Thursday, May 30, 2019

Love, Water, Memory by Jennie Shortridge

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

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

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

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

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

And yet...

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

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

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Life: It Goes On - May 26

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

Last Week I:

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

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

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

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

Enjoyed: Lots of time with my kids this week.

This Week I’m: 

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

Thinking About: Making some changes.

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

Looking forward to: My goodness - another quiet week!

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

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Jennifer Chiaverini

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Castle On Sunset by Shawn Levy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Life: It Goes On - May 19

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

Last Week I:

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

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

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

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

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

This Week I’m: 

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

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

Feeling: Pleasantly tired.

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

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Life: It Goes On - May 14

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

Last Week I:

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

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

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

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

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

This Week I’m: 

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 13, 2019

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Becoming by Michelle Obama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Spring Into Horror Readathon - Wrap Up

Now, I'm sure that you probably have forgotten that I told you I'd signed up for the Spring Into Horror Readathon (Seasons of Reading) because I haven't really read much that most people would think of as horror. But, here are the rules:
"Remember, the one main "rule" of Spring into Horror is that you must read ONE scary book (which can be a thriller, mystery, Gothic novel, or similar for those who are faint of heart). The rest of the month? Keep reading scary if you want, or read whichever genre you choose."
I actually did read several books that fall into the traditional definition of scary and spent the rest trying to read as much as I could. I actually finished seven books in April!  For the traditionally scary I read Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair At Styles and The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware. The scariest book I read in April wasn't either of these, though; it was Debra Gwartney's Life Through This. As I said in my review of that book, the scariest things for me to read about are the things that could actually happen and that book was about something that actually could have happened to me.

Did you read any scary books in April?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee

How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee
Published May 2019 by Hanover Square Press
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Singapore, 1942. As Japanese troops sweep down Malaysia and into Singapore, a village is ransacked, leaving only two survivors and one tiny child.

In a neighboring village, seventeen-year-old Wang Di is strapped into the back of a troop carrier and shipped off to a Japanese military brothel where she is forced into sexual slavery as a “comfort woman.” After sixty years of silence, what she saw and experienced still haunts her.

In the year 2000, twelve-year-old Kevin is sitting beside his ailing grandmother when he overhears a mumbled confession. He sets out to discover the truth, wherever it might lead, setting in motion a chain of events he never could have foreseen.

Weaving together two time lines and two very big secrets, this stunning debut opens a window on a little-known period of history, revealing the strength and bravery shown by numerous women in the face of terrible cruelty. Drawing in part on her family’s experiences, Jing-Jing Lee has crafted a profoundly moving, unforgettable novel about human resilience, the bonds of family and the courage it takes to confront the past.

My Thoughts:
Yesterday, on Literary Quicksand, Allison wrote, in her review of this book: "Why do we read stories of unimaginable suffering? Why do we revisit the pain, heartache, and shame others experience in their darkest times?"

Why, indeed? Books like How We Disappear demand so much from the reader, are so painfully difficult to read. They are also so important for us to push our way through - we cannot allow ourselves to forget the past and the terrible things that mankind is capable of when left unchecked. In her debut novel, Lee writes about a part of history that was long kept quiet, the so-called comfort women the Japanese essentially kidnapped and abused for years during the occupation of China, Malay, and Singapore.

Wang Di is a teenager when her village is occupied by the Japanese and she is taken from her family and kept for three years in a small room she was rarely allowed to leave, where she "serviced" thirty or more men a day. After one year, I wasn't sure I could read any more of it, even knowing, as I did, that Wang Di would survive. It was beyond heartbreaking, knowing that this story was based on real events and that many of these young women didn't survive and those who did were ostracized once the occupation was over.

Lee keeps things from being entirely overwhelming by weaving together Wang Di's past and present, as well as the story of young Kevin. Poor Kevin has more than his share of sadness. Bullied at school and harassed by a neighbor boy, Kevin is having a hard enough time making his way through life. Once he hers his grandmother's confession, he is haunted by her past. The weaving together of his story and Wang Di's story is remarkably well done. While Wang Di's past is, of course, the most emotional of the story lines, her present story line as well as Kevin's are strong as well, something that doesn't always happen when authors try to use this device.

How We Disappear is an impressive debut - the settings are vivid, the pain palpable, the characters unforgettable. I loved the many ways Lee explored all of the ways her characters "disappeared," all of the ways people can disappear.

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

Jing-Jing Lee is the author of the novel, If I Could Tell You. Her poems have been published in Ceriph, Poetry Quarterly, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, and Moving Words 2011: A Poetry Anthology. Jing moved to Europe in her early 20s and started to pursue writing full-time. In 2011, she gained a Masters of Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Oxford. She now lives in Amsterdam with her husband and is working on her second book of fiction. When she’s not working on her novel-in-progress or reading (or taking photographs), she can be found here and on twitter.