Monday, October 26, 2020

One by One by Ruth Ware

One by One
by Ruth Ware
Read by Imogene Church
Published September 2020 by Gallery/Scout Press
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Getting snowed in at a luxurious, rustic ski chalet high in the French Alps doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world. Especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a full-service chef and housekeeper, a cozy fire to keep you warm, and others to keep you company. Unless that company happens to be eight coworkers...each with something to gain, something to lose, and something to hide. 

When the cofounder of Snoop, a trendy London-based tech startup, organizes a weeklong trip for the team in the French Alps, it starts out as a corporate retreat like any other: PowerPoint presentations and strategy sessions broken up by mandatory bonding on the slopes. But as soon as one shareholder upends the agenda by pushing a lucrative but contentious buyout offer, tensions simmer and loyalties are tested. The storm brewing inside the chalet is no match for the one outside, however, and a devastating avalanche leaves the group cut off from all access to the outside world. Even worse, one Snooper hadn’t made it back from the slopes when the avalanche hit. As each hour passes without any sign of rescue, panic mounts, the chalet grows colder, and the group dwindles further...one by one.

My Thoughts: 

This is the fifth book by Ware that I've read and it's safe to say that I'm a fan. But I may have read too many of Ware's books in the past year (3) to fully appreciate her writing and to be unable to overlook the places where I feel like she's fallen back on things she's done before. We've seen Ware do the unassuming, dowdy young girl who has deep dark secrets; we've seen her do the chase scene between our heroine and the murder that goes on and on; we've seen her do a group of people trapped in an isolated location. 

Maureen Corrigan's review in The Washington Post raves about this one, particularly the ending. Kirkus Reviews calls the construction of this book "simply masterful." So maybe it's just me. After all, Corrigan has this to say about the ending: "The final section, where the last intended victim is locked in a ghastly battle of wits and endurance with the unmasked killer, has to be one of the most ingeniously extended plot climaxes in the suspense canon."

Ware uses dual narrators: Liz, the dowdy young girl who used to work for Snoop and who has been included in this trip because it turns out that she is very important to the company, and Erin, who works for the resort and who also has secrets she's hiding. Ware uses a little gimmick as she introduces each narrator which really started to annoy me and which only once gave any clue to what was happening in the story. 

I know all of this sounds like I didn't like this book at all, after telling you that I'm a fan. Actually, while this isn't my favorite Ware book, I did enjoy it and appreciated that way Ware middle part when the murders start, one person after another being killed in different ways, including one in a locked room. Ware has us looking at the each murder again and again, giving readers the clues they need to solve the mystery but throwing so many other things at us that it's hard to see the truth. And I really enjoyed the wrap up at the end, that part where the survivors come together; Ware still had a couple of surprises and moral dilemmas to throw at readers. 

If you're a fan of Ware's, and you haven't read three of her books in less than 12 months, I think you'll enjoy this one. 


Sunday, October 25, 2020

Life: It Goes On - October 25

Happy Sunday! It is cold here (30 degrees) and grey and yesterday we had to pull out all of the annual plants so the the yard looks bleak. What's worse is that we have snow in the forecast for later today/tonight. Y'all, this is why I don't get too excited about autumn - it so often lasts such a short time and the prospect of an extra long winter is daunting. Especially this year. So I'm trying to think of projects I can do that will keep me busy and make our home more cozy and less cluttered. How you may ask, can my home still be cluttered when I am forever decluttering? I wish I knew the answer to that question!

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time and now I'm listening to Motherless Brooklyn. We saw the movie adaptation and really enjoyed it and, so far, I'm enjoying the book as well.

Watched: My brother-in-law arrived Friday afternoon and is using our house as a home base through Monday. He and The Big Guy have watched baseball, football, and hours and hours of Alaska: The Last Frontier and Gold Rush. Not what I would ever pick but I must admit that I did get a little caught up in those people's lives. 

Read: I'm highlighting the heck out of White Rage so it's taking me quite a while to get through. I've also started Finola Austin's Bronte's Mistress, which is a good break for me from all of the heavy stuff. 

Made: I threw together a Mexican soup the other night; I really need to at least write down what I used because we both really enjoyed it. One night I made spaghetti sauce to freeze and today I made enchiladas. At least this cold has me cooking again.

Enjoyed: Book club even if we had to do it by Zoom. We had actually moved it back two days because it was supposed to be 76 degrees on Thursday. Supposed to be. It's going to take some getting used to again but at least we got to see each other and catch up.

This Week I’m:  

Planning:
I finished painting those chairs I was working on last week and will get the seats recovered this week. My office reorganization got sped up when my BIL arrived because the guest room was full of office stuff that needed to get moved. That meant that I didn't get as much of a chance to sort and toss as I went so after I finish up getting everything in place this week, I'll start going through stuff to try to create some breathing space in there.

Thinking About: Christmas. I know, I know - it's too soon. But I'm hearing that shipping is going to be really slow come December so I'm going to try to get Mini-me's and Ms. S's gifts ready and sent in the next couple of weeks. 

Feeling: Like taking a nap. These grey skies make me so tired!

Looking forward to: my 38th anniversary and my mom's birthday this week. 

Question of the week: Are you making any changes around your homes to make them pandemic winter ready?

Thursday, October 22, 2020

After The Flood by Kassandra Montag

After The Flood by Kassandra Montag
Read by Hilary Huber
Published September 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library as part of Omaha Reads

Publisher's Summary:
A little more than a century from now, the world has been utterly transformed. After years of slowly overtaking the continent, starting with the great coastal cities, rising floodwaters have left America an archipelago of mountaintop colonies surrounded by a deep expanse of open water. Civilization as it once was is gone. Bands of pirates roam the waters, in search of goods and women to breed. Some join together to create a new kind of society, while others sail alone, barely surviving. 

Stubbornly independent Myra and her precocious and feisty eight-year-old daughter, Pearl, fish from their small boat, the Bird, visiting small hamlets and towns on dry land only to trade for supplies and information. Just before Pearl’s birth, when the monstrous deluge overtook their home in Nebraska, Maya’s oldest daughter, Row, was stolen by her father. 

For eight years Myra has searched for the girl that she knows, in her bones and her heart, still lives. In a violent confrontation with a stranger, Myra discovers that Row was last seen in a far-off encampment of raiders on the coast of what used to be Greenland. Throwing aside her usual caution, she and Pearl embark on a perilous voyage into the icy northern seas to rescue the girl, now thirteen. 

On the journey, Myra and Pearl join forces with a larger ship, a band of Americans like them. In a desperate act of deceit and manipulation, Myra convinces the crew to sail north. Though she hides her true motivations, Myra finds herself bonding with her fellow seekers, men, women, and children who hope to build a safe haven together in this dangerous new world. 

But secrets, lust, and betrayals threaten to capsize their dream, and after their fortunes take a shocking—and bloody—turn, Myra can no longer ignore the question of whether saving Row is worth endangering Pearl and her fellow travelers.

My Thoughts:
Some years ago, I began picking all of the books for my book club. While I worked to make sure they were books that were discussion worthy and that I thought would appeal to the book club overall, I also only picked books that I wanted to read. Book club no longer became a place where I was pushed to read out of my comfort zone (even as I pushed the other members to do the same). 

Once a year, the Omaha Public Library (along with votes from the community) selects a book for Omaha Reads that the community will read together. They are always books written by Nebraska authors or set in Nebraska. They are not always books that were on my radar or that I would have picked up otherwise. The Omaha Reads books tend to be the only time my book club reads a book out of my comfort zone and After The Flood was no exception. It also proves that it's good to read out of your comfort zone sometimes. 

Yes, After The Flood is, like most other dystopian novels, a survival story. But it is also much more than that. It is the story of what a mother's love makes her capable of doing as well as a story of hope, trust, and secrets. While Myra is a complicated character, we are drawn to her out of pity (she has lost her mother, father, and grandfather to the floods - how could you not pity her?) but also because of her courage. She will do anything to protect the daughter she gave birth to on Bird (the boat her grandfather built in their attic) but is also willing to risk everything to save the daughter her husband kidnapped. 

But as I begin to see what Myra was capable of doing, I began to question just how much I should trust her. Was she a reliable narrator, when we know that she is lying to others? Myra is not the only one keeping secrets and all of them will come back to haunt the crew of the Sedna, the ship Myra and Pearl are saved by when the Bird sinks. 

While After The Flood is nowhere as unrelenting or a dark as Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Montag successfully builds mounting tension, fills the book with a level of violence that feels believable given the situation, and doesn't end her book happily-ever-after. But she leaves readers with hope. And, although Montag never explains what caused the world to flood, I can't help but believe it was caused by climate change, I need to be able to find hope in a future that oftentimes feels so hopeless. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Dawson's Fall by Roxana Robinson

Dawson’s Fall
by Roxana Robinson 
Paperback Published September 2020 by Picador 
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review 

Publisher’s Summary: In Dawson’s Fall, a novel based on the lives of Roxana Robinson’s great-grandparents, we see America at its most fragile, fraught, and malleable. Set in 1889, in Charleston, South Carolina, Robinson’s tale weaves her family’s journal entries and letters with a novelist’s narrative grace, and spans the life of her tragic hero, Frank Dawson, as he attempts to navigate the country’s new political, social, and moral landscape.

Dawson, a man of fierce opinions, came to this country as a young Englishman to fight for the Confederacy in a war he understood as a conflict over states’ rights. 

He later became the editor of the Charleston News and Courier, finding a platform of real influence in the editorial column and emerging as a voice of the New South. With his wife and two children, he tried to lead a life that adhered to his staunch principles: equal rights, rule of law, and nonviolence, unswayed by the caprices of popular opinion. But he couldn’t control the political whims of his readers. As he wrangled diligently in his columns with questions of citizenship, equality, justice, and slavery, his newspaper rapidly lost readership, and he was plagued by financial worries. Nor could Dawson control the whims of the heart: his Swiss governess became embroiled in a tense affair with a drunkard doctor, which threatened to stain his family’s reputation. In the end, Dawson—a man in many ways representative of the country at this time—was felled by the very violence he vehemently opposed. 

My Thoughts: Back in 2009, I read Robinson’s novel Cost and remember being impressed with the way she handled the difficult subject of addiction. I’ve thought a lot about that book in the past couple of years and wonder how my impression of it might be different now, given what has happened in my family. I can’t help but think that I might have been more impressed with Robinson’s work. But you know how loathe I am to reread a book, given how many books I have yet to read for a first time. So when this book came to my attention, I decided this was my way to give Robinson another try. I’m glad I did. 

Robinson mixes newspaper articles of the time and diary entries from her great-grandmother’s journals into her novel to great a wonderful blend of fiction and fact. Those pieces from her family’s history served to both set the stage for her story but also to move the story along. There’s an element of thriller to the book, a feeling that you are watching a disaster unfold without being able to stop it. Dawson believes himself a true Southerner but some of his beliefs put him at odds with those who were born and raised Southern while others put him at odds with the very people who will ultimately judge him. I appreciated that where Robinson might have sugarcoated her family’s story, only glorifying her great-grandfather’s success, she gave readers fully realized characters. That feels like that was essential in the end, but a less honest historian might well have crafted a work around so avoid the ugly parts of her family history. 

The hardcover book came out in 2019. A lot has changed in our country since then that, surprisingly, make this book more timely than it might have seemed initially. Dawson is a man of his time and place, a man that fought for the South in the Civil War and now living in Charleston in the aftermath of that conflict. He’s a man of strong principles and a moral compass that frequently puts him at odds with his newspaper’s subscribers. Sometimes those same principles are at odds with Dawson’s own beliefs, particularly when it comes to blacks, and that’s where this book seems to echo some of today’s rhetoric. That tied the book into other nonfiction books I’m reading that deal with the South in the years after the Civil War and I very much enjoyed seeing what I’ve learned set into a novel.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Life: It Goes On - October 18

 Happy Sunday! This morning I'm coming to you wondering about my sanity. Knowing it was going to get cold yesterday, we got together with friends for dinner on the patio earlier than usual. Nearly four hours later, we convinced ourselves to take off the blankets, move away from the fire, and call it a night. I was still cold when I went to bed a couple of hours later. COVID makes us do things we never would have done otherwise, folks! 

Earlier, before the temperatures dropped, I'd been outside for several hours working on one of two projects I'm working on right now and it was the perfect fall day. The Big Guy wanted to go for a hike but I knew I needed to take advantage of that time to paint outside while I could. I think I'm done with projects that need to be worked on outside for the year, another reason I'm sad about the change of seasons. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished Ruth Ware's latest, One By One. Not her best and I fear she's falling into a formula. Her fans won't be much surprised by the ending of this one. 

Sookie thought the food 
smelled good.
Watched: Pretty much the only things we've watched are sports, American Ninja Warrior, and Biden's town hall.

Read: I finished Dawson's Fall and will have that review up this week. 

Made: Pasta al fredo, wontons, salads...easy stuff. Thought I might have my cooking mojo back but it appears I don't. 

Enjoyed: Wednesday evening we had two couples over for an extended happy hour. Between us, we had so much food we didn't even need dinner. It was the first time the six of us have been together in months which is much, much too long! It was so good for my soul. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning:
On finishing painting the chairs I started yesterday and continuing work in my office. One of the walls that needs to be painted has been cleared off and I'll try to get that painted today so I can move shelves back onto that wall tomorrow. I've already conceded that this project is going to take much longer than I had originally thought. Like twice as long. 

Thinking About: Sourdough bread. I got two new starters this week and I need to find the time to work with it.

Feeling: Congested and slow. I think I caught a cold last week. How do you catch a cold when you wear a mask in public and sanitize your hands ever time you touch anything?

Looking forward to: Book club this week, although, sadly, it's going to have to be a Zoom meeting. 

Question of the week: How are you doing, really? 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Life: It Goes On - October 12

Happy Monday! We finally got the courage up to head out of town for a long weekend away and headed north to see my sister and her husband and only just arrived back a couple of hours ago, tired but feeling renewed. It was absolutely beautiful up there - we couldn't have timed it better for fall foliage. Although we couldn't stay with Mini-me and Ms S (did I tell you about the fire they had?), we also got to spend a few hours with them yesterday enjoying dinner and a fire. Everything in my suitcase smells like smoke after all of the time around fires this weekend but it was well worth it! 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: It was all about the road trip playlists on Spotify this weekend - mostly the NPR Roadtrip Playlist. 

Watched: A fair amount of sports in the background but that's about it. 

Read: As usual, I didn't read nearly as much as I thought I would in the car. I always feel guilty if I'm reading while The Big Guy is driving. 

Made: Some brownies to take with us that I probably won't make again. My sister made delicious meals for us: crockpot chicken potpie, instant pot lasagna, and a beer cheese soup that I would eat once a week.



Enjoyed:
 See above! All of those trees are at my sister's house. That's us in the middle, taking our annual sister picture. You'll notice that she kindly let me work on a project while I was there. It was almost as hard for me to leave a project unfinished as it was for me to leave my sister! But she knows exactly what to do from here on and my brother-in-law will get the final Danish oil coat on and the brass hardware cleaned up - can't wait to see it when it's finished. 

Of course, loved spending time with my kids, too. Mini-me whipped up a mean potato leek soup, Ms. S taught me some about sourdough bread and gave me some of her starter, we got to see the smoke damage from the fire (although we couldn't go in the room where the fire actually happened), and our grand pets were all happy to be loved on. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: My sis and BIL were getting rid of a bookcase (I have the mate already - they were built-ins in a lawyer's office and are at least a hundred years old) so you know I was happy to take that off their hands. It's going to go in my office and means I'll need to rearrange things quite a lot. But first I'll finally get around to getting those green walls painted white! My goal is to get it all put together by this time next week but BG is quick to remind me that my projects always take longer than I plan on them taking!

Thinking About: Going to bed early. Twenty hours of driving and three nights sleeping in beds that aren't mine have me longing to crawl into my bed early even if it means I'll be awake early. 

Feeling: Like I'm finally in the fall spirit. I might just join the R.I.P. Challenge after all. 

Looking forward to: Hoping for some warm evenings this week so we can catch up with friends. 

Question of the week: What did you do last week that brought you joy?


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Published October 2020 by Riverhead Books 

Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

It’s the season of Fallow, in the era of iron. In a northern misty bog surrounded by woodlands and wheat fields, a settlement lies far beyond the reach of the Romans invading hundreds of miles to the southeast. Here, life is simple–or so it seems to the tightly knit community. Sow. Reap. Honor Mother Earth, who will provide at harvest time. A girl named Devout comes of age, sweetly flirting with the young man she’s tilled alongside all her life, and envisions a future of love and abundance. Seventeen years later, though, the settlement is a changed place. Famine has brought struggle, and outsiders, with their foreign ways and military might, have arrived at the doorstep. For Devout’s young daughter, life is more troubled than her mother ever anticipated. But this girl has an extraordinary gift. As worlds collide and peril threatens, it will be up to her to save her family and community. Set in a time long forgotten, Daughter of Black Lake brings the ancient world to life and introduces us to an unforgettable family facing an unimaginable trial. 

And Now For Something Different: 

This being 2020, we have to do everything a little (or a lot!) differently these days. Authors can't travel to publicize their books; they can't get out to meet us and read to us from their books. So publisher's are having to think of new ways to get the word out about their latest books. For Daughter of Black Lake, that means a progressive excerpt for those who follow along with this TLC Book Tours virtual tour. To read the first excerpt, head over to Savvy Verse and Wit for excerpt number one. Today, I'm happy to bring you excerpt number two:

"But with Mother Earth’s visit, the ewes would lamb well, perhaps even produce a set of twins. Their milk would come in. Stinging nettle leaves would unfurl, ready for the cauldron, while the stores still held enough oats to thicken the broth. The cough that had plagued a newborn for two moons would disappear. The bog dwellers would begin Hope — that season of birthing, sowing, and anticipation — free of worry and disease. Purified.
As she searched for sweet violet, Devout thought of the wild boar that a bog dweller called Young Hunter had slain. He had been so arrogant on his return to Black Lake, calling out for men to help haul the carcass, recounting how he had tracked the boar three days, but never once pausing his story to give Mother Earth the praises he was due. Even so, Devout salivated. This Fallow, like most every other, bellies had seldom been full. 
In preparation for the evening, Devout and the other maidens would bathe and comb out their hair and leave it unbound to show their purity and youth, and clasp over their shoulders woolen dresses that smelled of the breeze rather than unwashed flesh. Then they would call at each roundhouse in the clearing, collecting offerings of honeyand wheaten beer and bread still warm from the griddle. Last, they would stop at the largest of the roundhouses and find, above the firepit’s lapping flames, the expertly roasted boar. The girls would set aside part of their haul — an old custom, staunchly followed by the bog dwellers, and not only on so hallowed a night. Of all they reaped, they returned a third to Mother Earth, payment for taking what belonged to her. And then, fingers slick with grease, they would swallow pork and bread and wheaten beer until their bellies grew taut. Eventually the boys would come, rattle the barred door, and demand to be let in for the dancing and merrymaking that would last until daybreak.  
She heard the snap of a branch behind her and whipped around to see a boy a year older than she was. “Young Smith?” she said."


For the remaining excerpts, be sure to check out the full tour, linked below. 

My Thoughts:

I've talked before about my guilt about how little I actually spend on books, given how much I love them and want the authors to be able to afford to keep writing. So when Buchanan reached some weeks ago, I decided I would buy this one because it was a given that I would read it. I'm a huge fan of Buchanan's and I've been waiting seven years for this, her third, book. So perhaps all I really need to tell you about this book is that you should definitely hit up your local bookstore, buy a copy of this book, and help keep the bookstore in business and Buchanan writing. 

In 2010, I read Buchanan's The Day The Falls Stood Still; and, in 2013, her second novel, The Painted Girls. My recollection was that I had really enjoyed them and a re-read of my reviews confirms that. In both, I was particularly impressed by Buchanan's ability to blend fact and fiction and by her research. In Daughter of Black Lake, she has done it again. Inspired by the discovery of a body now known as Lindow Man, Buchanan has crafted a story to explain why this man might have died in the way he died. Because of this, Buchanan looks at first-century A.D. Britannia from a different perspective than we're accustomed to reading. The Romans are not the only people capable of doing terrible things to people. 

Her books are always intimate looks at the people history so often forgets. Here she looks at the way the beliefs of the people informed their lives in every way, from the ways they honored Mother Earth to the way they revered the druids who led them. Here we have a group of people who have begun to appreciate the things that the Romans have brought to their land (olive oil, stone roads, tempered steel) and who have also begun to question the wisdom of the druids. 

In a novel of just over 300 pages, there is not room or time enough to fully develop everyone of them and the reviewer at Kirkus Reviews felt that was a flaw of the book (don't read that review, they're wrong!). But we rarely get a complete cast of fully developed characters; it's just not necessary to most story lines. Buchanan brought these villagers to life for me and made me care about them and their survival. What's perhaps more impressive (especially knowing how rarely I buy into magic in books), I was completely ok with the supernatural ability that Buchanan introduces in order to help move her story along.

I raced through this book. Even though I suspected the big reveal that happens late in the book, I still didn't really know exactly how it would play out. And I loved that Buchanan doesn't tie things up neatly but leaves readers with hope that our characters will thrive and be happy. 

Now, for that link to the rest of the excerpts (and other opinions about the book), follow the tour here every day to continue reading.

About Cathy Marie Buchanan 

Cathy Marie Buchanan is the author of the nationally bestselling novels The Day the Falls Stood Still and The Painted Girls. She lives in Toronto. 

Find out more about Cathy at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram

If you check out Buchanan's website, she goes into detail about the inspiration for this book - it's fascinating!


Monday, October 5, 2020

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People To Talk About Racism
by Robin Diangelo 
Read by Amy Landon 
Published June 2018 by Beacon Press 
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary: In this “vital, necessary, and beautiful book” (Michael Eric Dyson), antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo deftly illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility and “allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people’ (Claudia Rankine). Referring to the defensive moves that white people make when challenged racially, white fragility is characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue. In this in-depth exploration, DiAngelo examines how white fragility develops, how it protects racial inequality, and what we can do to engage more constructively. 

My Thoughts: Through research, personal stories, and examples, Diangelo (a race scholar and diversity trainer) addresses how racism has been engrained in us since this country was formed.
“[Thomas] Jefferson suggested that there were natural differences between the races and asked scientists to find them.”
“American scientists began searching for the answer to the perceived inferiority of non-Anglo groups. Illustrating the power of our questions to shape the knowledge we validate, these scientists didn’t ask “Are blacks and others inferior?” They asked “Why are blacks and others inferior?””
“Exploitation came first and then the ideology of unequal races to justify this exploitation followed.”
Over the ensuing decades, the courts have continued to uphold the inferiority of nonwhites. And while many whites have suffered from the ill effects of classism, they have always known that it was “better to be white.” Every time we’ve celebrated a person of color “breaking the color barrier,” we neglect to say that it only happened because whites allowed it to finally happen, implying there was only just now a person of color capable of achieving that level of success. “Narratives of racial exceptionality obscure the reality of ongoing institutional white control while reinforcing the ideologies of individualism and meritocracy.” 

“White resistance to the term “white supremacy” prevents us from examining how these messages shape us. Explicit white supremacists understand this.” Diangelo explains how the alt-right and white nationalists have spent thirty years reworking their messages to make them more palatable, to blend in. They’ve adopted messages against affirmative action, immigration, and globalism as veiled attacks on persons of color and, in so doing, have convinced a significant portion of other whites that their messages are valid and reasonable without those people even realizing the inherent racism in the messages. Diangelo also contends that millennials are every bit as mired in racism as the generations ahead of them and that claims of color blindness harm our ability to accept our own racism. 
'“White fragility”: the reaction in which white people feel offended or attacked when the topic of racism arises.”*
You know I’ve been doing a lot of reading this year about racism and working to educate myself on what it means to be black in this country. A lot of that reading has been uncomfortable, in no small part because it didn’t just call out white people in general, but me in particular. Diangelo takes it to a whole new level for me. 

She calls white people out on the ways we deny racism and how we, so often, make ourselves the victim when confronted about racism. I’m sorry to say that I saw myself frequently in her examples. I have even, once, fallen into the “white women’s tears” scenario Diangelo talks about, whereby a white woman, feeling attacked about being called out, starts crying, drawing the attention away from the person who was legitimately injured. 

Diangelo says that “it is common to feel defensive if you believe that you are being told you are a bad person.” She points to what she calls the good/bad binary that has reinforced our resistance to admitting our racism. We’ve been raised to believe that only bad people are racists and, not considering ourselves bad people, cannot accept that we have done anything wrong. What, then, can those of us who would like to make changes in the way we think do? We can’t define racism as only “a conscious intolerance of black people.” Diangelo says that we must “identify our racist patterns” and make it more important to interrupt those patterns than managing how we think we look to others. She has raised my awareness and given me the tools to be a better ally and a better person. Now I need to work hard to make them a part of my life, every day. 

“The value of “White Fragility” lies,” says the reviewer from The New Yorker, “…in its call for humility and vigilance.” *Publisher’s Weekly



Sunday, October 4, 2020

Happy Sunday! I was starting to type that it was chilly but sunny here today but then I realized that you don't need a Sunday Omaha forecast every week. I seriously need to think of a new way to greet you on Sundays! We're headed off shortly to have Sunday dinner with my parents. They are reducing the number of gardens they have to maintain and we are the lucky recipients of all of the landscaping blocks they no longer need so will be bringing more of those back with us. By the time we get all of them, we'll have blocks everywhere I've been wanting. I can't wait to see what it all looks like next spring when I get new things planted.

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Lots of music, which seemed to work better for me for working this week. I did start my book club book for this month, After The Flood, which is certainly unlike anything we have read before.

Watched: Sports, some of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Grace and Frankie, and Jack Ryan. The Big Guy is so tired of political ads that he finally agreed to turn off regular tv a lot of the time. 

Read: I had to take a break from Night Sleep Death the Stars (it's almost 800 pages long!) to read Daughter of Black Lake for a review. I'm not surprised to find myself really enjoying it - I always like Cathy Marie Buchanan's books. 

Made: I've got a pound cake in the oven right now. I'm making a twist on strawberry shortcake to take to dinner with my parents. 

Enjoyed:
 BG and I picked up a pizza last night and ate in our car while listening to a concert in a local park then went home and spent a couple of hours enjoying our first real fire of the year. I finally got to make the perfect toasted marshmallows!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I have lots of little projects to finish this week, including getting those boxes I was working on last week hung, continuing work on going through the boxes of keepsakes, and, hopefully, getting BG out into the garage to get it cleaned up before it gets too cold to do that. 

Thinking About: Mini-me and Ms S who are living in a hotel this week, following a small fire in a closet in their house. Everyone is fine, there wasn't much damage, but there was enough smoke damage to require a week's work of repairs. The lesson here is this: test your smoke detectors regularly, keep fire extinguishers on all floors of your house, and replace those extinguishers regularly. If my kiddos had not done all of those things, the damage would have been much greater. 

Feeling: Upbeat - I got my hair done yesterday (long overdue!), I rearranged some furniture this week which always makes me happy, the sun is shining and warm weather is returning this week, and I'm loving the impact all of these little projects I've been doing are making on the house.

Looking forward to: Hopefully a trip north this week, assuming my sister has sold her house and Mini-me and Ms S are back in their house.

Question of the week: Are you on team all-out-decorating-for-Halloween?

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Overstory by Richard Powers

The Overstory
by Richard Powers 
Published 
Source: checked out from my local library…twice 

Publisher’s Summary: The Overstory, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, is a sweeping, impassioned work of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of—and paean to—the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, Richard Powers’ twelfth novel unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. There is a world alongside ours—vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

My Thoughts: The New York Times called this book “magisterial.” Ron Charles, of The Washington Post, called it “fascinating.” The notoriously cranky (at least in my mind) Kirkus Reviews called it a “magnificent achievement.” It won the Pulitzer Prize, for heaven’s sake. So, while I had no idea what the book was about when I picked it up, I knew it was supposed to be great and I had high expectations. But this was one of those books that made me wonder what I was missing that made everyone else love this book so much. Thank heavens for The Guardian, whose reviewer seemed to feel much the same way I did: “Richard Powers’ novel has its heart in a fine place, but it works by browbeating the reader with lectures and daft melodrama.” 

There are nine, count ‘em nine, main characters in the story. Powers introduces readers to them in what seem to be short stories, each having, at least peripherally, something to do with trees. Eventually their story lines will intersect, some much more than others. It was impressive that Powers was able to create nine characters that I found interesting and unique and that I came to care about. But some of these characters interact in such a small way with the other characters that they might well have been in their own books (and those would have been interesting books to read). But, as the reviewer from The Guardian says, “There’s nothing…Power doesn’t spell out for us. If there’s a moral dilemma, the characters will pick it over. If there’s something to spot, it’s always clearly signposted.” I kept thinking about that old adage about writing, “show, don’t tell.” 

In fairness to this book, my feelings about it are colored by the fact that I read half of the book before it had to be returned to the library and then it was weeks before I got it back again. It’s hard to pick back up where you left off – details have been lost, it takes a bit to remember who is who, and feelings about the book have faded. I can’t be sure what my final thoughts would have been about this book had I read it straight through. Well, that’s not entirely true. 

Guys, there is a lot of information about trees in this book. How they grow, how they communicate, what they give back to the universe, and lists and lists of the different kinds of trees. I learned a lot about trees, no doubt about it; but, golly, it often felt repetitive and I reached the point where I was skimming over a great deal of it. Powers have felt that he needed readers to understand all of that in order for us to understand his characters’ environmental activism but I didn’t feel like I needed to get hit over the head with it. Which was another area where I felt like things got repetitive and, to be honest, preachy. Although the reviewer in The Atlantic does point out “Most Americans do not understand the perils of climate change – or of deforestation, clear-cutting, habitat loss.” I can’t really argue with that; maybe Powers is right to believe that people need to be schooled on what the loss of trees is doing to the environment. Unfortunately, I’m fairly certain that the people who most need to learn those lessons aren’t the kind of people who will read this book. 

One of Powers’ characters says, “The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” The reviewer for the Atlantic says of that, “There is a term for stories written with the purpose of converting minds to support a cause. And it is the opposite of literature.” Powers is clearly trying to convert minds with this book. If that is the opposite of literature, I’m back to wondering how this book won the Pulitzer.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Life: It Goes On - September 27

Happy Sunday! It's grey and rainy here - good thing we knocked out most of the outdoor projects yesterday when it was warm and sunny. Heading out the door shortly to have lunch with my parents and pick up some landscaping stones they are getting rid of - part of my next project! Because, apparently, I've got to have a project going at all times. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I'm listening to Robin Diangelo's White Fragility: Why It's So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism. This one picks up on some things the other books I've been reading lately brought up - the things that white people do and say - and explains why we are the way we are. Hint: we were raised that way. Which is not to say anything bad about our parents - very often they were teaching us things they thought felt were not racist. Heck, I did some of these things with my kids. Like saying "I don't see color" or hushing my kids when they were little and pointed out that a person was black, as though that were something to be embarrassed about. 

Watched: Lots of cooking shows, baseball, basketball, and, football.

Read: I'm working on Joyce Carol Oates' Night, Sleep, Death and Stars. I'm really enjoying it but, guys, it's really long and I'm feeling like I'm in desperate need of something light and quick when I finish this. 

Made: Homemade tomato soup for dinner tonight which will be finished with fried cheese curds instead of grilled cheese sandwiches. I also pulled out the bread machine for the first time in months. I think I'm the only person in the country that didn't take up bread making during the pandemic. 

Enjoyed: Perhaps just a little too much wine on the patio last night when we did our weekly get together with friends. But it was so much fun and just the kind of therapy that works best for me. 

This Week I’m:  


Planning:
On finishing up my latest project (my brother-in-law gave me some old, old kitchen drawers that I'm turning into wall hangings for one of the guest rooms which I'll change out seasonally) and continuing my work on sorting the things I've saved over the years for the scrapbooks that never happened. The goal is to get all of the mementos paperwork into that cabinet and out of the dozen or so boxes that it's currently in. It's a lovely trip down memory lane as I go!

Thinking About: Soups and breads. Now that I've busted the seal on fall cooking, I'm ready to get back in the kitchen and create.

Feeling: Even though the kitchen is giving me the fall feels, watching all of my beautiful potted plants slowly dying has been feeling blue. I'm off to get some mums to replace some of them to try to perk myself back up again. We'll see if I can keep them alive this year!

Looking forward to: Well, I was looking forward to a trip north next weekend but my sister had some very good news this week and it won't work for her any  longer and CoVid has gotten more active in Rochester, which makes visiting Mini-me and Ms. S more risky. So that trip's getting pushed back. I'm hoping that means that I can talk The Big Guy into cleaning out the garage. How sad is that that I'm looking forward to that. Can you say "middle-aged?"

Question of the week: Is it feeling like fall there yet? Are you breaking out the soups or pumpkin spice yet? 




Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult 

Published September 2020 by Random House Publishing Group

Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

Everything changes in a single moment for Dawn Edelstein. She's on a plane when the flight attendant makes an announcement: prepare for a crash landing. She braces herself as thoughts flash through her mind. The shocking thing is, the thoughts are not of her husband, but a man she last saw fifteen years ago: Wyatt Armstrong.

Dawn, miraculously, survives the crash, but so do all the doubts that have suddenly been raised. She has led a good life. Back in Boston, there is her husband, Brian, her beloved daughter, and her work as a death doula, where she helps ease the transition between life and death for patients in hospice.

But somewhere in Egypt is Wyatt Armstrong, who works as an archaeologist unearthing ancient burial sites, a job she once studied for, but was forced to abandon when life suddenly intervened. And now, when it seems that fate is offering her second chances, she is not as sure of the choice she once made.

After the crash landing, the airline ensures the survivors are seen by a doctor, then offers transportation wherever they want to go. The obvious option for Dawn is to continue down the path she is on and go home to her family. The other is to return to the archaeological site she left years before, reconnect with Wyatt and their unresolved history, and maybe even complete her research on The Book of Two Ways--the first known map of the afterlife.

As the story unfolds, Dawn's two possible futures unspool side by side, as do the secrets and doubts long buried beside them. Dawn must confront the questions she's never truly asked: What does a life well-lived look like? When we leave this earth, what do we leave behind? Do we make choices...or do our choices make us? And who would you be, if you hadn't turned out to be the person you are right now?

My Thoughts:

You might recall that not long ago I finally read my first Jodi Picoult book. Two things had put me off before that: the snobbish idea that good books cannot be written as fast as Picoult writes books and the idea that her books seem to always be about the latest "big" controversy. I still don't know that you could write the great American novel in a year but Picoult proved to me that you can write a book that will engross and entertain readers that quickly. And that if you can write well about whatever the latest big topic is, then it's good to write about those things in a way that will make people think about them. So we come to this book, which I was eager to read when it was offered to me. It is most decidedly not about the latest talking point. In fact, it is about two of the oldest subjects: love and death. 

Having not long ago read God, Graves, and Scholars, it was interesting for me to find myself back in Egypt, uncovering the mysteries of ancient burials. According to Wikipedia, "The Book of Two Ways is a precursor to the New Kingdom books of the underworld as well as the Book of the Dead, in which descriptions of the routes through the afterlife are a persistent theme. The two ways depicted are the land and water routes, separated by a lake of fire, that lead to Rostau and the abode of Osiris." Taking that as her starting point, Picoult has tied ancient superstitions with physic's theory of a multiverse. As explained by Brian, in the book, the idea is that every action has multiple outcomes and that each of them exists in a different universe. 

Picoult has structured her book so that I was never quite sure where in time I was or if I were reading two possible different outcomes which, instead of finding confusing, I found really intriguing. In her current life, Water/Boston, Dawn is a death doula, wife, and mother; in her past, Land/Egypt, she is a graduate student on the cusp of a major archaeological discovery and passionately in love with a fellow student. In both locations, Picoult spends a lot of time sharing with readers what she has learned about hospice work, quantum physics, and Egyptology. A lot. It was certainly interesting, and Picoult has done an incredible amount of research, but it often distracted from Dawn's story. 

Speaking of Dawn's story: you know the old trope where our two leads hate each other in the beginning and then end up falling in love? Yeah, that's Dawn and Wyatt. Unfortunately, that story's grown old for me and I have a hard time buying the idea that the guy that was a jerk in the beginning turns out to be Mr. Wonderful. Which is a problem here - we have to believe that Wyatt was so incredible that Dawn never fell out of love with him and I never entirely bought that. 

And yet...despite that fact that I felt like Picoult took a couple of story lines too far and that some of the plotting was predictable...I liked this book, to a large extent, I think, because I liked the structure and the idea of wondering what might have happened if. I appreciated that Picoult doesn't make either of the men in Dawn's life less than the other; both have their flaws but plenty of reasons for Dawn to be love them. Which makes the ending of the book unknown to readers and I really liked the way that Picoult left things open in the end. For fans of Picoult, I think you'll enjoy this one. 


Monday, September 21, 2020

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

Hood Feminism: Notes From The Women That A Movement Forgot
by Mikki Kendall 
Read by Mikki Kendall
Published February 2020 by Penguin Publishing Group 
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library 

Publisher’s Summary: Today's feminist movement has a glaring blind spot, and paradoxically, it is women. Mainstream feminists rarely talk about meeting basic needs as a feminist issue, argues Mikki Kendall, but food insecurity, access to quality education, safe neighborhoods, a living wage, and medical care are all feminist issues. All too often, however, the focus is not on basic survival for the many, but on increasing privilege for the few. That feminists refuse to prioritize these issues has only exacerbated the age-old problem of both internecine discord, and women who rebuff at carrying the title. Moreover, prominent white feminists broadly suffer from their own myopia with regard to how things like race, class, sexual orientation, and ability intersect with gender. How can we stand in solidarity as a movement, Kendall asks, when there is the distinct likelihood that some women are oppressing others? 

In her searing collection of essays, Mikki Kendall takes aim at the legitimacy of the modern feminist movement arguing that it has chronically failed to address the needs of all but a few women. Drawing on her own experiences with hunger, violence, and hypersexualization, along with incisive commentary on politics, pop culture, the stigma of mental health, and more, Hood Feminismdelivers an irrefutable indictment of a movement in flux. An unforgettable debut, Kendall has written a ferocious clarion call to all would-be feminists to live out the true mandate of the movement in thought and in deed. 

My Thoughts: Almost four years ago, I marched in the first Women’s March. Almost immediately, there was an outcry that the movement didn’t represent women of color. “What are they talking about,” I wondered. “Aren’t all of the things feminism has been fighting for thing all women want?” The answer, as it turns out, is yes…and no. Yes, all women should be fighting against sexual harassment and assault; but white women need to recognize that women of color suffer from this issue in far greater numbers. Sure, all women may want to see the glass ceiling broken; but white women need to acknowledge that they are in a far better position to benefit from that than women of color. And do you remember when being a feminist meant you didn’t shave your legs? It seems silly now (and, honestly, it was probably a silly gesture 40+ years ago), especially when you consider that women of color are far more concerned about basic survival than whether or not they can stop shaving their armpits. 

Some years ago, I decided to try to read more diversely. I picked up books by Asian authors, books set in Africa, books about minorities here. But it really wasn’t until this year that I’ve really started waking up to the fact that reading diversely sometimes means reading books that make me uncomfortable, that challenge what I have believed or wake me up to things that I had no idea were happening in this country. This is one of those books. I tend to get defensive when I start reading (I’m working on that), so it can take a bit before I stop defending and start listening. But it’s hard to argue with the idea that white women have been so myopic in their fight for equal rights that they’ve ignored the fact that millions of women don’t know how they are going to feed their families, receive subpar educations, don’t earn a living wage because of our minimum wage, live with violence daily, and watch their men being criminalized in disproportionate numbers. 

Kendall is, understandably, angry about what she feels like is a betrayal. And, let’s be honest, it’s not the first time that white women have left women of color behind to further themselves. White women wouldn’t have earned the right to vote when they did had it not been for the work of black women; but when push came to shove, white women saved themselves. Perhaps they promised to circle back and bring up their sisters; they never did. It’s easy to imagine that women of color feel like the same thing has happened to them again. Not only have white women not worked to pull up their sisters, a majority of middle-aged white women voted for a man who has done everything in his power to keep people of color down. 

Perhaps the best way to make change is to be in positions of leadership where doing that is possible but Kendall wants us to remember that too many women continue to suffer while white women try to climb their way up to those positions. Almost four years ago, millions of women captured the world’s attention by rising up and demanding change. We weren’t waiting then for our chance to be on top (although we were angry that we had just lost that) and we need to stop waiting now.



Sunday, September 20, 2020

Life: It Goes On - September 23

Happy Sunday! It's been a good week at Casa Shep. Lots of things to report enjoying and today will be more of the same. It's been cool here this week but the 80's are coming back this week and, while I know a lot of you are thrilled that fall is here, this girl is going to enjoy the warmer temps again. I did finally finish  swapping out the summer decor for fall and I may make a trip to the pumpkin patch this week. All of which kind of sums up both Nebraska's and my mindset in September!

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I did a double-time re-read of Furious Hours to prep for book club. It had been so long since I read it that I couldn't remember enough details to set up the game I wanted us to play so a re-read was in order. Then I started the Omaha Reads book for this year, After The Flood, which my book club will be discussing in October. 

Watched:
 Lots of sports, several episodes of Grace and Frankie, and last night The Big Guy, Miss H, and I watched Wine Country, starring Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. None of us was expecting all that much out of it but we were all in the mood for something light that none of us had ever seen before. Turns out this one had all three of us laughing...a lot. The 20 minutes or so fell a little flat and was predictable; but, overall, we all enjoyed it. 

Read: I finally finished The Overstory. I have very mixed feelings about this one. As so often happens, I don't get why it won the Pulitzer Prize. Yes, it's unique and makes readers think about our place in the universe, but...Well, the rest is for my review. 

Made: It's been a busy week and not much cooking has been going on. I made a chicken pesto bake which was a do-again meal. BG was on a roll in the kitchen; he made an apple pie with homemade crust (very good for his first solo effort at crust) and a loaf of what I will generously call sourdough "bread." Not sure what went wrong with that; knowing BG, he'll be trying it again sooner rather than later. 

Enjoyed: So much people time (now there's something you won't hear me say very often!). Tuesday was book club, Wednesday was happy hour with two of my besties, Thursday I went into work (I love, love working from home but it is nice to work with people once in a while), then Friday Miss H arrived for the weekend. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning:
On moving this beauty to its new home. My father-in-law built this library table when he was in high school, eighty years ago. Some of their family friends actually had it for a long time until BG talked them into giving it back to the family. Some years ago, when there really wasn't a good place for it upstairs any more, it got relegated to the basement where the kids used it as a desk. Sadly, the top took a beating and at one point, the back brace even got broken. It was a sad looking piece of furniture. A couple of years ago, my dad repaired it and last week I finally brought it out of the basement to get it cleaned up. The plan was just to clean up and restore the top. But, as all of my plans do, I decided to do more than I had planned, completely sanding it down to bare wood then bringing it back to life with just oil. Now it will serve as a vanity space in one of the guest rooms. I like to think that Jack would be pleased with what it looks like now!

Thinking About: Fall deep cleaning. Heck, I might even finally get the windows cleaned outside!

Feeling: Devastated by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was such an inspiration for so many, the first Jewish female on the Supreme Court, a champion of the common person and women's rights. 

Looking forward to: Lunch with Mini-him and Miss H then we're headed to BG's hometown for dinner with dear friends we haven't seen since March. 

Question of the week: I can't believe it took us six months to jump on the sourdough bread bandwagon. Have you one of the many who have tried their hand at making sourdough bread through this pandemic?


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn


The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

Read by Julia Whelan

Published November 2015 by Crown Publishing Group

Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:                                                                                        A canny young woman is struggling to survive by perpetrating various levels of mostly harmless fraud. On a rainy April morning, she is reading auras at Spiritual Palms when Susan Burke walks in. A keen observer of human behavior, our unnamed narrator immediately diagnoses beautiful, rich Susan as an unhappy woman eager to give her lovely life a drama injection. However, when the "psychic" visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan’s terror and grief, she realizes she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts anymore. Miles, Susan’s teenage stepson, doesn’t help matters with his disturbing manner and grisly imagination. The three are soon locked in a chilling battle to discover where the evil truly lurks and what, if anything, can be done to escape it. “The Grownup,” which originally appeared as “What Do You Do?” in George R. R. Martin’s Rogues anthology, proves once again that Gillian Flynn is one of the world’s most original and skilled voices in fiction.

My Thoughts:
One thing I've learned about Flynn at this point is that you never know where she's going and she's always going to make you feel uncomfortable. I picked this book up with no idea what it was about so while I was surprised to find out from beginning of the book that "Spiritual Palms" has more than one meaning, I also wasn't. Let's just say you don't want to be picking up your groceries when you're listening to the beginning of this story; the young man who brought out my order might have been a little startled. I must admit that I was also a little started and wondered where this one was going. I certainly didn't see a book that began with a young woman bragging about being the best at giving hand jobs turning into a haunted house story. 

Our unnamed narrator has spent her life doing whatever it takes to get by in the world. She's developed inside jokes with her regular male customers to make them feel like she's a friend and learned the tricks to make her female customers believe her readings. She's spent so many years doing whatever it takes to get by that she's confident in her ability to read people and get what she needs from them. So when Susan Burke walks in, our narrator soon becomes certain that she'll be able to "help" Burke in a way that will lead to bigger, more lucrative things, and, maybe, even a chance to be respected. 

This being Flynn, you know that things aren't going to work out quite that way. In fact, you know you probably don't have any idea where Flynn is headed. I certainly didn't which is what's alway so marvelous about Flynn's work. This being a short story, it's only about one hour long (64 pages in print) and I was impressed with how complete the story was, with complicated characters, a complete backstory, and plenty of action. Some reviewers weren't thrilled with the ending (endings might be Flynn's one weakness) but it seemed to me to be exactly what the story called for. The perfect little bonbon before I launched into another book that's going to make me feel uncomfortable. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and The Invention of Los Angeles by Gary Krist


The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and The Invention of Los Angeles
by Gary Krist

Published May 2018 by Crown Publishing Group

Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Little more than a century ago, the southern coast of California—bone-dry, harbor-less, isolated by deserts and mountain ranges—seemed destined to remain scrappy farmland. Then, as if overnight, one of the world’s iconic cities emerged. At the heart of Los Angeles’ meteoric rise were three flawed visionaries: William Mulholland, an immigrant ditch-digger turned self-taught engineer, designed the massive aqueduct that would make urban life here possible. D.W. Griffith, who transformed the motion picture from a vaudeville-house novelty into a cornerstone of American culture, gave L.A. its signature industry. And Aimee Semple McPherson, a charismatic evangelist who founded a religion, cemented the city’s identity as a center for spiritual exploration. 

All were masters of their craft, but also illusionists, of a kind. The images they conjured up—of a blossoming city in the desert, of a factory of celluloid dreamworks, of a community of seekers finding personal salvation under the California sun—were like mirages liable to evaporate on closer inspection. All three would pay a steep price to realize these dreams, in a crescendo of hubris, scandal, and catastrophic failure of design that threatened to topple each of their personal empires. Yet when the dust settled, the mirage that was LA remained.

My Thoughts:                                                                                                                                                  The more nonfiction I read, the more I find that I'm a gal of many interests I didn't even know I had. Thank heavens for people who can convince me to take a chance on a subject like the rise of Los Angeles, a place I've never even been. 

Krist's book focuses on how three people changed the course of history for Los Angeles. They are all three people I knew of but I had no real idea the impact they had on the growth of Los Angeles from a place that should have remained a remote town to the second-largest city in the U.S. Krist covers the period from 1900 - 1930 and moves the book between these three players. Each of their stories and each of their industries would make for great reading, especially in the hands for a storyteller as good as Krist. That they all came about as part of the growth of Los Angeles makes for a fascinating read. 

As Krist moved back and forth between the three industries - movies, water, and religion - I kept thinking that the one I was reading about was the most interesting. Which wasn't altogether surprising when I was reading about the movie industry; I knew a fair amount about it and have always found it interesting. And religion? It certainly can be interesting. But water and engineering? How in the world did Krist manage to make me interested in that? Well, there were intrigues, land battles, ruined friendships, and a major disaster, so there's that. But Krist also makes it about the players and the David and Goliath aspect of it all. 

Perhaps part of what made this book so compelling was that, while it was historical, it was also incredibly timely. The battle between urban and rural, the machinations of the media, the impact of technology, race, corruption, and the  influence of big money on politics, religion, and the movie industry are every bit as relevant today as they were in the 1920's. 

The Mirage Factory is clearly meticulously researched but it hardly even feels like nonfiction and it certainly doesn't feel like Krist is trying to force facts into the narrative, as so many writers do. Krist also wrote City of Scoundrels, a book I've had on my Nook for a long time; somewhere along the way someone had convinced me that a book about the rebirth of another city, Chicago, was worth reading. As much as I enjoyed this book, I'm really looking forward to finding time for that one soon. 



Sunday, September 13, 2020

Life: It Goes On - September 13

Happy Sunday! The sun is shining this morning and it's finally going to be warm again. We had to turn on our heater on Tuesday; it was rainy, cold and grey for five days. It was hard to make myself get up off the sofa and do anything. But I had only to turn on the tv or pick up my phone to know that I had it so much better than the people on the west coast.  Sending prayers for those who have lost so much, those in the path of the fires, and those fighting the fires and hope that the weather soon offers them some relief. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I have books ready to listen to but I just couldn't make myself start one. So I listened to a lot of music, including a French Cafe Lounge playlist I found. 

Watched: Basketball, baseball, and football. I'm so happy to have football back but so worried for the young men playing, knowing that some of them are literally putting their lives on the line. 

Read: I finally got The Overstory back from the library. So weird to pick up a book again, half way through it, weeks after you put it down. It took me some time to remember who was who. 

Made: Soups, homemade spaghetti sauce, salmon...and also grilled burgers, caprese salad, corn on the cob. It's a weird time of year in the kitchen!

Enjoyed: Lunch with my parents last Sunday, sometime with Mini-him yesterday, and a chilly evening with friends last night. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Because of the weather, I didn't get to work on any furniture last week so I've got a couple of pieces that I want to work on this week. But those may wait for a couple of days - I think I've got The Big Guy talked into cleaning out the garage today!

Thinking About: Making a trip north to see my kiddos and trying how figure out how to do it safely since it means traveling through states where CoVid numbers are rising, no matter which route we take. 

Feeling: Like I want to take a few days off to putter around the house getting things in order. Some people spring and fall clean. I get the spring and fall urge to organize and declutter. 

Looking forward to: Miss H's visit this coming weekend. 

Question of the week: How the heck are you all doing? Really, how are you holding up through this year that just seems to keep getting worse?

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Cover Reveal - Mary Kay Andrews' The Newcomer

You all know how much I love and fiercely hang on to summer. So even though it's September now, I'm not above looking forward to next summer just as summer 2020 has come to a close.


THE NEWCOMER by @Mary Kay Andrews will be making the scene next May as the first beach read of the season! It's never to early to start thinking about your summer 2021 reading! I know my sister, who is a big fan of Andrews, will certainly be adding this to her reading list. Hopefully, you'll even be able to sit on the beach safely next summer while you're reading this one! So, mark your calendars for May 4, 2021 when @St. Martin’s Press will release MKA’s 28th novel! Summer begins—and never ends—with Mary Kay Andrews! Pre-order NOW! http://bit.ly/TheNewcomerBook 

#TheNewcomer #coverreveal #summerneverendswithmka #tandemliterary 

 

SYNOPSIS: Letty can't forget her sister Tara's insistence: “if anything bad ever happens to me, it's Eli. Promise me you'll take Maya and run. Promise me.” With Tara found dead in her glamorous New York City townhome, Letty Carnahan is on the run with her four-year-old niece, Maya, in tow. Tara left behind one clue—a faded magazine story about a sleepy mom-and-pop motel on Florida's Gulf Coast. So, Letty and Maya find themselves at The Murmuring Surf—the suspicious newcomers amidst a quarrelsome group of snowbird regulars. As Letty tries to settle into her new life and heal Maya's trauma, she's preoccupied as her late sister's troubled past and connection to the motel are revealed. And then there’s that attractive detective and his unwelcome advances. Will he betray Letty’s confidence, or is he her next shot at love? 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Fire This Time edited by Jesmyn Ward

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race
edited by Jesmyn Ward
Read by Cherise Booth, Michael Early, Kevin R. Free, Korey Jackson, Susan Spain
Published August 2016 by Scribner
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
In light of recent tragedies and widespread protests across the nation, The Progressive magazine republished one of its most famous pieces: James Baldwin’s 1962 “Letter to My Nephew,” which was later published in his landmark book, The Fire Next Time. Addressing his fifteen-year-old namesake on the one hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Baldwin wrote: “You know and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon.”


Award-winning author Jesmyn Ward knows that Baldwin’s words ring as true as ever today. In response, she has gathered short essays, memoir, and a few essential poems to engage the question of race in the United States. And she has turned to some of her generation’s most original thinkers and writers to give voice to their concerns.


The Fire This Time is divided into three parts that shine a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestle with our current predicament, and envision a better future. Of the eighteen pieces, ten were written specifically for this volume.


In the fifty-odd years since Baldwin’s essay was published, entire generations have dared everything and made significant progress. But the idea that we are living in the post-Civil Rights era, that we are a “post-racial” society is an inaccurate and harmful reflection of a truth the country must confront. Baldwin’s “fire next time” is now upon us, and it needs to be talked about.


Contributors include Carol Anderson, Jericho Brown, Garnette Cadogan, Edwidge Danticat, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Mitchell S. Jackson, Honoree Jeffers, Kima Jones, Kiese Laymon, Daniel Jose Older, Emily Raboteau, Claudia Rankine, Clint Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Wendy S. Walters, Isabel Wilkerson, and Kevin Young.

My Thoughts:
Jesmyn Ward kicks off this book with a startling recollection from a visit she and some high school classmates made to the office of Trent Lott, then one of her state’s senators, in Washington.
“Trent Lott took a whip as long as a car off his office table, where it lay coiled and shiny brown, and said to my one male schoolmate who grinned at Lott enthusiastically: Let’s show ‘em how us good old boys do it. And then he swung that whip through the air and cracked it above our heads, again and again. I remember the experience in my bones.” 
Given Ward’s age, this must have been in the mid-1990’s. It is shocking to think that Lott found that behavior perfectly acceptable. James Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time that love would allow us to “end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country…” Sadly, more than 20 years after Wards encounter with Lott and almost 60 years since Baldwin’s book was published, Lott’s actions seem to speak to the way some white Americans still think about black people. Consider that this book was published four years ago, just as our first black president was finishing out his second term and just before we elected a president who has courted the kind of people who think like Trent Lott. Four years after it was published, this book feels even more timely.

Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah perhaps says it best, “If I knew anything about being black in America, it was that nothing was guaranteed.” Again and again, the names Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Abner Louima, and those killed at Charleston’s Emanuel Church are invoked as a reminder of this. But Ward also wants to remind us, “We are writing an epic, wherein black lives carry worth.” How sad that we need to be reminded.

The authors of these pieces want us to understand both points. Claudia Rankine writes about being the mother of black sons; Garnette Cadogan writes about how different walking as a black man was when he moved from Jamaica to New Orleans, where he suddenly was perceived by some as being a danger; Mitchell S. Jackson reflects on the father figures in his life, good and bad; Ghansah writes about being the first person of color working for an employer; and Edwidge Danticat writes about needing to have two conversations with her daughters to explain “why we’re here” and “why it’s not always a promised land for people who look like us.

The reading for this book is excellent; but, in listening to it, I did this book a disservice. If you were, say, sitting on your patio listening to a book while relaxing, sure, it would be great. But if you are listening to this book while you are doing other things (which I was), it will not have the impact it almost certainly would have had if you had picked it up and read it in print. I wish I had done that. I’ve had to go back and re-listen to a number of passages before I could write this review and it has made all the difference. This book deserved my full attention.