Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Ocean In Winter by Elizabeth de Veer

The Ocean In Winter
by Elizabeth de Veer
Published July 2021 by Blackstone Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
The lives of the three Emery sisters were changed forever when Alex, eleven at the time, found their mother drowned in the bathtub of their home. After their mother’s suicide, the girls’ father shut down emotionally, leaving Alex responsible for caring for Colleen, then eight, and little Riley, just four. Now the girls are grown and navigating different directions. Alex, a nurse, has been traveling in India and grieving her struggle to have a child; Colleen is the devoted mother of preteens in denial that her marriage is ending; and Riley has been leading what her sisters imagine to be the dream life of a successful model in New York City. Decades may have passed, but the unresolved trauma of their mother’s death still looms over them creating distance between the sisters.

Then on a March night, a storm rages near the coast of northeastern Massachusetts. Alex sits alone in an old farmhouse she inherited from a stranger. The lights are out because of the storm; then, an unexpected knock at the door. When Alex opens it, her beautiful younger sister stands before her. Riley has long been estranged from their family, prompting Colleen to hire the private investigator from whom they’d been awaiting news. Comforted by her unexpected presence, Alex holds back her nagging questions: How had Riley found her? Wouldn’t the dirt roads have been impassable in the storm? Why did Riley insist on disappearing back into the night?

After her mysterious visitation, Alex and Colleen are determined to reconcile with Riley and to face their painful past, but the closer they come to finding their missing sister, the more they fear they’ll only be left with Riley’s secrets. An unforgettable story about grief, love, and what it means to be haunted, The Ocean in Winter marks the debut of a remarkable new voice in fiction.

My Thoughts:
Twenty-five years after their mother committed suicide, Alex, Colleen, and Riley continue to struggle with the after effects of the event that changed their lives. Their father has become a recluse and something of a hoarder, requiring his girls to not only care for themselves but for him as well. 

Alex, who lives with the memory of finding her mother and seeing her dead, never marries but goes into a career where she continues to care for people. That is until she gets some news that rocks her world just as an opportunity to travel to India gives her the chance to finally do something entirely for herself. 

Colleen has been living the perfect life - great marriage, perfect house, two kids that she devotes her entire being to - until suddenly things aren't so perfect. Her husband has moved out, and fire leave Colleen and her children homeless, and she finds out her husband has found another woman. And her baby sister, Riley, has been out of touch for months. Desperate to try to pull her family back together, Colleen hires a private investigator to find Riley; but when he does, the news isn't good. 

Riley, who has no recollection of her mother, has become a famous model. But that lifestyle and her painful history have cause Riley to turn to drugs. A stint in rehab worked for a while but slowly Riley is unraveling again and this time there is no safety net. 

There's a lot going on here and de Veer touches on a lot of tough subjects - suicide, mental health, addiction, abuse, family dynamics, infertility, marriage. It felt like a bit more than was needed to make the book compelling and a supernatural elements that de Veer introduced didn't really work for me. But, overall, with the alternating first person narratives of the three sisters, this was a book that pulled me through it, wanting to know what secrets were still hidden and hoping that each of the sisters could find the peace they needed. De Veer does a terrific job of helping the reader to feel the cold and grey of the winter that mirrors what is happening in the sisters' lives. This is de Veer's debut novel; I'm looking forward to seeing where she goes from here.

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

About Elizabeth de Veer:
 Elizabeth de Veer has a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and has been admitted to writing residencies at the Jentel Artist Residency, the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is a member of several writing groups, including Grub Street Writers’ Collective of Boston, the Newburyport Writers’ Group, Sisters in Crime New England, and the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. She lives in a small town in Northeast Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and labradoodle. 

To learn more, check out her web site at Connect with Elizabeth:  Website | Facebook | Instagram

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Life: It Goes On - July 18

Happy Sunday! Boy, was this a week that didn't go as planned! Wednesday a.m. Miss H woke up in a lot of pain and took herself to the emergency room. After five hours, someone finally looked at her and after three more hours determined that she had kidney stones that were moving and that she needed surgery. Needless to say, this mama spent a good part of Wednesday distracted then came home from work and packed to head south early Thursday morning. Got her home Friday and I got home late Friday night. After spending the night Thursday in a hospital recliner, I may have offered to let one of her friend's 13-year-old daughter come live with me and tried to kidnap her roommate's dog. Neither of these would have been popular with The Big Guy! 

Last Week I: 

My view Thursday
 Listened To: I finished Malibu Rising and started Daphne du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel for books. I also listened to Hamilton when I was driving in the city and to keep me awake on the way home. 

 I lost track of how many episodes of Friends, The Office, Impractical Jokers, and Brooklyn 99 Miss H and I watched while I was there. Believe it or not, I had never sat through an entire episode of The Office before. Also, I can happily live the rest of my life without ever seeing Impractical Jokers again. 

Read: I'm balancing books that are due for review, book club, and expiration dates so I've got three going right now: The Guest List, The Summer Before The War, and The Ocean In Winter. Good thing I'm enjoying all of them but I'd prefer to be able to focus on them one at a time. 

 Not as much as I'd planned, needless to day. I did get some caprese salad made - that's something that basically lives in my refrigerator throughout the summer. We also grilled chicken, burgers, and corn on the cob and I made some cucumber dip. And I just pulled a loaf of sourdough bread out of the oven - maybe the best loaf I've ever made, at least to look at. 

Enjoyed: A new, to me, place to eat in Kansas City (Shawnee, actually) - McLain's Market. We will definitely be going back when we're down to see her again. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Finishing up a plant project I'm working on inside the house. Things are getting repotted, moved, pruned. We've got sixteen on the first floor and they were starting to feel like they were taking over the place!

Thinking About: The new to us chair and ottoman that need to be reupholstered and what that will take. 

Feeling: Grateful for the staff at the hospital who worked hard to keep Miss H pain free without narcotics, which, as a recovering addict, are a real danger for her. 

Looking forward to: Book club Tuesday. 

Question of the week: My family has spent so much time in hospitals that I'm kind of a pro when it comes to packing to spend time in one. What's something you always take that you'd recommend? 

Monday, July 12, 2021

Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital by Eric Manheimer, MD

Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital
by Eric Manheimer, MD
Published July 2012 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: checked out from my local library 

Publisher's Summary:
Dr. Manheimer describes the plights of twelve very different patients--from dignitaries at the nearby UN, to supermax prisoners at Riker's Island, to illegal immigrants, and Wall Street tycoons. 

Manheimer was not only the medical director of the country's oldest public hospital for over 13 years, but he was also a patient. As the book unfolds, the narrator is diagnosed with cancer, and he is forced to wrestle with the end of his own life even as he struggles to save the lives of others.

My Thoughts:
Bellevue Hospital is the oldest public hospital in the United States and one of the largest, by number of beds. The hospital itself is 25 stories tall, has an attending physician staff of 1200 and a total staff of 5500. It's a "safety net" hospital, which means that it healthcare for people regardless of their ability to pay or insurance status. It handles over half a million patient visits a year. They handle the medical care of inmates from Riker's Island and for years provided long-term care for mentally ill persons. In other words, as the medical director of Bellevue for almost 15 years, Dr. Manheimer had his hands full. Certainly he was involved in every aspect of the hospital, right down to being one of its patients. 

Through twelve patients, Manheimer touches on not only a number of medical issues but the roles that politics, a broken health care system (including such a desperate need for money that hospitals feel forced into signing agreements with soft drink companies), and societal woes play in the care of patients. It's a  book about so much more than just medical diagnoses and treatments. Through these patients, Manheimer tackles immigration issues and the effect of trade agreements on immigration, the foster care system, the justice system, medical errors, drug addiction and its causes, mental illness, organ donations, end-of-life care, and medical ethics. 

Manheimer is clearly a man who cared very deeply about his employees and his patients, trying to make sure that every one of his patients received care that was based on the best decisions for each without prejudice. He spent a lot of time getting to know his patients, trying to get down to the reasons for their conditions that might effect treatment, and their families. He has a lot to say about society and the ways that we have failed ourselves when it comes to how we treat each other and how medical care it delivered. I learned a lot and, for the most part, agreed with Manheimer's assessments. Manheimer and his wife have led an interesting life outside of his medical practice that allowed him to connect on a more personal level with many of his patients, but I did, sometimes, feel like we got a little too much background on their experiences. 

There was one chapter that I had issues with - one where he addresses obesity. To be fair, he's not wrong that excess weight can cause a host of medical problems; but he seemed to be saying that it's a given that people who weigh more than the medical community says they should are all at risk. Further, he seemed to really be pushing surgery for those who have failed traditional diets. I have major issues with this approach, given the risks and psychological damage these surgeries can cause. 

On the other hand, the chapter about his own cancer is gripping. Having experienced cancer in my own house, I could relate to an extent, on the toll the treatments take on not only the patient but their families, as well. Manheimer confesses to having reached the point in his treatment and disease that he was ready to give up. His wife talked him into continuing. But Manheimer readily acknowledges that this is not necessarily the best choice for all patients. 

This is not an easy read but one well worth taking the time to read and consider. I'll be thinking about these patients for a long time. 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Life: it Goes On - July 11

Happy Sunday! We are counting our blessing this weekend - Omaha got hit with a terrible thunderstorm Friday night and we had only minimal damage and didn't lose power. Our fifty-gallon recycling bin did get filled up with rain water (rain was coming off the roof so fast it went over the gutters). I calculated that that much water weighed about 400 lbs! Throughout a lot of town, though, power is still out, trees were uprooted, and property damaged or destroyed.  We went out to grab a quick bite last night and there were big crowds at all of the restaurants of people who can't make themselves a meal at home right now. Whenever you get to feeling sorry for yourself, it's good to be reminded that there are other people who have it harder than you do.

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I started Taylor Jenkins Reid's latest, Malibu Rising. As much as I enjoy Julia Whalen's reading, I'm wondering if I would like this one better in print. Maybe some of the analogies wouldn't seem so cliche. 

Watched: Lots of HGTV and I found a channel that shows repeats of some of HGTV's older series. One of the series, Find and Design, focused on using flea market and garage sale finds to redesign a room and even 17 years after it originally aired, it still inspired me. I love finding things (or better yet, having someone say "hey, I'm getting rid of this; do you want it?") and making them my own. Every room in my house has at least one piece of furniture I've painted, refinished, or repurposed. 

Read: I finally finished Twelve Patients. It had a lot of interesting and thought-provoking information but I also had some issues with it. Yesterday I started Lucy Foley's The Guest List

Made: Bbq chicken, cowboy caviar, loose meat sandwiches, french onion dip - it was all about summer eating at our house this week. 

 I took an extra day off last weekend and got my hair done. You know how much I love those couple of hours getting pampered and feeling ten years younger when I leave the salon! For the past year, since I wasn't really seeing anyone, I've been sticking to the same old, same old. This time I kicked up the fun again and my stylist threw some reddish, purplish colors in there.

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I've been slow this summer about lightening up the house but this week I'm pulling up some rugs (which will get cleaned in the driveway today), swapping out the patriotic decor for some summer vibes, and doing some decluttering. 

Thinking About: The Big Guy's brother and his wife were getting rid of a chair (which, of course, I didn't hesitate to say "yes" to taking!) and it will need to be reupholstered to work where I want to use it. The questions are: what fabric to use, do I paint or strip the wood, and do I attempt to reupholster it myself? BG is just rolling his eyes (as usual) but I promise him he'll like it when I'm done!

Feeling: Happy. My kids all seem to be in good places right now and that makes this mama's heart happy. 

Looking forward to: I've got some good things planned for eats this week, including some new recipes. Today caprese salad is on the menu. 

Question of the week: What's your favorite food that's in season in the summer? 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawon

Broken (in the best possible way) 
by Jenny Lawson
Read by Jenny Lawson
Published  April 2021 by Holt, Henry and Company, Inc
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
As Jenny Lawson’s hundreds of thousands of fans know, she suffers from depression. In Broken, she explores her experimental treatment of transcranial magnetic stimulation with brutal honesty. But also with brutal humor. Jenny discusses the frustration of dealing with her insurance company in “An Open Letter to My Insurance Company,” which should be an anthem for anyone who has ever had to call their insurance company to try and get a claim covered. She tackles such timelessly debated questions as “How do dogs know they have penises?” We see how her vacuum cleaner almost set her house on fire, how she was attacked by three bears, business ideas she wants to pitch to Shark Tank, and why she can never go back to the post office. Of course, Jenny’s long-suffering husband Victor—the Ricky to Jenny’s Lucille Ball—is present throughout. 

A treat for Jenny Lawson’s already existing fans, and destined to convert new ones, Broken is a beacon of hope and a wellspring of laughter.

My Thoughts:
I love Jenny Lawson. I love her incredible sense of humor but even more her incredible honesty and openness. I love to listen to her books because she always reads them and I'm certain that they are just that much funnier, that much more thought provoking, and that much more empathetic. Although, I did just find out that the printed book has photos and drawings and I'm a little bummed to miss that. 
“The Bloggess writes stuff that actually is laugh out loud, but you know that really you shouldn’t be laughing and probably you’ll go to hell for laughing, so maybe you shouldn’t read it. That would be safer and wiser.” —Neil Gaiman

Lawson got her start writing a blog, called The Bloggess (hence the reason Gaiman referred to her as such), which is where I first discovered her. In her debut collection of stories, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson talked about her life, from her very unconventional childhood through becoming a parent. I have never laughed so hard when I read (listened) to a book.  Until now. One day, as I drove home from work listening to this book, I swear to you I actually guffawed. I was laughing so hard that I seriously considered pulling my car off the road. 

But things are not all funny. There's a full chapter that's a letter to an insurance company; to say that Lawson's troubles highlight the problem with our entire health care system is an understatement. Lawson has a lot of medical problems, from rheumatoid arthritis to anemias to inactive tuberculosis. And that doesn't take into account her mental health issues which include avoidant personality disorder, anxiety, ADD, and treatment resistant depression. Despite having insurance, she spends hundreds of dollars every month on medicines and treatments that her insurance will not cover but which work for her. Her quiet rage is entirely understandable. I'm certain her fearlessness in sharing her battles with all of this helps other people who face similar battles although she is quick to credit those how have shared, through comments on her blog, their own struggles, which led to her writing more openly about her issues. 

Lawson is probably not for everyone - she does curse quite a lot and reproductive body parts come into play frequently. But if you can handle that, and you don't mind chapters that often veer wildly off the original topic, I promise that you will laugh out loud (not just say "lol"), who will actually get some pretty good insights into what makes a marriage work, and, most importantly, you will get to hear from a woman who wants you to know that you are not alone. That's important to her because she needs readers to remind her that she is not alone either. We're all in this together.