Monday, April 29, 2019

Live Through This by Debra Gwartney

Live Through This: A Mother's Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love by Debra Gwartney
Published February 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: purchased for my Nook based on an NPR story

Publisher's Summary:
After a miserably failed marriage, Debra Gwartney moves with her four young daughters to Eugene, Oregon, for a new job and what she hopes will be a new life for herself and her family. The two oldest, Amanda, 14, and Stephanie, 13, blame their mother for what happened, and one day the two run off together—to the streets of their own city, then San Francisco, then nowhere to be found. The harrowing subculture of the American runaway, with its random violence, its horrendously dangerous street drugs, and its patchwork of hidden shelters is captured by Gwartney with brilliant intensity in Live Through This as she sets out to find her girls. Though she thought she could hold her family together by love alone, Gwartney recognizes over the course of her search where she failed. It's a testament to her strength—and to the resilience of her daughters—that after several years they are a family again, forged by both forgiveness and love.

My Thoughts: 
As a general rule, I don't read books or watch movies in the horror genre. There is enough in this world that scares me day to day; I don't need to look for that in my down time. When I do, it's the movies and books that really could happen, or are just within the scope of my "maybe" that generally scare me the most. Like Psycho, Misery, Fallen, or even The Fly. This book is not meant to be a horror book. Yet, it literally is about something that was one of my worst nightmares for years.

I looked at that publisher's summary and questioned if I should include that final sentence. It's not, after all, my usual m. o. to give away the ending of a book. But I'm going to guess that if you read this book, you, like me, will only be able to handle it knowing that, in the end, these girls will survive and return to their mother. Without that knowledge, I'm not sure I could have read this book. I know I couldn't have if I had read it ten years ago, when it first came out and I had a fourteen-year-old daughter. Ten years ago, I made decisions I wish I hadn't made but I made them in no small part because I knew that if I didn't, my daughter would run, just as these girls did. This may be a book that's best read after parents have been through the teen years of their children's lives.

Gwartney is really a fine writer. I was expecting the book to be a good story but I was surprised to find who well Gwartney tells her story. And she tells it with real honesty.

Yes, her ex-husband comes off looking really bad; we are certainly given to believe that had he been a better father and husband, maybe none of this would have happened. But Gwartney is perfectly willing to admit to the errors she made; she bad mouthed the girls' father whenever she had the chance, she picked fights with him when trying to work together would have been the better choice, she moved the girls far away from their father to try to give herself a new life instead of keeping them near him. All of which are things any one of us might have done, in the moment.

Gwartney's pain and desperation are palpable. I couldn't not imagine trying to go about your regular life (she did, after all have to keep working) and to raise your other children while you were dealing with the fear of what might have become of your daughters. She had to try to give her other two daughters as normal a life as possible; she had to hide her fear from them as much as she could.

So much of what happened came down to communication. When one of her daughters comes home, she builds her her own room in a shed in the back yard, thinking she's done a good thing by giving her daughter her own space. But her daughter feels like she's no longer a part of the family but not being allowed to live in the house. And the book raises real questions about how groups that try to care for runaways and homeless children might be hurting them as much as they are helping them. True, the young people will not turn to these groups if they know their parents could just come walking in and find them. But for parents who are desperate for answers, these places are no help at all.

Gwartney was, in the end, lucky. Both of her girls survived their time on the streets. According to the National Runaway Hotline, 1.6-2.8 young people run away every year. Of those, about 112,00 - 196,000 will be gone more than a month; that doesn't account for the kids that were already on the streets. About 71% are endangered by risk of substance dependency, sexual or physical abuse, and proximity to criminal activities; 32% of runaway or homeless children attempt suicide.

Hug your babies tonight, even if they are 24 years old.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Life: It Goes On - April 28

As predicted, it was a quiet week around here. Laundry, cleaning, putting the Easter things away, organizing things for the kids to take when they both move out soon. And babysitting the grand kitty who's living with us right now and whose master's been gone for a week. Our cat and Mini-him's cat still can't be in the same room so Mini-him's cat has been living in the basement where he cries a lot. So The Big Guy and I have taken turns going down to play with him and be in the basement so he doesn't feel so alone and I have even had him upstairs while our cat is outside some. For which I have been rewarded by having Mini-him's cat go from hissing and making noises I've never heard a cat make before to getting cuddles. I'm not sure which one of us has "won" here - me or the cat!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I meant to start Washington Black but realized I only had the loan for four more days by the time I was able to start it and knew I wouldn't get it done. So I put it back on hold and picked up Rachel Hollis' Girl, Wash Your Face. Miss H listened to it and really liked it; it definitely has a lot of advice that speaks to women in her age group.

Excuse my messy basement - one
of these days I'll be able to put
it back in order!

Watched: A lot of videos for cats on YouTube. Mini-him's cat is entranced by them so we've put them on to keep him from getting so bored. It's like turning on  cartoons while your kids are little - you aren't really paying attention as you go about doing things but they still get stuck in your head. Also, yes, it's exactly like turning cartoons on as a babysitter for your kids when you need a break from their meowing whining.

Read: I raced through Ruth Ware's The Death of Mrs. Westaway and now I'm reading Jing-Jing Lee's How We Disappeared.

Made: Homemade mac and cheese, pork roast and mashed potatoes, and BLT salad. That pretty much tells you all you need to know about the weather here this week - some days warm, some days chilly.

Enjoyed: Garden center shopping - I got everything for our gardens and flower pots and the big flower pots are all planted already. Which, of course, meant that it got cold enough over night last night that I had to pull them all close to the house and cover them. It's totally worth it - I'm happier once I can look out at flowers.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On moving Mini-him into his new place, starting on Wednesday. This wouldn't be such a daunting prospect if he'd found a place on the first floor instead of the third floor!

Thinking About: Getting out of town. Mini-me and Ms. S closed on their new house on Friday and I want to get north to see them and the house and to see my sister. Then, too, I want to get south to meet my new great-niece.

Feeling: Lazy - two grey days in a row make it hard to me to get any ambition.

Looking forward to: Getting past this week!

Question of the week: As we say goodbye to April showers and look forward to May flowers, what's your favorite annual to plant in the spring?

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

China Dolls by Lisa See

China Dolls by Lisa See
Published June 2014 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
It’s 1938 in San Francisco: a world’s fair is preparing to open on Treasure Island, a war is brewing overseas, and the city is alive with possibilities. Grace, Helen, and Ruby, three young women from very different backgrounds, meet by chance at the exclusive and glamorous Forbidden City nightclub. Grace Lee, an American-born Chinese girl, has fled the Midwest with nothing but heartache, talent, and a pair of dancing shoes. Helen Fong lives with her extended family in Chinatown, where her traditional parents insist that she guard her reputation like a piece of jade. The stunning Ruby Tom challenges the boundaries of convention at every turn with her defiant attitude and no-holds-barred ambition.

The girls become fast friends, relying on one another through unexpected challenges and shifting fortunes. When their dark secrets are exposed and the invisible thread of fate binds them even tighter, they find the strength and resilience to reach for their dreams. But after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, paranoia and suspicion threaten to destroy their lives, and a shocking act of betrayal changes everything.

My Thoughts:
Our theme this year for my book club is "The American Experience." I've tried to select books with varying historical perspectives, set throughout the country, and told from the view point of a variety of peoples. So when we had to make a shift in what we were reading and I needed a book that would be available through the library and also fit our theme, I figured something by See would be perfect. It both was and it wasn't.

China Dolls was perfect for our theme - we got to see the American experience of Chinese and Japanese immigrants in the 1940's, we got to see a view of our country during World War II that we don't usually see, we got to learn about other cultures and a part of history none of use were previously aware of, and we got to see places throughout the country. All that to say, this book opened our eyes up to a lot of new things.

Where it failed was, surprisingly, in the writing. I was not alone in feeling that while Helen, Grace, and Ruby might have become friends in the first place, their "friendship" didn't feel true beyond the early days. Even more, it was not believable to us that they would have continued to do things together when they so clearly no longer trusted each other. Relationships that are based solely on the fact that you don't feel like you have anyone else to rely on aren't friendships; these three had developed such a toxic relationship by the end, in fact, that it was a wonder they could be in the same room, let alone fighting over how they would stay together.

As with most historical fiction, you know I had to go see how much of this book was true. There were, in fact, Chinese nightclubs including The Forbidden City which catered to lo fan (Caucasians) and many of the people See references were real people. Other characters were fictionalized versions of real people.  Groups of the performers did perform in venues all over the country. Late in the book, the Helen's granddaughter asks Grace how she felt about perpetuating racial stereotypes. It's a interesting point to consider but, like so many pieces of history, something we always need to consider in the setting and time in which it occurred. These nightclubs gave the performers a venue to perform they would not otherwise have had; they gave people jobs when jobs were hard to come by. Was it ideal to perform as something of a curiosity? Of course not. But did it allow these people to live well and help support their families? Yes. And in that regard, I guess, they were able to live the American dream.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Read by: Leo Butz, Heather Lind, and Vincent Piazza
Published October 2017 by Scribner
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.

‎Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again, and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have vanished.

My Thoughts:
Manhattan Beach is as traditional as Egan's 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning A Visit From The Goon Squad  was inventive, a work of historical fiction that follows the lives of three characters that we meet in the first chapter before we leap forward ten years. For people who waited six years for Egan's next book to be published, expecting something as inventive as Goon Squad, this could have been disappointing. For some, I suppose, it was. But Egan is such a great writer and the three different character's lives are so interesting, that I don't suspect that was the case for most people. It certainly wasn't for the many reviewers who put it on their best-of lists in 2017. It certainly wasn't for me.

This is the story of three people's fates and the way they are wound together. It's the story about the people with whom they surround themselves. Mostly, it is about the way their work lives shape their lives; Egan spends most of the book watching these characters with their very unusual jobs at a very unusual time in our history. A book about the working lives of three people sound dull? It's not. Not when you consider that Dexter is a mob guy married to the daughter of one of the richest men in America. Not when you consider that Eddie is a bag man for the mob who struggles with the fact that he can't stand to be around his youngest daughter who handicapped while at the same time he is trying to do right by her. Most especially when you consider that Anna is a woman who finds herself able to work in a field that would never have been available to her if not for war.

Egan is more than adept at giving readers just as much detail as they need to have to understand historical context or how things work but she never strays into including every detail she learned about it, something so many writers are guilty of doing. I understood how heavy and awkward the diving gear Anna had to wear was, how tough it was to work in it, and how dangerous but Egan only gives readers what they need to understand how desperate Anna was to escape the life in which she had found herself.

Here's the thing, though. As much as I enjoyed this book as I was reading it (and I enjoyed it a lot), while details of the book have stayed with me, my feelings about this book have gotten a little murky. I'm wishing I would have put in words what I was feeling about the book just as I finished it. As it stands now, I'm not sure it will find its way to my favorite books of the year list. It might have two weeks ago.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Life: It Goes On - April 21

Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate! Things are quiet around here this morning and there won't be any ham dinner or Easter baskets today as Mini-me and Ms. S aren't able to get home and Mini-him is winging his way to NYC this morning for work. Thanks so much to our friends who included us in their family's Easter dinner last night, we still got to have ham and yummy potatoes and all of the other deliciousness. Mini-him and Ms. S are headed to my sister's house so I'm happy that they will get to spend the day with family, especially because my parents are there and they haven't seen my parents since their wedding.

Stage one of the great Shep-Kids-Moving-Extravaganza is finally, officially, over. Mini-him and I got the last of his stuff moved and cleaned the apartment last week and yesterday he turned in his keys. Now we get to move it all again in two weeks. Up three flights of steps. Ugh. Wonder how much it would cost me just to hire it done??

Last Week I:

Listened To: Thanks to a lot of extra driving this week, I'm finishing up Michelle Obama's Becoming today. I will be sad to be done with it, always the mark of a good book. Then I have about five days to listen to a 12 hour book, Washington Black. Not sure how I'm going to make that work but since it will take me weeks to get it again, I'm going to try to make it work.

Watched: Ummm...I'm not really sure. Some John Oliver Last Week Tonight, some HGTV. I really haven't been paying much attention to that babbling machine this week.

Read: I finally finished Live Through This. As a mom of a daughter, it was a tough read but well worth the time. Also finished Lisa See's China Dolls for book club; it makes a good book for discussion but I didn't think it was one of her better books.

Made: Tacos, BLT salad, burritos - simple and light. We finally got to have a dinner on the patio which was glorious! For the Easter dinner last night, I made a cucumber/strawberry salad with a vinaigrette dressing, French silk pie, and put together a charcuterie board.

Enjoyed: Getting my hair done yesterday, some thrift store shopping, and time with friends.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: I think I have nothing on the calendar so I'm excited about that. I've been so busy working on getting Mini-him moved out that my own house has been neglected and really needs to get cleaned.

Thinking About: Gardens and flowers. I'll head over, maybe later today even, to start getting plants.

Feeling: A little sad that we are not with family today but also happy to have a day to just be.

Looking forward to: Seeing baby goats today! I'll explain later and pictures will be involved!

Question of the week: How did you celebrate this weekend?

Monday, April 15, 2019

Belong To Me by Marisa de los Santos

Belong To Me by Marisa de los Santos
Published April 2008 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: purchased

Publisher's Summary:
Everyone has secrets. Some we keep to protect ourselves, others to protect those we love.

A devoted city dweller, Cornelia Brown surprised herself when she was gripped by the sudden desire to head for an idyllic suburb. Though she knows she's made the right move, she approaches her new life with trepidation and struggles to forge friendships. Cornelia's mettle is quickly tested by judgmental neighbor Piper Truitt, the embodiment of everything Cornelia feared she would find in suburbia. A saving grace soon appears in the form of Lake, and Cornelia develops an instant bond with this warm yet elusive woman.

As their individual stories unfold, the women become entangled in a web of trust, betrayal, love and loss that challenges them in ways they never imagined, and that ultimately teaches them what it means for one human being to belong to another.

My Thoughts:
I would wager to say that I've had this book on my shelves for eight or so years. It's one of those books that everyone was reading once upon a time and so I picked it up when I found it on sale. And then...well, you know the story - shiny new books or it never seemed to be the thing that piqued my interest. But when I was pulling books that might be good for Dewey's Read-a-thon, I thought this one might just be perfect. I was right.

What I Liked:

  • The setting: although this is not entirely the 'burbs like I know the 'burbs (it's a neighborhood of older homes), it also is exactly the suburbs as I know them. The queen bee, the hierarchy, the overwhelming need to have everything just so and to fit in. I have known people just like Piper and Cornelia. I could relate to them, the way gossip races through a neighborhood, and the way people in suburbs can be hyper-judgmental. 
  • The characters: for the most part, I really thought de los Santos did a marvelous job of creating characters that were multi-dimensional. Sure, Piper is a queen bee b*tch but I swear to you, you will come to care about her. Dev (Lake's son) is an extremely smart kid but de los Santos focuses more on the ways he's just like every  other kid. Elizabeth, Piper's best friend, is a woman who spent a fortune to remodel her kitchen into a state of the art room but she's also a woman with a marvelous sense of humor. 
  • The ending: if this were a television show, the last chapter of this book would be that scene at the end where all of the characters are gathered around a big table laughing, talking, and smiling while the perfect song plays over it all. It was just the way I wanted the book to end. But de los Santos didn't bring readers to that point without some struggle and it isn't all happily-ever-after. 
  • The writing: I quite enjoyed the cleverness of de los Santos' writing right from the beginning of the book. She was able to make me chuckle throughout; more importantly, she was able to make me cry, and you know how rare that it. 
What Didn't Work As Well For Me:
  • Lake: I sort of felt like her story was a bit too convoluted and I can't say that I liked her. I think readers are supposed to feel sorry for her. But this is a woman who finds herself in a predicament more because of the lies she's told than the things that have happened to her beyond her own control. And those lies take a terrible toll on others around her. 
  • It could have been maybe 50 pages shorter. There were places where I felt like things weren't as tight as they might have been and there were some characters who de los Santos included who I think could have been left out without losing anything from the story. 
Some Gems I Found:
"I had lit out for the suburbs in the manner of pioneers and pilgrims, not so bravely and with fewer sweeping historical consequences, but with that same combination of discouragement and hope, that simultaneous running-away and running-toward."
"I loved the noise, opening my window to let a confetti of sound fly in. I loved how leaving my apartment, in pursuit of newspapers or bags of apricots or bagels so perfect they were not so much bagels as odes to gloss and chewiness, never just felt like going out, but like setting out, adrenaline singing in my veins, the unexpected glancing off storefronts, simmering in grates and ledges, pooling in stairwells, awaiting me around every corner, down every alleyway.
Imagine an enormous strutting peacock with the whole jeweled city for a tail."
"Happy childhoods happen. Ours happened. What came back to me, with lightning-crack vividness, as I looked out the car window, were the clusters of women, at birthday parties, cookouts, standing in yards and kitchen, the air warm with their talking, and how oddly interchangeable we all were, women and children both. The woman who picked us up when we fell down or wiped our faces or fed us lunch or yelled us down from treetops or out of mud (all of it so casually, with barely a break in the conversation or an extra breath) may have been our mother but could just as easily been someone else's. We hardly noticed. The women merged into a kind of laughing, chatting, benevolent blur, a network of distracted love and safekeeping."
This last particularly appealed to me. This was the neighborhood of my youth. I know I was blessed to have had it and I wouldn't change it for anything.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Life: It Goes On - April 14

One of these days I'll be able to use my spring photo for these posts. Not quite yet, though; not when I've had to cover the plants overnight because the temps went well below freezing. On the other hand, it will get up into the 70's again this week. So there's hope.

Stage One of the great Shep-Kids-All-Moving marathon is, more or less, done. We got the majority of Mini-him's stuff into a storage unit today, thanks to his friends. For the next three weeks, he and his cat will live here. Well, the cat will; Mini-him leaves in a week for a two-week work trip. Once he gets back, we'll move everything back out of storage and into his new place. Seven weeks after that, Miss H will move out. And in between them, Mini-me and Ms. S will move into their new house. Such exciting times for all four of them!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished listening to Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach and started Michelle Obama's Becoming. Guys, Obama could make a living reading books if she was ever hard up for money; I am loving listening to her read.

Watched: College basketball, John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, some Real Housewives, some of The Voice. The television's been off as much as it's been on and I've loved the quiet.

Read: Both my book club selection for this month and Live Through This which is a memoir by a woman whose very young daughters were drug-addicted runaways. It's a tough read but she is very honest about the ways in which her actions contributed to their behavior.

Made: Fried peanut butter and jelly French toast sandwiches - not exactly health food but topped with powdered sugar and fresh raspberries and served with eggs, they were the perfect comfort food one evening.

Enjoyed: Opening night for our Triple A farm team for the Kansas City Royals, the Omaha Stormchasers. It got chilly and we whined about it but the Big Guy, the friends we went with, and I all agreed it beat the heck out of the year it was 28 degrees on opening day and we were in full on winter gear and still freezing our heinies off.

This Week I’m: 

Welcome to the family, Vivian!
Planning: On helping Mini-him clean up as much as he can in an apartment that two other guys are still living in so we can call that done. Then I'm back to doing 40 Bags In 40 Days in my basement while dodging a cat that is very angry about life right now. Mini-him's cat is not the friendliest cat in ordinary circumstances and all of this upheaval has him in a tizzy. But I've only got six days left of 40 Bags and I'm determined to make the most of it.

Thinking About: Right now I'm actually trying to shut my brain down. It's been working overtime the past week and I'd love to be able to go to bed tonight and fall asleep right away.

Feeling: Excited - we welcomed a new great-niece into our lives this week and I cannot wait to meet her. Hope to get south sometime in May.

Looking forward to: The final season of Game of Thrones kicking off tonight. It will be fun to have Mini-him here to watch with us as he's the person who turned us on to it.

Question of the week: I've clearly been in "Mom" mode this week. It's a role I've always reveled in so I'm not (entirely) complaining. Still, I'm sort of feeling like I've lost track of my word for the year, "enough." How do you tell people "I've done enough" when they ask you to do things?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Mysterious Affair At Styles by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
Originally Published in 1920
Source: bought for my Nook

Poirot, a Belgian refugee of the Great War, is settling in England near the home of Emily Inglethorp, who helped him to his new life. His friend Hastings arrives as a guest at her home. When the woman is killed, Poirot uses his detective skills to solve the mystery.

My Thoughts:
I don't recall knowing when I bought this book that it was the first of the Hercule Poirot series; in fact, Christie's first novel. You wouldn't know that reading it. Poirot is not some young chicken; he and Hastings have known each other for years at the time of this book and Hastings often refers to Poirot being past his prime. In fact, that's one of the fun things about the book, the way Hastings often looks down a Poirot (a character we know now will come to known to readers as a master when it comes to solving mysteries) and the way Poirot uses what he knows about Hastings to aide him.

According to one review, when the book was first published:
"It is said to be the author's first book, and the result of a bet about the possibility of writing a detective story in which the reader would not be able to spot the criminal. Every reader must admit that the bet was won."

Yes, indeed. I frequently changed my opinion about who the murderer was and I was wrong. In my defense, though, this is one of those mysteries where there are some pieces of the puzzle the reader is not privy to until the final solution is revealed. Still, there were so many little pieces and turns of phrase that even had I known it all, I don't I would have solved the mystery. This novel (or, at only 124 pages, more precisely, novella) makes it clear why Christie became such a superstar of a mystery writer. I quite love that she was able to get so much into so few pages and I really did race through this book even though I meant to read slowly so that I might try to solve the mystery. Have you read this one? Did you figure it out before Poirot revealed all?

It's been years since I read any of Christie's books. How silly of me. It won't take years longer for me to pick up another.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Before The Fall by Noah Hawley

Before The Fall by Noah Hawley
Published May 2016 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: bought my copy

Publisher’s Summary:
On a foggy summer night, eleven people—ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter—depart Martha's Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs—the painter—and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul's family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the back stories of the passengers and crew members—including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot—the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers' intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage. Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

My Thoughts:
So, Hawley is an award-winning television producer and screenwriter. He was one of the writers on the show Fargo. The hubby and I thought the writing on that show was terrific so it would make sense that I'd enjoy a book written by the same author. That also explains why I can so easily see this book playing out on the small screen; it very much has the feel of a limited series television show. In Before The Fall, though, Hawley is taking advantage of the print medium to flesh out his characters and explore deeper ideas, to find the truth behind what caused the accident, behind his characters, and  behind the forces at play.

In a mystery novel, I feel like it's important to always be giving readers material that is propelling the book forward, even when we're getting those back stories. Occasionally here I felt like Hawley lost some of that forward momentum as he explored the past lives of his characters and the things that drive them. Some of that was, of course, to cast doubt on all of the cast. Like any good mystery, everyone here is suspect and there are plenty of motives to question. What's also suspect is the role the media plays in situations like plane crashes, the ways personalities can influence things to turn one way or another, and the way the various government entities work, or don't work, together.

Hawley has created some really interesting characters. Scott Burroughs is a character readers will want to rout for but will also question.  He's a guy who's squandered his life and his talents but seems finally to have found his path; he's the hero who saves a young boy but who struggles with his new found fame, not always making what appear to be the best choices. But too many of Hawley's characters also felt like caricatures to me - the over-the-top newscaster who has become so lost in his own persona that he can't see the truth for the story he wants to tell, the a-hole investigator who smirks his way through the book and the good guy investigator whose only flaw seems to be that he's too analytical, the ne'er do well brother-in-law of the media mogul who you can practically see rubbing his hands together in glee as he contemplates the riches he thinks he's come into. Truth be told, though, sometimes you really do want the bad guy to just be a bad guy - you really don't want to find a grain of pity in your heart for him and Hawley gave me just that with some of these characters.

Still, even though this book didn't work for me on all levels (I often felt like Hawley went to far afield in exploring some of his themes), I did enjoy it and raced to find out the truth about the crash.

On a side note, because I was struggling to put my thoughts about this book together, I browsed through some other reviews. Sometimes doing this helps, sometimes it just leaves me wondering what I missed. This time it left me wondering if the reviewer for The Guardian had actually read the book because he refers to one of the major characters by the wrong name and says that this character was on the plane, which he was not. It certainly made me question whether this happens in other reviews.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Life: It Goes On - April 7

Happy April! If you're reading this early, I'm probably still in bed, after staying up late reading last night for Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-thon (I'm taking a break from reading to post this before I go to bed). Oh, who am I kidding, if you're reading this early any Sunday, I'm probably still in bed because I stayed up late. It felt good to be a part of the book blogging community again - even though I've been posting regularly, and reading a lot, I haven't been active in the community for a while now. I miss it. It's not what it was when I started ten years ago, but it's still a great community of which to be a part.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Tana French's The Trespasser and started Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach.

Watched: Basketball, of course. Some Real Housewives of New York (my guilty pleasure!). Some Saturday night TLC decorating shows. Not much else as I'm trying to keep the television off as much as possible.

Read: Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair At Styles and I started this month's book club selection, Lisa See's China Dolls. Plus, yesterday I read Marisa de los Santos' Belong To Me. I officially signed up for Michelle's (Seasons of Reading) Spring into Horror Readathon and will probably read Ruth Ware's Into A Dark, Dark Wood for that soon since I didn't get it read yesterday.

Made: Um, not much. I'm really not in the cooking mood lately. Stuck with simple, go-to meals - goulash, pork chops and mashed potatoes, grilled cheese sandwiches. Last night I did grill bbq chicken, baked potatoes and made up some baked beans.

Enjoyed: I finally finished a project I've been working on for a couple of weeks. I've had this old medicine cabinet for more than 35 years and it's seen a lot of different looks. This time I wanted it to look old and I wanted it to hold some of my treasures, including a tiny chamber pot that was one of my grandmother's and bottles from my other grandmother's collection.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On getting Mini-him moved. He has to be out of his apartment by the end of the month but will be on the road for the last ten days of the month so we've got to get the bulk of his stuff moved this weekend. We already started bringing home clothes yesterday and will be back at it today.

Thinking About: Gardens. I'm headed out today to start picking up plants. It's super early but it's always work it to me to take a chance.

Feeling: Tired.

Looking forward to: Welcoming a new great-niece into the world this week!

Question of the week: I'm starting to think about trying to get some of the chemicals out of my everyday life. Have you gone that route? If so, what are some of your go-to products?

Friday, April 5, 2019

It's Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-thon Time!

Hurrah! It's Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon and I can finally participate! I'll be home and my house will be quiet for much of the day so I'm looking forward to getting in some good hours of reading. As always, I don't hold out much hope that I'll read for 24 hours but my book pile says I'm going to give it a go! I'll do all updates on this post throughout the 'thon. 

My plan is to start with Belong To Me, a book that's been on my shelves for years. I Remember Nothing and The White Darkness I'm going to hold back for the wee hours when I'm going to want to be reading something that makes me feel like I'm getting somewhere. In between that first book and the last two, I'll play it by ear. If I get to Ruth Ware's In A Dark, Dark Wood, that will work for the Spring Into Horror Readathon (hosted by Michelle at Seasons of Reading) as well. 

Hours Read: 14
Pages Read: 453
Minutes Listened to Books: 110
Books Read: 1 + 64 pages into a second book
Mini-Challenges: Sadly, even though I had planned to revisit these after checking them out in the mornings, I never got back to do any. 
Other Readers Visited: Checking in on Instagram via hashtags
Cups of Coffee Consumed: 2
Food: Oatmeal, two pieces of cold pizza, Simply Cheetos, bbq chicken and baked potatoes, cotton candy ice cream, and chocolate Easter eggs. 

Hour 1: Kicked the day off with a cup of coffee - after starting yesterday morning by finding out, after I'd poured the milk into my coffee, that our milk had expired and it was curdling in my cup, the hubby was kind enough to pick me up some yummy creamer. This staves off breakfast for three hours, what with all of the sugar and fat in it!

Hour 8: I've had to take some breaks, if for no other reason than to get up and move to wake myself up. I've done laundry, talked to my mom on the phone, tidied up the house. It's time for a quick nap and then I need to get cleaned up. A friend is coming for dinner so I need to get prepped for that. Once she leaves after supper, I'll be back to it. 

Hour 19: Everyone else has finally gone to bed and my interruptions are over, although I'll need to keep the television on to help keep me awake. I'm nearly finished with my first book then I think I'm going to pick up I Remember Nothing which is probably what I'll remember about the book in the morning. 

I hardly made a dent in my snacks but
they sure helped keep me going!
Hour 20: We're almost to the start of the next hour but I'm calling it a night. I'm dragging and I don't have all day tomorrow to sleep. 

Getting to Know You Survey

1)What fine part of the world are you reading from today? Omaha, Nebraska
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? In A Dark, Dark Wood, although I'm not sure I'll get to it.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? Smartfood White Cheddar popcorn
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I've lived all of my life in Nebraska and been a reader nearly all of that time, thanks to a love of reading that's been handed down to me. I'm thrilled to have raised three readers; even more so because my 24-year-old just really discovered the joy of reading for pleasure in the past couple of years.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? I'm planning to work more audiobooks into my day so that I can keep reading while I'm doing those things that just have to be done on a Saturday no matter how much I've tried to clear my schedule.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Trespasser by Tana French

The Trespasser by Tana French
Read by Hilda Fay
Published October 2016 by Penguin Publishing
Source: audiobook checked out from my library

Publisher's Summary:
Being on the Murder Squad is nothing like Detective Antoinette Conway dreamed it would be. Her partner, Stephen Moran, is the only person who seems glad she’s there. The rest of her working life is a stream of thankless cases, vicious pranks, and harassment. Antoinette is savagely tough, but she’s getting close to the breaking point.

Their new case looks like yet another by-the-numbers lovers’ quarrel gone bad. Aislinn Murray is blond, pretty, groomed-to-a-shine, and dead in her catalog-perfect living room, next to a table set for a romantic dinner. There’s nothing unusual about her—except that Antoinette’s seen her somewhere before.

And that her death won’t stay in its neat by-numbers box. Other detectives are trying to push Antoinette and Steve into arresting Aislinn’s boyfriend, fast. There’s a shadowy figure at the end of Antoinette╩╝s road. Aislinn╩╝s friend is hinting that she knew Aislinn was in danger. And everything they find out about Aislinn takes her further from the glossy, passive doll she seemed to be.

Antoinette knows the harassment has turned her paranoid, but she can’t tell just how far gone she is. Is this case another step in the campaign to force her off the squad, or are there darker currents flowing beneath its polished surface?

My Thoughts:
First of all, if you get a chance to listen to this one, do it. If you are not absolutely sucked into the book by the Irish accent alone, I'm not sure we can be friends any more. And not only do we get the accent, but Fay does a terrific job of reading the book and a great job with finding voices for the multiple characters.

As for the book itself, Tana French has never disappointed me yet. The Trespasser is no exception. This is the sixth book in French's Dublin Murder Squad "series." Here, French has, unusually, brought back two detectives from the last book; this time, however, Antoinette takes center stage and Moran plays a supporting role.

Antoinette might be my favorite French character. A loner with a temper by nature, Conway is even more isolated in the murder squad, the only woman, the only person of color.  She's forced to work the night shift, she's never given the big cases.The good old boys do not make it easy on her and make it clear they want her out. They spit in her coffee if she leaves it on her desk when she leaves the room, they urinate in her locker, they abscond with reports and evidence. This is not  a woman who can't get along with people, though. She did just fine when she was working in the missing persons division and she does have mates. And this is a woman who calls her mum after her shift every day. French does a great job of making this porcupine of a character someone readers can cheer for.

Like all of French's Dublin Murder Squad books, you'd better be paying attention because even though there's not a lot of evidence or suspects in this one, French keeps her readers guessing. Knowing that French's books generally don't end tidily, I wasn't surprised that things got very twisted toward the end. On the other hand, I still didn't have any idea where she was going. I rarely do with her books which is part of what makes me keep coming back.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Educated by Tara Westover

Educated by Tara Westover
Read by Julia Whelan
Published February 2018 by Random House
Source: checked out audiobook from my library

Publisher's Summary:
Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

My Thoughts:
Can we just talk about how often I forgot this wasn't a work of fiction? Because as often as you hear "you can't make this stuff up," it seemed more likely that this couldn't have really happened. And that it not only really happened but that it happened relatively recently.

Westover was born approximately September 1986. Did you catch that word "approximately?" Like the second half of her siblings, Westover's birth was never registered and, apparently, never recorded anywhere at home either. Some reviews of this book refer to her being homeschooled. She was not homeschooled; occasionally Westover's mother set her down to with some learning materials but made no real effort to educate her daughter. Why bother? Westover's parents had no notion that any of their children would ever leave the mountain they lived on or break away from their extreme Morman faith. But something seemed to nag at Westover from the time she was a young girl, at least as she recalls it. Westover is quick to point out that these are her recollections, which don't always jibe with the memories of others in her family.

What doesn't seem to be in doubt, despite what Westover's parents (and, eventually, several of her siblings, insist), Westover spent years being terrorized, abused, and threatened by a brother who undoubtedly suffered brain damage from a number of head injuries. But because she had this brother had once been close, even Westover wanted to believe that it wasn't her brother but something that she had done wrong. And because it was easier for her parents to believe that the child who was already pulling away was in the wrong, that the son who continued to work for them and support their  beliefs, they sided with her brother again and again. It was heartbreaking how they time and again put their daughter's life at risk despite evidence of their son's instability.

Just as she admits that there will always be a part of her that wants to believe the lessons that her father taught her, even though, as a college student, she came to realize that her father suffered from mental illness. She can still remember many wonderful memories that built a base of feeling that helped her forgive her father when he repeatedly put Westover and her siblings lives in danger. The family was in two car accidents because her father insisted they get in the car late at night to begin long drives home; one of her brothers' leg caught on fire when he and her father were salvaging some old vehicles because of his lack of safety precautions; her brother, Sean's, multiple head injuries were nearly all the result of her father's recklessness and both of her parents' lack of trust in modern medicine; and Westover herself was almost killed because her father insisted she do work that was unsafe.

Thanks to the help of some friends, a Mormon bishop, and her own very hard work, Westover not only got a high enough test score to get into BYU, she also went on to study at Cambridge and earned a PhD. As smart as she is, as clearly as she came to see the reality that was life on the mountain, Westover often struggled mightily with a longing to be home. She never gave up on her parents, always hoping that they would stand behind her and acknowledge what her brother was doing to her (just as her father had always supported her singing when she was younger). Eventually, Westover found that, as much as she still loved her family, she had to cut her father out of her life.

Like Jeanette Walls in her autobiography The Glass Castle, Westover helps readers to understand how a child could be so desperate for their parents' love and support that they would forgive abuse and dangerous neglect. Unlike Glass, whose siblings pulled together to survive their parents, Westover's siblings splintered, some choosing to side with their parents in no small part because they their livelihoods depended on being a part of the family business. They have no education, they have no other skills, and they have been raised to believe that all of what has happened is a part of God's plan.