylines are based on.

To be fair to this book, it sort of felt like the wrong book for me to be reading at this time. When I finished this book and started looking for what to read next, I knew I needed either something light or something that would take me to another world. In other words, nothing like this book at all which is a book entirely designed to make readers think about what it means to be a woman, now, forty years ago, and thousands of years ago. We're in the heads of these women a lot which makes it slow going. It also makes it a book I want to be able to recommend; I want to be able to say "read this book about how being a woman has changed and how it hasn't."

I'm loathe to tell you what my other issue was with the book because I know it's not going to be a popular thing for me to say. Here goes: there was a lot of religion in the book (duh, Book of Esther) and I felt like that part took away from the part I was interested. It's not that I'm opposed to religion in a book, and I'm always up for a book that teaches me something new. But I didn't really feel like I was learning from this book, just that religion was being forced into the storylines.

Ugh. I feel like I'm beating this book up. It's not a bad book. If I'd been in the right frame of mind, I feel like I would have enjoyed this one more. If I was more familiar with the story of Esther, I might have enjoyed this one more. If the summary interests you, check out other reviews. Other people may feel very differently about it.

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell

The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell
Published August 2019 by Atria Books
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In July 1913, twenty-five-year-old Annie Clements had seen enough of the world to know that it was unfair. She’s spent her whole life in the copper-mining town of Calumet, Michigan where men risk their lives for meager salaries—and had barely enough to put food on the table and clothes on their backs. The women labor in the houses of the elite, and send their husbands and sons deep underground each day, dreading the fateful call of the company man telling them their loved ones aren’t coming home. When Annie decides to stand up for herself, and the entire town of Calumet, nearly everyone believes she may have taken on more than she is prepared to handle.

In Annie’s hands lie the miners’ fortunes and their health, her husband’s wrath over her growing independence, and her own reputation as she faces the threat of prison and discovers a forbidden love. On her fierce quest for justice, Annie will discover just how much she is willing to sacrifice for her own independence and the families of Calumet.

My Thoughts:
Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow is one of my all-time favorite books and I've been meaning to read more of her work for a long while. So when I chanced upon this one, I hardly even glanced at what it was about. But look at that cover and look at that description - you know I was going to read this one, regardless of who had written it. It checks off so many of my wants in a book. Strong woman? Check. Historical fiction about the U.S.? Check. A book about a subject I've been wanting to read more about? Check. Based on a real person and real events? Check and check.

From top left, clockwise: Annie Clemenc, parading strikers, miners for the Calumet and Hecla Company, James McNaughton (manager of the company), union organizers including Mother Jones, and the Italian Hall where at least 73 people died on Christmas Eve 1913.

It was only when I was nearly finished with this book that I discovered that Russell is a highly respected writer of historical fiction (I mean, I had seen some of her other books so I suppose I should have suspected that this was her wheelhouse). World creating, as she did in The Sparrow, is clearly not her usual jam. Instead she relies on real events and research to craft her stories. Unfortunately, that leaves her unable to create the kind of magic she created in The Sparrow, married as she must largely be, to actual settings and facts.

There's no doubt that Russell is an impressive researcher. Which is part of the problem with the book. She has packed so many facts and historical figures into the book that it's hard to actually connect with most of the characters and Russell doesn't leave herself much room to really develop them. Annie Clemenc was a fascinating person and Russell does a fine job with her for the most part, but other characters are flatter. Further, the outcome of the real strike is known and Russell chooses here to stick with the historical facts in so far at that is concerned instead of veering into the fiction piece of the genre. It makes for something of a flat ending.

All of that makes it sound like I didn't like the book. I did. I learned a lot and I kept thinking of the ways it took me back to Wiley Cash's The Last Ballad, about the mill strikes of the 1920's. I loved Annie Clements and was disappointed to find that the real Annie Clemenc's life didn't get much better after the strike. Ten years ago, before I started blogging (and really understanding how many books there are out there that I'll never get to), I would have been perfectly happy with this book, which I'd give a solid 3 stars, if I gave out stars. There's nothing wrong with a 3 star book. This one just suffered in comparison to its 5-star brother and all of the other really great books I've read this year.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Life: It Goes On

Happy Sunday! I'm up, productive and getting ready to start a painting project. All of which should tell you that yesterday's Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon was another failure for me. What's that you say? I hadn't even mentioned that yesterday was Dewey's? Yep, that's just one of the ways I failed. I was so excited for this readathon - thanks to the quarantine, there was nothing on my calendar to conflict with my reading, no events to go to, no last-minute get-togethers were going to come up. The house is loaded with food so snacks were no problem. I put together a list of books to read. I. Was. Ready. Then I didn't even get a post typed up to kick things off. And it went downhill from there. I did get some reading done and I read without guilt about the things I "should" have been doing, so there's that, I guess. Wish I could tell you that I'd accomplished a lot of other things instead of reading, but I didn't do that either.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I'm still listening to Erik Larson's The Splendid and The Vile and hope to get a lot of time to listen to it today which I'm working on some projects.

Watched: My friend, Ellen, is a playwright who had a play that was performed at the Omaha Community Playhouse some time ago. Friday night they "live" streamed the play on YouTube so I got to watch that. Recommended Reading For Girls is, like all of Ellen's work, so clever and funny and heartfelt.

Read: I did finish both Sue Monk Kidd's latest, The Book of Longing, and Kate Atkinson's first Jackson Brodie book, Case Histories yesterday. I'm having to push myself to read right now (as I know so many of you are doing, too) and I think that was part of my problem yesterday. I have no library books coming due and no review books that need to be read right now so what to read next is entirely up to me. Now I need to find the book that will stick.

Made: I have finally hit my stride on doing that through all of this. I made a new version of chicken and noodles this week and a pan of lasagna and two batches of cookies. On the agenda today is bread, banana bread, and broccoli cheese soup in bread bowls. Yes, that's a lot of bread but I think we've all stopped judging each other at this point, right?!

Enjoyed: A visit from the mask faerie the other day. My friend texted and said she'd made masks and asked if we wanted a couple. So she dropped them off...with a bottle of wine! How cute is this!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Last week went south on me; we had some things come up that really threw a wrench in things. So this week's plan is to get done what I meant to do last week. While I'm grateful to still be working and getting paid, there's also a part of me that really wishes I were bouncing around the house looking for things to keep me busy!

Thinking About: Thinking it's finally warm enough that I can stop babying the plants I potted a couple of weeks ago and get the rest of the plants I need to finish things up.

Feeling: Nervous. In another week, we will start going back to "normal." But I don't know that I'm going to feel safe out in public for months yet.

Looking forward to: Family Zoom time in a bit.

Question of the week: What did you cook up this week?

Thursday, April 23, 2020

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
Read by Fenella Woolgar
Published September 2019 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
1932. After the Great War took both her beloved brother and her fiancĂ©, Violet Speedwell has become a "surplus woman," one of a generation doomed to a life of spinsterhood after the war killed so many young men. Yet Violet cannot reconcile herself to a life spent caring for her grieving, embittered mother. After countless meals of boiled eggs and dry toast, she saves enough to move out of her mother's place and into the town of Winchester, home to one of England's grandest cathedrals. There, Violet is drawn into a society of broderers—women who embroider kneelers for the Cathedral, carrying on a centuries-long tradition of bringing comfort to worshippers.

Violet finds support and community in the group, fulfillment in the work they create, and even a
growing friendship with the vivacious Gilda. But when forces threaten her new independence and
another war appears on the horizon, Violet must fight to put down roots in a place where women
aren't expected to grow.

Told in Chevalier's glorious prose, A Single Thread is a timeless story of friendship, love, and a woman crafting her own life.

My Thoughts:
Which comes first for Chevalier – the idea for a new story about a woman or the discovery of a subject she’s dying to research? She never seems to run out of either the story ideas or the interesting subjects to explore and she always finds a way to make center the story around women, even when the historical focus has been on the men (as with Griet in The Girl With The Pearl Earring, a book about the girl who inspired the painter Johannes Vermeer).

In A Single Thread, the history and the art are less well known. And while there really was a Louisa Pesel, who lead the broderers who made the embroidered kneelers, cushions, and other accessories for Winchester Cathedral, this is not her story. Instead it is the story of a group of women, the broderers, who form their own kind of tapestry as their lives are bond together. It's also the story of a group of women who became known as the "surplus" women and the story of single women in the 1930's, a time when single women were looked down on once they reached a certain age, and the story of women who had to hide in plain sight because of their sexuality. At the heart of the book lies Violet, a woman struggling with grief from the deaths of her father, brother, and fiancé and trying to find her place in a world where nothing more is expected of her than to take care of her aging, unpleasant mother.

WhenViolet can't take it any longer, she moves away, taking a job as a typist, a job that pays so little that she can't even afford to eat hot meals and where her coworkers are vapid girls who talk of nothing but finding a husband. It's a real measure of how miserable life with her mother was when this life is better than that was. Then one day she chances upon a church service recognizing the latest batch of completed embroidered works and meets a young women who will help her find a place among the group of broderers. It's just the thing that Violet needs to help her come back to life and find her place in the world. Soon she's found a strength she never knew she was capable of and a group of women to support her.

It's a quiet book (one reviewer called it "gentle"), heavy on the details of the embroidery (as well, a the music and skill behind the ringing of the bells in the Cathedral) and events unfold slowly. I listened to it and Fenella Woolgar does a lovely job; I can't imagine it's a book someone would find themselves unable to put down in print, though. Yet, I can also see it being exactly the kind of book that might be adapted into a movie because Chevalier is so marvelous and bringing her subjects to life. The colors and textures of the embroidery, the scale and majesty of the Cathedral, the mechanics of ringing the bells, and the visible circumstances of her characters' lives. There is one character and story line I felt could have been left out of the book entirely and nothing would have been lost; in fact, I might well have enjoyed it more without the threat that storyline carried. It's not a book for everyone, particularly those that enjoy a more fast-paced book, but I think Chevalier's fans will have been pleased with this one.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Conviction by Denise Mina

Conviction by Denise Mina
Published June 2019 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
The day Anna McDonald's quiet, respectable life exploded started off like all the days before: Packing up the kids for school, making breakfast, listening to yet another true crime podcast. Then her husband comes downstairs with an announcement, and Anna is suddenly, shockingly alone.

Reeling, desperate for distraction, Anna returns to the podcast. Other people's problems are much better than one's own — a sunken yacht, a murdered family, a hint of international conspiracy. But this case actually is Anna's problem. She knows one of the victims from an earlier life, a life she's taken great pains to leave behind. And she is convinced that she knows what really happened.

Then an unexpected visitor arrives on her front stoop, a meddling neighbor intervenes, and life as Anna knows it is well and truly over. The devils of her past are awakened — and they're in hot pursuit. Convinced she has no other options, Anna goes on the run, and in pursuit of the truth, with a washed-up musician at her side and the podcast as her guide.

My Thoughts:
Some months back, one of my bookclub members recommended this book based on an NPR review. It's not my habit to add a book to our list but if Maureen Corrigan recommends a book, I'm prone to believe it's worth reading. I'm not sure I've ever agreed with her more than I do about this book.

Anna has created an ordinary, albeit upper-middle-class, existence as a housewife in the suburbs, raising her beloved daughters. It's all blown apart one morning. First she listens to that podcast and finds that a friend from her past has died and another name has resurfaced, a name that causes her past to come crashing into her present. Then a persistent knocking at her door turns out to be her best friend who has, it turns out, not come to pick her up for yoga but to run away with Anna's husband. To say that Anna does not handle that that revelation well would be a major understatement. She is, in fact, a bloody mess on the entryway floor, contemplating suicide, when Fin appears at the door. The two soon find themselves both trying to find out what really happened to Anna's friend, Leon, and running for their lives.

All of that summary happens in the first couple of chapters and Mina never lets off the accelerator. I wanted to set everything else in my life aside and do nothing but read this book. And, guys, I did. not. see. that. ending. coming. If you read this and you do, please don't tell me. I don't want to find out that it was something everyone else saw coming. Not only is this a great story but Mina manages to hit a lot of heavy themes along the way, rape, addiction, eating disorders, and the damage caused by social networks.

Through all of that, she is weaving all manners of storytelling into the book - Anna's podcasts, books, folk tales, alibis, false leads, and lies. Anna even recalls a conversation she had with her friend, Leon, who died on the yacht, about the Arabian Nights, which he called simple children's tales.
“I was appalled. I went off on a rant about the ‘Arabian Nights,’ the collective nature of it, how it created a whole world through accretive storytelling: layers of lives lived simultaneously, intersecting. And how it bounced from genre to genre, the stories were funny and brutal and romantic and tragic like life. . . . It was produced before stories could only be one thing, before the form was set.”
I do love meta writing and Mina lives up to Scheherazade with all of the stories she has woven into this one book.

As much as I loved this book, and even though I thought the ending was satisfying in many ways, I also felt like it was a bit too easy. The rest of the book was so damn complex and there was a part of me that really wanted the ending to be just as twisty.

The Washington Post reviewer said "Denise Mina is one of the leading practitioners of what's called Tartan Noir: the melding of American hard-boiled detective fiction with the atmosphere and local color slang of Scotland." I've never heard of Tartan Noir but if this is what Tartan Noir is, I'll definitely be looking for more books that fall into that genre.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Life: It Goes On - April 19

Happy Sunday! It is Sunday, right? I'm still working, albeit from home, and I'm still losing track of what day it is. I don't know how those of you who aren't working right now are keeping track!

The temperature in my backyard read 75° yesterday so I started moving more of the fifty or so plants I have in boxes in my kitchen into pots outside. It's too early; I know it's too early. But I needed to be doing something outside. And I needed some of that clutter out of my kitchen. So I'll probably spend the next three or four weeks checking overnight temperatures to see if they will need to be covered for the night. It's worth it - I love looking out and see that sign of spring in my yard.

Last Week I:

Friday, after the sun
came out and the snow
started to melt.
Listened To: I finished Gigi Levangie's Been There, Married That, which was the perfect read-while-you-work book, just as Erik Larson's latest, The Splendid and The Vile became available. It's a long one and I'm not sure how I'm going to find the time to listen to it without any commute. I'm only 30 minutes in to it so far and have only 9 days to listen to 17 more hours. We'll see how this goes both time wise and with my ability to focus on a long, nonfiction book right now.

Watched: Thursday we watched 6" + of wet snow fall. It was beautiful and the streets and sidewalks were warm enough that they stayed pretty clear. But, damn, it's the middle of April - it's not supposed to do that. Luckily, it being the middle of April also means that by the end of Friday, almost all of the snow was melted and things were drying up.

Read: I finished Paulette Jiles' Simon The Fiddler, which I loved; now I'm back to Kate Atkinson's first Jackson Brodie book, Case Histories, which I'm reading as part of a group read. I also started Sue Monk Kidd's new book, The Book of Longings.

Made: I would love to be able to tell you that I'm cooking up a storm these days, what with having extra time everyday now that I only have a one minute commute. But I haven't been terribly creative. We have been eating a lot of salads, I slow cooked some delicious pork chops, and we've been playing with ramen recipes. Mini-him is the one whose really busting out his cooking skills - he made bolognese sauce one day this week and he and his girlfriend have made several Japanese meals. So proud of my boys' mad kitchen skills!

Enjoyed: A social distancing dinner last night. We picked up Greek food then met in a school parking lot (parks here having been closed). It was a little weird, but, basically, a picnic. We're planning to do it again next weekend. Like everything we're having to do differently right now, we learned some things that will make next time better.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: We may have passed the end date of 40 Bags In 40 Days (and I'm both proud and horrified to say that I did hit the goal of 40 bags!), but my work will continue. I have never finished my work in the basement and I'm bound and determined to stick with that this year until I am done. It sounds morbid to say, but if the worst were to happen to me with this virus, I want to leave things in such a way that my family will easily be able to find anything they need.

Thinking About: Other ways to actually see people without putting any of us at risk.

Feeling: Tired of being afraid.

Looking forward to: 2021. Surely by then we will be able to go to sporting events, eat out, and hug each other without fear.

Question of the week: As you can see, this virus is on my mind a lot, although I am finally able to turn it out for long periods now. How are you all finding ways to keep your mind occupied and keep in touch with the people you love?