Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Transcription by Kate Atkinson
Read by Fenella Woolgar
Published September 2018 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past forever. 



Ten years later, now a radio producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat. A bill of reckoning is due, and she finally begins to realize that there is no action without consequence.

My Thoughts:
Let’s just start with the reading, shall we? Fenella Woolgar is marvelous and deserves to be recognized and if I wait to tell you about here until the end, you might have already stopped reading. This is the second of Atkinson’s books that I’ve listened to her read and, while I’m certain I would have been impressed with the books in print, Woolgar’s reading adds so much to the books. So much so that I’ve placed a hold on Tracy Chevalier’s latest, A Single Thread, for the sole reason that Woolgar is reading it.

Now, on to the story.
“Juliet had stopped going to that school, stopped preparing for that bright future, so that she could care for her mother—there had always been only the two of them—and had not returned after her mother’s death. It seemed impossible somehow. . . . That girl, transmuted by bereavement, had gone. And, as far as Juliet could tell, she had never really come back.”
Without any attachments, Julia is just the kind of girl MI5 is looking for. Young, naïve, and alone, she is easily scooped up into the world of espionage. Initially recruited into the secretarial pool, Julia is soon part of a “high tech” surveillance team. Her job is to transcribe recordings of meetings between an MI5 agent, Godfrey Toby who is posing as a German government agent, and a group of Fifth Columnists (“a group of secret sympathizers or supporters of an enemy that engage in espionage or sabotage within defense lines or national borders” – I had to look it up and thought you might not know that phrase, either). It’s dull work in the beginning and, as the only woman on the team, Juliet is often called on to do the kinds of things the men think of as “women’s work.” Our girl Juliet is keenly aware of the slight.

But let’s not to be too hasty in calling Juliet a feminist. To fill her days, young Juliet spends a lot of time fantasizing about a romantic relationship with her handsome boss, Peregrine Gibbons. Perry shows an interest in her that, as it turns out, is not in the least bit romantic. Instead, Perry has chosen Juliet to act as a double agent. As Iris Carter-Jenkins, Juliet is handed a gun, an imaginary fiancé, and very little in the way of training. In no time at all, “Iris” has befriended Mrs. Scaife (a wealthy anti-Semitic) and the Fifth Column. She takes to it like water. It turns out all of the women in the book are masters at assuming whatever identity is needed at the time, a trick we women all now only too well.

After the war, Juliet is working as a producer on “that other great national monolith,” the BBC. Ironically, she is in charge of a program called “Past Lives.” It’s her own past life that is haunting her so badly that she becomes convinced that ghosts from the past have returned to punish her. As it turns out they have… in more ways than one.

The review of this book in the New Yorker suggests - no, out and out says – that Atkinson’s style “isn’t terribly distinctive.” Yet, if you’ve read any of her books, I’d bet you’ll disagree. She has, to my way of thinking a very distinctive style that sucks me into her books and which I think is marvelous. Her, as in her other books, there is both a nostalgia and a sense that the blinders are off and she sees the truth behind the façade. Was this my favorite of her books? No. Life After Life still holds that spot. But I enjoyed this one from the first and loved the way Atkinson bounced me around and then turned everything upside down.


Monday, April 6, 2020

The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll

The Bullet Journal Method: Track The Past, Order The Present, Design The Future by Ryder Carroll
Published October 2018 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
For years Ryder Carroll tried countless organizing systems, online and off, but none of them fit the way his mind worked. Out of sheer necessity, he developed a method called the Bullet Journal that helped him become consistently focused and effective. When he started sharing his system with friends who faced similar challenges, it went viral. Just a few years later, to his astonishment, Bullet Journaling is a global movement.

The Bullet Journal Method is about much more than organizing your notes and to-do lists. It's about what Carroll calls "intentional living": weeding out distractions and focusing your time and energy in pursuit of what's truly meaningful, in both your work and your personal life. It's about spending more time with what you care about, by working on fewer things. His new book shows you how to...

• Track the past: Using nothing more than a pen and paper, create a clear and comprehensive record of your thoughts.

• Order the present: Find daily calm by tackling your to-do list in a more mindful, systematic, and productive way.

• Design the future: Transform your vague curiosities into meaningful goals, and then break those goals into manageable action steps that lead to big change.

Carroll wrote this book for frustrated list-makers, overwhelmed multitaskers, and creatives who need some structure. Whether you've used a Bullet Journal for years or have never seen one before, The Bullet Journal Method will help you go from passenger to pilot of your own life.


My Thoughts:
Does this picture help you understand how much I loved this book? I mean, it's a book about creating a book to help organize your life. How was I not going to love it?

I'm on my fifth year of using a bullet journal and it's been an evolving process. In the beginning, I was working hard to be as creative as possible with my journal, carrying around a box of colored pencils and then markers, along with washi tape and stencils. It didn't take me long to figure out that, as much as I admire journals that are colorful and creative, it was more work than I wanted to put into my journals. So I went back to Carroll's website to really get a feel for the process (https://bulletjournal.com).

This book reinforces the process but also dives deep into the reasons it works and the ways it can be customized. If you've never used the bullet journal method, this is a great starting spot. But it's also a great resource for those of us who've been using the method for years. I knew the process but I didn't necessarily know why Carroll had developed each piece of it. Knowing the why is really going to help me use my journal better and help me develop what Carroll calls "collections" for more parts of my life and in a better way. All of those sticky notes have turned into ten legal pages of notes since I have to return the book (someday, when the libraries reopen) and there is some homework I still want to get to.

Don't be scared off by all of those sticky notes and the mention of homework, though. The beauty of the method and this book is that it is entirely up to you to make of it what you will. You can do as much, or as little, as you want. If you're like me and need paper and pen to keep things on track, this is definitely the way to go to help you stay on track without a lot of little notes all over the house!

Let's be honest, this book is right up my alley anyway. But right now, it was exactly what I needed to help me refocus on reading.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Life: It Goes On - April 5

Because I'm a person that can sometimes go a whole weekend without leaving the house anyway, while I've been home this weekend, it's been easier to pretend that everything is perfectly normal. Except that part where the other people I live with never. leave. What's a girl who needs her alone time to do???

On the other hand, Thursday I started working from home. That will be my new normal for at least a month. Already I miss that routine. And the people. It was my last real chance to see other people. It's weird working from home.

Of course, the people I really miss are my people - my family, my besties, the people I hug. Friday afternoon, I happy hour'd via Zoom with my besties. We talked for two hours. I may have drank the better part of a bottle of wine. I felt so much better when we were done, so much lighter. Then Saturday, we "zoomed" with almost everyone on my side of the family. I got to see all of my brother's grandkids and hear them talk and see my great-niece walking (she just recently started). It's not the same as getting a hug but, for now, it helps.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Tracy Chevalier's A Single Thread on Wednesday and don't have a new audiobook available right now so I've been bouncing around with different kinds of music. Without a commute, it's hard to listen to podcasts. I'm not sure how I'm going to listen to a book when my next library hold becomes available.

Watched: We're trying to avoid too much of the news. We want to be informed but not overwhelmed. So we leave the t.v. more than usual.

We also took advantage of the first weekend of free Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals; Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was available on YouTube. We watched for 45 minutes but couldn't take it any more; it was released straight to video when it came out and it showed. Next weekend is Jesus Christ Superstar; I'm really looking forward to that one!

Read: I'm struggling with The Book of V. I'm about half way through it but it's taken me most of the week and it's a short book. It may be a rare DNF for me. There are three stories within the book and I'm having a hard time getting into any of them. I'm not blaming the book; it's probably, more than ever, a case of wrong book, wrong time.

Made: Salads, beef stroganoff, enchiladas, Miss H's favorite goulash - we've been making good meals this week. One benefit of working from home is that I'll have an extra hour every day so I'm hoping to cook even more in the coming weeks.

Red Cedar Works - one of
fave small businesses!
Enjoyed: Miss H went into Lincoln this week and socially distance visited my parents. I wish I could have seen their faces when she surprised them! She came back with a little gift for me that my sister had sent to my parents' house (along with the rest of their order) to congratulate me on my new job. She calls these "conversation boxes" and this is now my second one.


This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finishing up 40 Bags in 40 Days this week. I'll definitely get my 40 bags out (although "out" is a bit of a misnomer since I can't get anything to Goodwills or shelters). I just haven't done a good job of hitting the area that needed it most, my basement. When the sun is shin gin, I don't want to be downstairs; when the sun isn't shining, I can't seem to get motivated. 

Thinking About: The two nurses in our family, and all of the other health care workers, who are on the front line of this thing.

Feeling: At the moment, I'm feeling eager to get past the last freeze. The Big Guy got worried that we wouldn't be able to get vegetable plants and flowers if we went to shelter in place so my kitchen table is now covered in plants. We cannot use the table but I'm going to be so happy when my yard is full of color come summer time.

Looking forward to: It's supposed to be almost 80 degrees on Tuesday so my friends and I are planning a social distancing appropriate dinner party. One of them has a really big patio so we can all stay far enough apart to be safe and we'll all bring our own meals. It will be very different (and so hard not to hug them!); but at least we'll be together.

Question of the week: Have any of you started making masks? I ordered material to make some and will give that a shot this week. BG has done a lot of research so we think we'll be able to make masks that will at least allow us to go out for short periods relatively safely.


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Hell or High Water by Joy Castro

Hell or High Water by Joy Castro
Published July 2012 by St. Martin's Press
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Nola Céspedes, an ambitious young reporter at the Times-Picayune, finally catches a break: an assignment to write her first full-length feature. While investigating her story, she also becomes fixated on the search for a missing tourist in the French Quarter. As Nola's work leads her into a violent criminal underworld, she's forced to face disturbing truths from her own past and is confronted with the question: In the aftermath of devastation, who is responsible for rebuilding what's been broken?


My Thoughts:
I wish I were better at remembering or recording where I first heard of books. I know I've been wanting to read this one for several years. I know when I saw Castro at the 2015 Omaha Lit Fest I was hoping to be able to pick this book up then (unfortunately, they didn't have it). Because I can't remember where I first heard about the book, I also can't remember what drew me to it so I went into this one completely blind. Even so, it was not what I expected.

I thought I was going to get a straight mystery with a colorful setting. That's not what I got.

There is a mystery piece to this book - who is kidnapping and killing young women in New Orlean's French Quarter? But that is almost a backdrop for the real stories here.
"In the aftermath of devastation, who is responsible for rebuilding what's been broken?"
In Hell or High Water, that piece of the summary isn't just talking about New Orleans, post-Katrina. It's about those who suffer from sexual predators, who become the subject of an assignment Nola is unexpectedly handed that might make her career. Mostly, though, it's about Nola.

Nola is one of the most interesting characters I've read in a long time. Her mother was a Cuban refugee, her father left them when she was little after moving them to New Orleans, and she grew up in the Ninth Ward, in the projects. To give her a better education, Nola's mother sent her across town to a private school, a place where Nola felt even less like she fit in.

Now, she's feeling stuck and desperate for the kind of story that will allow her to get out of New Orleans, away from her past and away from her mother, an alcoholic who requires Nola's help every Sunday to keep up her place. She has a group of friends that gets together weekly but none of them know about Nola's past and none of them struggle to make ends meet. Even with her closest friends, Nola doesn't feel like she fits in and she can never entirely let her guard down. There's a dark side of Nola that even her besties don't know about and that's the part of her that makes her such an interesting character. And that's the part that's going to make this book really blow up.

The second most interesting character in this book? The city of New Orleans. I'm not sure I've ever read a book where the setting played such a big role in the book. From the French Quarter, to the zoo, to the food, to the nearby plantations, to culture and food. Once in a while it felt like too much, like Castro was looking for ways to get more of New Orleans into the book. But mostly, it really rooted the story and the people in the story.

Trigger warning: When Nola finally gets an assignment she hopes will really launch her reporting career, it's a piece about the sexual predators that went off the radar after Katrina. To get a full story, Nola interviews a number of convicted predators and a psychologist who talks about the effects on their victims. It's a tough read and if it's something that you have experience with, it might be too hard to read.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez

The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
Published January 2020 by Random House Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
A solitary ship captain, drifting through time.

Nia Imani is a woman out of place. Traveling through the stars condenses decades into mere months for her, though the years continue to march steadily onward for everyone she has ever known. Her friends and lovers have aged past her. She lives only for the next paycheck, until the day she meets a mysterious boy, fallen from the sky.

A mute child, burdened with unimaginable power.

The scarred boy does not speak, his only form of communication the haunting music he plays on an old wooden flute. Captured by his songs and otherworldly nature, Nia decides to take the boy in to live amongst her crew. Soon, these two outsiders discover in each other the things they lack. For him, a home, a place of love and safety. For her, an anchor to the world outside of herself. For both of them, a family. But Nia is not the only one who wants the boy.

A millennia-old woman, poised to burn down the future.

Fumiko Nakajima designed the ships that allowed humanity to flee a dying Earth. One thousand years later, she now regrets what she has done in the name of progress. When chance brings Fumiko, Nia, and the child together, she recognizes the potential of his gifts, and what will happen if the ruling powers discover him. So she sends the pair to the distant corners of space to hide them as she crafts a plan to redeem her old mistakes.

But time is running out. The past hungers for the boy, and when it catches up, it threatens to tear this makeshift family apart.

My Thoughts:
I requested this from Netgalley but for the life of me I can't remember why. It's not entirely uncommon for me to not remember what a book is about when I start reading it but I when I started reading this book, it wasn't even something that I would normally choose. Sci-fi? Me? Still, I have read and enjoyed sci-fi and Jimenez pulled me into his story immediately. Or, should I say his first story. Because The Vanished Bird is not so much a novel as a series of closely connected short stories that Jimenez will bring full circle by the time the book ends.

For a while, though, we're not so certain where the book is going. The book begins on the planet Umbai-V, where we first meet Nia when she arrives there to pick up a harvest and she first meets young Kaeda. Her ship arrives on the planet every 15 years, although only a few months has passed for her between visits. He is smitten and when she returns 15 years later, the two of them make love. It feels like we're reading a love story; and we are, but not the love story we're expecting. Because, of course, Kaeda is aging more than 15 times as fast as Nia. And Nia's heart will soon belong to the young boy.

So when Fumiko makes her a job offer, Nia chooses trying to save the boy over the crew which had become her family and sets out with a new crew. Fumiko thinks the boy make have a power she is certain the corporation she has spent her life working for will exploit for profit. While she has spent 1000 years helping the corporation dominate the universe, she will not stand by quietly and watch them destroy the boy.

Now, as a person who hasn't read much sci-fi, I can only guess as to how true fans will respond to this book. But I believe it will give them everything they want in a sci-fi novel - space travel, world building, time travel, a whole lot of science, and a lot of action. But the book's strength is in the fiction part of that genre name, in its characters and their relationships. It's a book about incredible greed and incredible love. About the power of one person and the power of connections.

So while I can't remember what made me request this book, I'm certainly happy that I did. It's reminded me that it's good to go out of your comfort zone; there are good stories to be found everywhere.



Sunday, March 29, 2020

Life: It Goes On - March 29

It's been dreary and rainy and chilly here much of the past few days. It's certainly not helping anyone's mood. On the plus side (and we've got to work really hard to find the bright sides whenever we can), it's not winter. We're not literally stuck in the house. Miss H headed off to a state park on Friday and went hiking with her camera, looking for signs of spring. Friday evening the three of us hopped in the car and drove across town to pick up burgers and fries from one of our favorite burger joints. Yesterday it was warm enough part of the day to throw the door open and I'm hoping to be able to do the same today as the sun is shining this morning.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Cokie Roberts' Capital Dames and I'm well  into Tracy Chevalier's A Single Thread. When they sent half of our department home to work and those people are in charge of the phones, I find myself able to listen to books at work and I'm loving it. I'm really going to miss it this week when I move to my new job. Although, as a newbie, I won't be essential personnel any more so I may not have to go into the office any more and I'll be able to keep up with my book listening.
Watched: The Big Guy, Miss H, and I decided to have a movie night last night. Miss H wanted to watch something funny so we watched The Spy Who Dumped Me starring Mina Kunis, Kate McKinnon, and Sam Heughan (everyone's favorite time-traveling Scotsman). It's pretty violent for a comedy but we also laughed a lot.

Read: I raced through Joy Castro's Hell or High Water which was a tough read in many ways and not entirely what I expected. I'll finish Denise Mina's Conviction today. This one was recommended by a bookclub member who heard about it on the radio. Unless it falls about in the last 100 pages, I'll definitely be looking for more of Mina's work.


Made: Pork chops and mashed potatoes, mashed potato soup, cabbage and sausage soup, tacos, and chocolate chip cookies. There's been a lot of cooking going on in my kitchen this week because our pantry is so well stocked thanks to BG being one of those people who are now terrified of being stuck at home without enough food.


Enjoyed: Zoom time with my boys last Sunday and with my siblings, their spouses, and my parents yesterday.  Do you think "zooming" will become a verb after this in the same way the "google" became the verb to mean looking something up on the internet? We agreed to do the same thing again next weekend because, let's face it, none of us will be busy.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Do you remember how I used to say I was excited to have a week with nothing on the calendar so I could really plan to get somethings done? I'm sort of over that now. Work will continue on 40 Bags In 40 Days even though I can't actually get rid of anything right now, what with being unable to drop off donations and the garbage service telling us not to throw out too much right now as they are working with fewer employees.

Thinking About: Spring. I finally got around to decorating for spring/Easter and I'm starting tomato plants today. I'm thinking it's about time to get the patio set up so it's ready to use on warm days. I was super excited to get my package from Red Cedar Works with my cute little Easter conversation box. You'll also see there's a floating shelf with it which I was planning on hanging in the powder room. But now that I've seen it, I'm thinking about what other places I might like it. Maybe I just need a couple more?

Feeling: Confused. So much of what I see in my feeds is people talking about what they're getting done in this unexpected time home. Which makes my brain think that I've got to be doing the same. But I'm still going into work. So while I have the extra time of having no obligations on the calendar, I don't have days without end to play with.

Looking forward to: The days when it is warm enough to eat outside. Then Mini-him can come over and eat dinner with us on the patio at least. It's so weird to make a big meal and not have him coming over.

Question of the week: How are you holding up?



Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Nothing To See Here by Kevin

Nothing To See Here by Kevin Wilson
Published October 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
Lillian and Madison were unlikely roommates and yet inseparable friends at their elite boarding school. But then Lillian had to leave the school unexpectedly in the wake of a scandal and they’ve barely spoken since. Until now, when Lillian gets a letter from Madison pleading for her help.
Madison’s twin stepkids are moving in with her family and she wants Lillian to be their caretaker. However, there’s a catch: the twins spontaneously combust when they get agitated, flames igniting from their skin in a startling but beautiful way. Lillian is convinced Madison is pulling her leg, but it’s the truth.
Thinking of her dead-end life at home, the life that has consistently disappointed her, Lillian figures she has nothing to lose. Over the course of one humid, demanding summer, Lillian and the twins learn to trust each other—and stay cool—while also staying out of the way of Madison’s buttoned-up politician husband. Surprised by her own ingenuity yet unused to the intense feelings of protectiveness she feels for them, Lillian ultimately begins to accept that she needs these strange children as much as they need her—urgently and fiercely. Couldn’t this be the start of the amazing life she’d always hoped for?

My Thoughts:
Lillian has had a crap life. Her only hope to get out of it was her intelligence which enabled her to get into an elite high school. Unfortunately, that was, literally, sold out from under her. The reality of life after she gets kicked out of the school is overwhelming and Lillian gives up. Instead of making a great life for herself, at twenty-eight, she is still living in her mother’s attic. Who could blame a girl for jumping at the chance to help an old friend who’s offering you a salary, free room and board, and an entirely new wardrobe, even if it means taking care of children bad attitudes who might burst into flames at any moment?

Maybe because the twins have lived an even worse life than Lillian has, she has much more empathy than anyone else in their lives. Lillian has spent so long living down to expectations that even she is surprised when, after a very rocky start, she starts to win over the children and learn how to manage their combustible tendencies. Like all kids, it doesn’t take Bessie and Roland long to figure out that Lillian might just be the only person around who really cares about them which surprises Lillian as much as it surprises the kids.

I’ve seen this one around and heard good things about it but I couldn’t imagine that a book about children that burst into flames would appeal to me. But then Care (of Care’s Online Book Club) reviewed it and enjoyed it; if Care likes it, I always know there’s a good chance I will as well. And, truth be told, I do enjoy a quirky, dark comedy now and again. So when I saw it on the shelf at my library, I picked it up. It’s not a long book and the reading was made much faster by the fact that I was enjoying it so much. It’s funny and weird and tender. The ending is spot on.

Not sure a book about children who start on fire is for you? Imagine instead that Bessie and Roland are two children whose father has abandoned them, who are inconvenient for the people who should be caring for them, and who have some behavioral issues which require special handling. Then imagine them being assigned the most ill-prepared person to care for them who actually does end up doing just that – caring for them.


Monday, March 23, 2020

Inland by Tea Obreht

Inland by Tea Obreht
Read by: Anna Chlumsky, Edoardo Ballerini, and Euan Morton
Published August 2019 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In the lawless, drought-ridden lands of the Arizona Territory in 1893, two extraordinary lives collide. Nora is an unflinching frontierswoman awaiting the return of the men in her life—her husband, who has gone in search of water for the parched household, and her elder sons, who have vanished after an explosive argument. Nora is biding her time with her youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home.

Lurie is a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts. He sees lost souls who want something from him, and he finds reprieve from their longing in an unexpected relationship that inspires a momentous expedition across the West. The way in which Nora’s and Lurie’s stories intertwine is the surprise and suspense of this brilliant novel.

Mythical, lyrical, and sweeping in scope, Inland is grounded in true but little-known history. It showcases all of Téa Obreht’s talents as a writer, as she subverts and reimagines the myths of the American West, making them entirely—and unforgettably—her own.


My Thoughts:
I listened to this book, as you may have noticed from the list of readers; but I don't recommend it. It's not that the readers don't do a fantastic job. They really are incredibly good. But, unless you're sitting on your sofa or just walking and doing nothing else but absorbing what you're listening to, I'm not sure you'll appreciate this book in the way it should be appreciated. At least, I don't think that I did.

There are two excellent stories in this book. Lurie is telling the story of his life to some named "Burke." He is an immigrant from Ottoman Herzegovina who father died when he was just six years old. He spends the rest of his life surrounded by characters who aren't doing him any favors, from Coachman, who has him stealing bodies from graves, to Donovan Mattie with whom he soon becomes an outlaw. Lurie can see the dead and their desires and a marshal who will not give up pursuing him mean that Lurie can never settle down. His life is one of adventure.

Nora's life is not. Although she has felt "unbounded" by her husband's moving them from town to town, she is, when we meet her, settled and is fighting to stay that way. She is fighting with her husband, with her sons, with the bad-guy cattle king who is trying to take everyone's land. The thing is that Nora can't leave Amargo because the spirit of her daughter is there, a spirit Nora talks to regularly; Nora is certain that Evelyn's spirit will not come with her if she has to leave. Nora is not a likable character and you know how fond I'm growing of unlikable characters. She is heartless with her children, rude to her neighbors, and not entirely reliable.
"Nora had gone to considerable lengths to steel herself for the life into which she’d followed [Emmett]. This had required hardening…. Even if she had wanted to remain soft, the work would not allow it. Two people at full strength could barely manage all the chores of a homestead: plowing, sowing, raising fence. And if Desma, if her own mother…were hard women, then Nora must be, too. It must never be said of her that she had succumbed to the trials of her life and had to be gentled back to some easier state of existence."
Unlike some books with dual story lines, I was equally engrossed with both. Will Lurie be caught? What will become of his friend, Hi Jolly? And who is Burke? I'd tell you but you really need to read the book to find out and to learn about how Obreht has used a little known bit if U. S. history to create this part of the book. But then we'd go back to Nora and I really needed to know what secrets she was hiding, where her husband and sons had gone, if she could manage to stop alienating those around her long enough to find water, and what in the world was the deal with the beast her son, Toby, and Emmett's niece, Josey, kept going on about.

Somewhere around half way through the book, though, I began to get antsy about how these two stories would come together. And I waited. And I waited. Guys, the book is almost done before that happens. Then things just start happening at a breakneck pace and the book ends in a way that had me, at the time I listened to it, feeling like Obreht had not been sure how to end it and come up with something of an easy out. On retrospect, I'm not sure that's the case but  then I'm left wondering what in the hell happened at the end? Which, I suppose, is a preferable feeling.

The book is filled with really interesting characters, although I was left wishing that more had been made of some of them. The landscape and settings come alive and I'm not making it up when I tell you that reading about that drought and the family running out of water had me feeling parched. Obreht writes beautifully and I loved her descriptions of people and places. Is it a perfect novel? Maybe not but the more I think about it, the more I like it and the fact that Obreht managed to write a Western that had untraditional central characters, especially Burke.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Life: It Goes On - March 22

Last week we, in Nebraska, were just starting to feel the effects of CoVid19. I was scared and my anxiety was on high. And I had no idea what was coming. We have not yet reached the point that so many of you are already at but it feels like we are not far behind you. Miss H worked in a restaurant and is now out of a job; fortunately, she had not yet moved. The rest of us continue to work. My campus is almost entirely empty but we still need some people to go into the office; I'm one of them. There's a part of me that wishes I could just work from home but another part of me that very much appreciates still having some routine. They're doing a great job of keeping the place very clean and I feel, as much as I can right now, safe.

From what I've learned this morning, in watching a lot of really smart people, we are probably looking at life this way for another six weeks before the virus starts to slow down. That's a really long time for me not to get to seem my parents or my kids in Minnesota or my great-nieces and great-nephews who are growing up so fast. But it's a small price to pay to keep all of those people I love safe. I'm so hoping that you will all feel the same way.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I've been listening to a lot of music this week. I found I couldn't stay focused on podcasts. Friday I did finally download a book. We'll see if Cokie Roberts can keep my focus.

Watched: Friday night we watched what we thought was a video released by Lin Manuel Miranda of a performance of Hamilton. It turned out to be a video that was taken without permission and I feel a bit guilty about watching it. On the other hand, it was the perfect distraction. Last night we watched Frozen 2.  Have any of you watched it? We thought it was so dark and the plot too complicated for young children.

Read: I'm having trouble focusing on books as well and really having to push myself to read a few pages at a time. The book I'm reading now, Hell Or High Water, is a library book which now doesn't have to be returned any time soon and I may set it aside for a bit as it's really dark. I'm thinking something lighter would be better.

Made: My own disinfecting spray with Clorox, my own Clorox wipes, and my own hand sanitizer with rubbing alcohol and aloe vera. I may not be able to control the outside work, but my house has never been more germ free!

In the kitchen, today I'm making pork chops in the Instant Pot. I'd almost forgotten I had it, to be honest.

Enjoyed: Take out pizza last night. We're so stocked up on food but we're trying to find ways to help out local businesses.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On catching up on 40 Bags In 40 Days. It's another thing I couldn't stay focused on last week but I'm back on it this weekend and I've knocked out five bags so far in two days.

Thinking About: We've got some plans to move some gardens and that work can get started this week with warmer temps.

Feeling: Grateful to my parents' neighbors who are watching over them and treating them like the precious jewels that they are. Also feeling grateful to Mini-me's employers who allowed him to step away from work while this virus is a threat; he is immuno-compromised and I've been so worried about him.

Looking forward to: Family FaceTime tonight with all of my kids.

Question of the week: What ways have you found to keep your sanity through all of this?

Thursday, March 19, 2020

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Published 1960 by J. B. Lippincott & Co.
Source: checked out from my local library

Summary:
A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father—a crusading local lawyer—risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

My Thoughts:
The first time I read this book was about eight years ago as part of my failed effort to read 50 classics in five years. I was concerned then that I wasn’t the target audience, that I had missed my chance to love this book as so many do. I was wrong. It’s one of the few books I keep after reading with the idea that I may one day reread them. I rarely do. I have a fear that upon reread many of them will not live up to my memory of them, that much of their appeal is in the initial impression. To Kill A Mockingbird (TKAM) would likely have suffered the same fate were it not for my book club.

Every year we read one classic and one nonfiction book. This year I decided to have us read TKAM for our classic so that we would have a greater understanding of Lee going into our nonfiction selection, Casey Cep’s Furious Hours. I briefly considered not actually rereading the book myself, figuring it hadn’t been that long since I first read it and that some prep work for our discussion would bring me back up to speed. I’m so glad I didn’t do that.

This time because I was reading with the intent of being able to discuss the book, I read more intentionally. What are the themes of the book, what are the symbols Lee uses, how do the characters grow and change, does the story sound like it was written from a young girl’s perspective, is this book a good exploration of racism, and is this book a good choice for schools to use?

Let’s address that last question first. This is a beautifully written book that portrays a particular time and place and the people living there. But that alone is not cause to teach the book. TKAM abounds with racial slurs which are certainly time and place accurate, but the question’s been raised as to whether or not young black people should have to read that in the school books. As a white person of a heritage that’s never had to deal with ethnic slurs, I don’t know that I, or any of my peers, are the people who should be making that decision. A more recent concern raised is that, in this book, a young woman lies about being raped. Does this perpetuate the idea that women lie about rape and is that an area teachers will need to address if they are using this book? Because the young woman has falsely accused a black man, if we are going to teach this book, should we also be doing follow up teaching of real life cases like this? If we choose not to use this book to educate our children about racism, are we censoring the book or are we just making different, better choices?

Given all of that, is it even a good choice for adults? I’d like to think (although I know it’s not true but I like to live in a bubble sometimes so let’s just stay there for now, shall we?) that adults will understand that this is a book about racism written by a white woman and told from the perspective of a white person. The black people in the book have no agency; we don’t get to see how racism really affects them. But it’s a starting point, as one would hope it is a starting point for young Scout. Now we need take the next step and read books about racism told by people who actually experience it every day. Read The Hate U Give, The Underground Railroad, Men We Reaped, Between The World and Me, or anything by Langston Hughes or James Baldwin.

I’ll put away my soap box now because, as I said, I still love this book in no small part because of the other things Lee explores - moral education, good versus evil and the impact evil has on the innocent, the judicial system, and social inequality. I love her use of Gothic elements throughout the book and the symbolism of the mockingbird as innocence.

On reread, Lee’s writing still impresses; I’d almost forgotten just how good it is. Her descriptions of Maycomb, the South, and its people are magnificent.
“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop . . . [s]omehow it was hotter then . . . bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum. . . . There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people: Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.”
And can't you just imagine a young child saying this about their parent? I vividly remember being six-years-old and being aware that my mom, at 33, was older than the other kids' moms.
"Atticus was feeble; he was nearly fifty. When Jem and I asked him why he was so old, he said he got started late, which we felt reflected upon his ability and manliness. He was much older than the parents of our school contemporaries, and there was nothing Jem or I could say about him when our classmates said, "My father..."  
I encourage you to read To Kill A Mockingbird if you haven’t already, for its beautiful writing, for its portrayal of a small town and coming of age and the death of innocence. It is not without flaws, but if you go into it eyes wide open, I think you’ll understand what those are and still be able to appreciate what Lee has done.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Shape of Family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

The Shape of Family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Published March 2020 by William Morrow
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
The Olander family embodies the modern American Dream in a globalized world. Jaya, the cultured daughter of an Indian diplomat and Keith, an ambitious banker from middle-class Philadelphia, meet in a London pub in 1988 and make a life together in suburban California. Their strong marriage is built on shared beliefs and love for their two children: headstrong teenager Karina and young son Prem, the light of their home.

But love and prosperity cannot protect them from sudden, unspeakable tragedy, and the family’s foundation cracks as each member struggles to seek a way forward. Jaya finds solace in spirituality. Keith wagers on his high-powered career. Karina focuses relentlessly on her future and independence. And Prem watches helplessly as his once close-knit family drifts apart.

When Karina heads off to college for a fresh start, her search for identity and belonging leads her down a dark path, forcing her and her family to reckon with the past, the secrets they’ve held and the weight of their choices.

The Shape of Family is an intimate portrayal of four individuals as they grapple with what it means to be a family and how to move from a painful past into a hopeful future. It is a profoundly moving exploration of the ways we all seek belonging—in our families, our communities and ultimately, within ourselves.


My Thoughts:
This is such a tough book to review without giving too much away. It's always hard to read about a family falling apart.Suffice to say, it's a punch in the gut...again and again. It was almost too much for me to handle, at time; some of it struck too close to home.

Gowda tells her story from each of the family member's point of view so we have the opportunity to see how the tragedy affects each of them and how it tears them apart just when they so desperately need each other. In that way, it feels very real. Gowda does, as one might expect in a work of fiction, show each of her characters battling specific issues, every one of them finding their way through self-destructive excesses.

Karina is a bright, driven young woman who struggles with both her grief and her identity. Her ethnicity weighs heavy on her growing up in California where her looks and family make her different. She spends her first 18 years with only one real friend and never dates. When she takes that background, the family tragedy, and the collapse of her family to college it's not surprising that she is quickly caught up when she finally feels she's found her people and love. But she hasn't left her pain behind and she spirals out of control.

While it sometimes felt like Gowda fell back on stereotypes and may have tried to cover too many themes, this is a book that pulled me into the story and kept my attention. I can't help but wonder how I might have felt if I'd read this book at a different time, at time when the world wasn't spinning out of control and I could better handle a book with so many heavy themes.

For other opinions, check out the full tour. You might also want to look it up reviews on Goodreads; people reviewing it there loved this book, especially Gowda's fans. If you've loved her other books, I think you're going to love this one, too.

Shilpi Somaya Gowda was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Her previous novels, Secret Daughter and The Golden Son became international bestsellers, selling over one million copies worldwide. She holds an MBA from Stanford University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was a Morehead-Cain scholar. She lives in California with her husband and children.

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

Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Life: It Goes On - March 15

One year ago, almost exactly, I posted here a picture of the road closures in Nebraska due to massive flooding saying that it made it look like Nebraska was closed. How ironic that one year later it would feel like the entire country is closing. My Sunday title feels a little bit off this week; right now it doesn't really feel like life is going on. My anxiety went through the roof this week after I ran errands and I'd certainly feel safer if we could realistically just shut down the country for a couple of weeks. Plus, imagine how much you could done around your house and how much you could read if you had two weeks without work and nothing on your calendars!

Last Week I:

Listened To: Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland - so good and I loved the reader, Matthew Blaney.

Watched: It's fund raising season for public television so we've watched a lot of good concerts and shows on the two public t.v. channels we get. I'm trying my best to watch only enough television to keep myself informed and up to date but not so much that I spend the day panicked.

Read: I finished Nothing To See Here and started The Bullet Journal Method, after seeing Natalie of Coffee and A Book Chick reading and talking about it on Instagram. I've been doing a version of a bullet journal for three years and I'm eager to see how I might make it work even better for me.

Made: Yesterday we were supposed to be having an 85th birthday party for my daddy for family and their neighbors. Reluctantly, we cancelled, choosing not to put them at risk with so many people in their house. But The Big Guy and I went in last night to have dinner with them and I made him a Sour Cream Rhubarb pie, a new-to-me recipe. My dad loves pie and rhubarb so it was perfect for him!

Enjoyed: Book club Tuesday night - we had a good discussion about To Kill A Mockingbird but even more important, we spent time with friends.


This Week I’m: 

Planning: Catching up on 40 Bags In 40 Days. I've fallen behind a bit what with having had a cold and other things going on. 

Thinking About: My new job. Oh, yeah - that thing I told you last week that I'd tell you about if it amounted to anything? It did. I was offered and accepted a new position with my company on Tuesday. I'm meant to be transitioning to that position beginning on Monday but that department can largely work from home so I don't know if there will be anyone there to start training me. It could be a while before I actually start that work.

Feeling: Wary. Anxious. Trying to be calm but I'm most concerned for Mini-me, who is immune compromised. I'd just like to be able to seal him off from the world for a few weeks.

Looking forward to: Warm weather. This will die down then, right? Plus dinners and reading on the patio.

Question of the week: What are you doing to keep your family safe and how are you doing mentally with all of this?


Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Read by Shvorne Marks
Published March 2019 by Gallery/Scout Press
Source: audiobook from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places...including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth.

As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”—all of the questions today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer them for her.

My Thoughts:
Review after review has compared this book to Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary. It’s true that both Bridget and Queenie are young women struggling with their careers and dating in London, both supported by a group of loyal friends. But, whereas the Bridget Jones book are meant as funny romantic larks, Queenie has so much more depth and a darkness to it that Bridget Jones is almost entirely lacking.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Bridget Jones. But while you will laugh along with Bridget and hope that she’ll find true love in the end, you’ll want to wrap your arms around Queenie and beg her to treat herself better, to love herself more. And Queenie gives readers something new – a British heroine who is not only black but the granddaughter of Jamaican immigrants. It allows Carty-Williams to explore what it’s like to be a black woman, what it’s like to part of a family with roots still deeply in their immigrant roots, and what it’s like to watch your history slowly being eaten up by gentrification.

The Guardian calls Queenie “breezy” and “amusing.” Truly, there are parts of this book that are very amusing (Carty-Williams has a wicked sense of humor), but breezy it is not. Queenie’s problems with nightmares, low self-esteem, and terrible choice in men stem not just from having “no space” for a woman like her but also from growing up with a stepfather who was so abusive that her mother…well, I’m not going to tell you what her mother did, I don’t want to ruin the book, but it will break your heart. And Queenie doesn’t just hook up with the kind of poor choices we usually see in rom-com’s; she hooks up with a lot of really awful men. When Queenie finally decides to go to therapy (much to her grandmother's consternation), so many people have already dumped on her that you sort of expect therapy to go just a poorly as everything else in her life. But Carty-Williams is not entirely heartless.

I’m sure this book is absolutely marvelous in print but, if you have the chance, you really should listen to it instead. Shvorne Marks does an incredible job reading the book. You can't really race through an audiobook (well, you can but then it sounds like so many chipmunks and no one can take that for long) so you just have to make ways to listen more often. Let's just say that I spent a lot of time with earbuds in, ignoring my family while I was listening to Queenie.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Long Bright River by Liz Moore
Published January 2020 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher’s Summary:
In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don't speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling. 

Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey's district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit—and her sister—before it's too late.

Alternating its present-day mystery with the story of the sisters' childhood and adolescence, Long Bright River is at once heart-pounding and heart-wrenching: a gripping suspense novel that is also a moving story of sisters, addiction, and the formidable ties that persist between place, family, and fate.

My Thoughts:
This book opens with a list of people you quickly realize have died as the result of drug use. The final two people on the list? “Our father. Our mother.”

The first paragraph of the first chapter:
“There’s a body on the Gurney Street tracks. Female, age unclear, probable overdose, says the dispatcher.”

And just like that Moore had me. She tugged my heartstrings and then she made my heart start racing. She never let up for almost 500 pages on either score.

It's saying something that Moore was able to keep me caring about these characters given that this is a book filled with characters that aren't entirely likable or sympathetic. But to paraphrase one of the characters talking about the pieces of a chess board, all people are capable for both good and bad. Despite everything that happens, Moore keeps reminding readers of this. Again and again, I would make an assumption about a character about a person being bad or good. Then Moore would make me rethink my opinions. That went both ways as Moore had some tricks up her sleeve that absolutely surprised me.

Because the book moves back and forth between "Now" and "Then," the tension surrounding the murders wanes when we are looking back into Mickey's and Kacey's history. But Moore has no problem amping it right back up when she is ready to do that. I spent a good deal of time worried about Mickey's safety and was clueless about who the murderer might be. Now, if you read a lot of murder mysteries, you might catch wise before Moore revels the identity or if you're familiar with the idea of Chekov's gun. But then Moore throws a lot of red herrings into the waters to throw readers off. If you read this one, I hope you'll let me know when/if you figured it out.

Back to that very first sentence of my review. While this is a book about trying to catch a killer and about the relationship between these sisters and their family, it's the drug epidemic that surrounds it all. For me, that's where the book really excels. Moore has done a lot of research and it shows. She doesn't glamorize drug use nor does she pass judgment on those who have become trapped in that life. Addiction is a topic that I'm very familiar with and I saw in these characters people I have met. I have heard those people take about the demon of addiction. I have talked to people who have been through rehab more than once and seen those people relapse and then fight their way back. I saw those characters in this book and I appreciated that Moore wrote about them in a way that was sympathetic and honest.

I feel confident in saying that this book will be in my top ten at the end of 2020. It's a book I'll be thinking about for quite a while.




Sunday, March 8, 2020

Life: It Goes On - March 8

Happy Daylight Savings Time! This girl loves her long evenings so I'm more than happy to give up an hour of sleep last night to have them. It's going to be so warm here today that, with the longer evening, I think we might just eat dinner on the patio, even if it is just our usual Sunday evening popcorn, cheese, and fruit.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I had to race to finish Tea Obreht's Inland before my library loan expired and then I started Patrick Radden Keefe's Say Nothing. First of all, I'm sure it really is a good book in print; but, holy moly, I'm sort of wishing Irish people read all audiobooks.

Watched: Manchester Park, again. When it was over, The Big Guy said "thank heavens." Folks, I'm not sure I can remain married to a man that says that about a movie based on a Jane Austen book. I'll keep you updated as the situation develops.

Read: I finished Mary Doria Russell's The Women of the Copper Country and I'm finishing Kevin Wilson's Nothing To See Here this morning. If you'd asked me before I started both books, I would have said without hesitation that I would probably like the Russell book better. Nothing against that book, but I raced through Nothing To See Here. I'm not sure that it's right to say I was delighted by a book about children that start on fire but I was.

Made: Not a whole lot. Again. Partly because, oh boohoo, we were eating birthday dinner leftovers for a couple of days. Partly because I've been battling a cold and nothing sounded good. Maybe this week I'll get my mojo back.

In theory, I'd iron those napkins.
But I probably won't!
Enjoyed: Playing around with some spring decor. Although the dining room is as far as I got before I got sick.


This Week I’m: 

Planning: On getting caught up on 40 Bags In 40 Days this week. I didn't get much done while I didn't feel good (and also couldn't lean over without my nose dripping!). Luckily, BG chipped in a couple of bags so I did still get 4 bags out. 

Thinking About: Changes. I don't like to make them but sometimes they're necessary. So I'm working on ways to make the upcoming changes in my life easier on me.

Feeling:  Anxious. I did a thing last week that I can't tell you about yet. Not even you, Mom, so don't ask. If it works out, I'll tell you about it. If it doesn't, we never had this conversation!

Looking forward to: Dinner with friends tomorrow night, book club on Tuesday, and celebrating my dad's birthday this weekend which also means that I get to see my sister.

Question of the week: What do you get a man who is turning 85 who pretty much has everything he wants?




Thursday, March 5, 2020

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

I know, I know – I’m supposed to be cleaning up the links I already have saved on Facebook. But the other day I had some time to play on the internet and I went down a rabbit hole looking at all things bookish and I found some fun stuff.

First up was something that ties two things I love together – We Are Bookish posted these Book Recommendations for Our Favorite This Is Us Characters. As for the big screen, We Are Bookish also has this list of 2020 Adaptations We Can’t Wait To Watch.  I’m especially looking forward to seeing the new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma and feel like it might just be time for a re-read of that one.

You can learn more about this adaptation of Emma in this article from Literary Hub which talks about the how this latest adaptation tells the story with a modern sensibility, particularly in its look and fashion. If you want to know more about the actual fashions in the age of Jane Austen, The Millions recommends Hilary Davidson’s Dress In the Age of Jane Austen in this article about The Fashion of Jane Austen’s Novels.



The Guardian has put together 2020 in books: a literary calendar. It includes a lot of books to look forward to in 2020 as well as the dates literary prizes will be awarded and movie adaptations will be released and notable anniversaries and birthdays. The Millions is breaking the year in half; first up is their Most Anticipated: The Great First-Half 2020 Book Preview. Buzz Feed has this to offer for books in 2020 These Are Our Most Highly Anticipated Books of 2020.

Do you love these preview lists or do that make you, like me, a little sad as you realize that you will never have time to read ALL of the books you want to read?

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro
Read by Dani Shapiro
Published January 2019 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had casually submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her beloved deceased father was not her biological father. Over the course of a single day, her entire history—the life she had lived—crumbled beneath her.

Inheritance is a book about secrets. It is the story of a woman's urgent quest to unlock the story of her own identity, a story that had been scrupulously hidden from her for more than fifty years. It is a book about the extraordinary moment we live in, a moment in which science and technology have outpaced not only medical ethics but also the capacities of the human heart to contend with the consequences of what we discover.

Dani Shapiro’s memoir unfolds at a breakneck pace—part mystery, part real-time investigation, part rumination on the ineffable combination of memory, history, biology, and experience that makes us who we are. Inheritance is a devastating and haunting interrogation of the meaning of kinship and identity, written with stunning intensity and precision.


My Thoughts:
Can you possibly imagine being 54 years old and finding out that you aren't who you thought you were?

Raised as an Orthodox Jew and incredible proud of her paternal family's history, as a pale, blue-eyed blonde, Shapiro grew up feeling like she was looking for something. But even when she found out that she had no biological link to her half-sister, her father's daughter from a previous marriage, Shapiro still couldn't accept that she didn't look like her beloved Shapiros because she wasn't, biologically speaking, one of them. But a random conversation between her mother and one of Shapiro's friends years prior, suddenly made sense to Shapiro.

Her mother had admitted then that Shapiro had been conceived in Philadelphia but Shapiro had never been able to get anything more out of her mother. Suddenly Shapiro understood that her parents' fertility problem had pushed them to seek medical help at the Farris Institute for Parenthood. But Shapiro couldn't just go to the Institute for answers; it had been shut down a number of years earlier.

Because of this, Shapiro launched herself into research into artificial insemination and she spends a good part of this book looking at the ethical and legal ramifications of artificial insemination. But Shapiro was less worried about the ethical issues when it came to finding out more about where she came from. She found herself desperate to form some kind of relationship with the man who she discovered donated the sperm that resulted in her existence. Which, of course, brings up the question of what obligation he had to her. He had had not expectation, for more than 50 years, that he would ever be faced with contact from a child who resulted from his anonymous donation.

Meanwhile Shapiro was struggling with how she should feel about her parents. What did they know about her not being her father's daughter, or at the very least the chance that he might not be her biological father? Answers to that question where harder to find. Further, Shapiro agonized over feeling fatherless. If the man she had thought was her father was not her biological father and the man who was didn't want a connection with her, where did that leave her?

I found this book interesting on so many levels - the science, the ethics, the idea of what makes a family - but what really drew me in and held my interest was the personal story. I was a daddy's girl growing up and I can't imagine, at nearly the same age as Shapiro was when she found out about her paternity, finding out that he was not my biological father. In the end, I think I'd land exactly where Shapiro landed - the man who raised her, who she adored, he was her father.

Monday, March 2, 2020

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
Published August 2019 by Gallery/Scout Press
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.



What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.



Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.



It was everything.



She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

My Thoughts:
There was very little doubt in my mind before I picked up this book that Ware can write a mystery that will completely suck me into it. She takes the old tropes and always finds a way to make them unique and new. In this book she channels two of the greats, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Ballsy, right? While The Turn of the Key may not live up to those books, it’s a pretty impressive piece of work. I couldn’t put it down but I could hardly make myself turn the page for fear of what was coming next.

Most of this book is told through letters Rowan is writing to a Mr. Wrexham, a solicitor she is hoping to convince to take her case. She knows she’s made mistakes in the way she tried to explain things before, first to the police and then to her first solicitor. This time she is going to start from the beginning and tell the whole story so that Mr. Wrexham will know the whole truth before he decides if he will help her.

Rowan is, as you might already have guessed, not the most reliable of narrators. There’s a part of you that will be disliking and mistrusting her from the beginning. There’s another part of you, though, that can’t help but feel bad for her, more and more so as the book goes on. She’s in over her head from the get-go, with an infant and two young girls that aren’t particularly interested in doing what they’re told and parents who have to leave on business the day after Rowan arrives. If you’ve had any experience with children, you can just imagine what that would be like. Then you throw in the fact that Rowan is trying to care for these difficult children while cameras throughout the house are watching her every move. Ware even throws in a housekeeper who doesn’t care much for Rowan (oh, hey there Mrs Danvers). Now let’s amp things up a bit – the “smart” app starts acting crazy, there are pacing footsteps above Rowan’s room at night – but she’s on the top floor, there’s an actual poison garden (yep, I see you Frances Hodgson Burnett), and the family’s teenage daughter arrives home from boarding school and she is really not a fan of the new nanny.

It’s not flawless. Honestly, if Rowan would have been awakened one more night in a row by a noise, I’m not sure I could have gone on, there are some loose ends that never get tied up, and I tired of being reminded of how the two parts of the house were so very different. But by the end of the book, I could not have cared less about those things.

Ware makes readers look this way and then that trying to figure out what’s going on around the house and what’s Rowan’s real reason for taking the job and sticking around when any sane person would have run after the first night. Maybe those of you who read books like this regularly will have figured out all of the mysteries before the end of the book but I was completely blindsided. As I got within 100 pages of the end of the book, I was stymied. It felt like there should be more; I couldn’t imagine how Ware was going to get this story finished in what was left of the book. The answer to that was just one of the big surprises at the end of the book. I finished the book sitting in my car during my lunch break and got back from lunch late because I had to take a few minutes to process what I’d just read. This might just be my favorite Ware book yet. Yeah, it’s that good.


Sunday, March 1, 2020

Life: It Goes On - March 1

Happy, happy birthdays to our girls! We'll celebrate Miss H's 25th with a family dinner tonight. Wish Ms. S and our son could be with us so we could celebrate with her as well!

Guys, I think spring is really here - geese are flying north, we've had two great, warm weekends in a row, and the forecast is great for the next week and a half. I got up yesterday, looked at one of the trees I still had up and decided I was tired of it and all of the other winter decor so it's all down and boxed away until next winter. When I'll get around to putting anything else up on the mantle is anyone's guess!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I'm enjoying Tea Obreht's Inland but at the moment it's like listening to two different books at the same time. I'm assuming the two story lines will come together some time.

Watched: We're enjoying the new season of The Voice. It feels like they're trying to push some rock singers into play and we're hoping they get a better mix this year.

Read: I finished Simon Jimenez' The Vanished Birds and I've started Mary Doria Russell's The Women of Copper Country. Jimenez' book reminded me of how much I loved Russell's The Sparrow, so I decided it was time to pick up something else of hers.

Made: I made the best nachos the other night! Unfortunately, I have no idea how to make the right amount of anything for two people so we ate leftover nachos on soggy chips the next night. I've got to work on that! Today I'm making lasagna for the birthday dinner and a chocolate toffee cake. It has an entire cup of cocoa powder in it - have you ever heard of that much cocoa in one recipe?!

Enjoyed: Mini-him spent last Sunday afternoon here for dinner and we spent a couple of hours looking at his pictures from his trip to Japan. We had so many questions because everything is so different there! He brought us back so many souvenirs including a lot of candy. Did you know that in Japan you can get KitKat candy bars in all kinds of flavors, including matcha tea? I was pretty excited to get a tote bag from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics!


This Week I’m: 

Planning: On continuing on with 40 Bags In 40 Days which started on Wednesday. I've finished what I planned to do in the kitchen, started on my office, and The Big Guy started on his clothes. Marie Kondo he is not - the only thing he's actually finished so far is his shoes. To be fair, he does have a lot of shoes and he did get rid of 7 pair so he gets a pat on the head.

Thinking About: My niece, who's a great adventurer, has been posting a lot on Facebook recently about taking chances. So I took one. If it works out, I'll keep you posted.

Feeling: Like I need an extra day in every week for all of the things I want to do. I've got a stack of library books to read, I've got some furniture painting I'm eager to get to, and I want to do all of the spring cleaning right now.

Looking forward to: Daylight Savings Time next weekend!

Question of the week: Who else is ready to plant flowers and eat on the patio? Or are you hoping for a little more winter?



Thursday, February 27, 2020

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - Historical Fiction

I clearly have a thing for historical fiction - a lot of the books I read in any year are, in some way, historical fiction. That probably explains why I have so many link related to historical fiction saved on Facebook. Time to get them sorted!

Off The Shelf offers this list of 9 Historical Novels That Offer New Perspectives of Our World. Included on the list is Jamie Ford's Love and Other Consolation Prizes; Ford's Hotel On The Corner of Bitter and Sweet is currently being adapted into a movie, which I'm really looking forward to seeing.

This one made me cry
repeatedly!
If your book club likes to read historical fiction, Book Bub has this list of 18 Fantastic New Historical Fiction Books for Book Clubs. A lot of book clubs seem to get mired down in World War II stories; this list only includes one book from that period and spans time and the globe.

28 Historical Fiction Novels That Will Make You Cry (hmm, maybe this should have gone into last week's post). As with some of the books in last week's post, I can attest to the sadness of quite a lot of these books.
lso from Book Bub is a list of

Yet another list from Book Bub gives us 26 Ridiculously Good Historical Fiction Books. It includes some of the same books on the previous lists but there are also some books on this list I've never seen before that look interesting.

Bustle has put together a list of 11 Historical Romances To Pick Up Instead of Re-Reading Pride and Prejudice (although I see nothing wrong with doing that either!). How beautiful is that cover on Chanel Cleeton's Next Year In Havana?

What are some of your favorite historical fiction books? Any that made you cry?