Sunday, May 31, 2020

Life: It Goes On - May 31

Happy Sunday! Can you believe that tomorrow is June? In so many ways that past few months have seemed to drag on and on. And yet, here we are, almost half way through the year. Maybe it's because, with almost no events on our calendars to mark off time, it just seems to disappear?

Last Week I:

Listened To: I'm listening to The Jane Austen Society right now for a review tour. As much as I love Jane Austen, I'm not usually a fan of spin-off books. But I took a chance on this one and I'm really enjoying it.

Watched: Last night we watched Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, and Antonio Banderas in The Laundromat. It was not what I expected at all but we both liked it. There are a lot of cameos in it, including Sharon Stone, James Cromwell, and Jeffrey Wright. Will Forte appears on screen all of about three seconds. Only a director like Steven Soderbergh could convince actors to do that!

Read: Guys, I'm still working my way through Gods, Graves and Scholars. I just can't make myself sit down to read for any period of time, even when it's as interesting as this is. I did also pick up Florence Adler Swims Forever which took a turn early on that I did not see coming and which made the book all the more interesting for me.

Made: That towel rack I was telling you about last week is finally made and on the wall! I'm not 100% loving the "hooks," but they really don't show once I have three towels up and they will work until I can find what I really want. Meanwhile, I like the look of it so much more than what we had!

Enjoyed: Friday night was gorgeous and my patio is nearly to where I want it to be so we had friends over. It's still weird to sit so far apart from each other, to not be able to share a bottle of wine, and to have two separate snack plates. But the guys played cornhole and we all enjoyed some s'mores so it felt a little bit more normal.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finishing up work on the patio (although the search for chair cushions continues - I want a certain look, he wants a certain price tag!). Then it's on to the garage for the annual "what the hell happened in here in the past year" clean up. 

Thinking About: The protests. I can't condone proper destruction; but I also don't know what you do with the kind of anger people of color are feeling. There are a lot of great things to read and watch out there and I highly recommend, if you want to understand, watching Trevor Noah's explanation.

Feeling: Nervous, angry, disappointed, sad, proud - it's been a weekend for all of the feelings.

Looking forward to: Celebrating my parents' anniversary today. Their wonderful neighbors decided that since they had been unable to celebrate their 60th anniversary a couple of years ago, they wanted to throw them a social distancing driveway anniversary party. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why my parents' neighborhood is the best!

Question of the week: How has all of this changed you? In the past two months, I have been in the salon once. I have not been in any other store. I almost went into the garden center of Lowe's yesterday but I couldn't make myself do it. Not when I saw that half the people going in weren't wearing masks to help protect me. I wonder when I will feel safe around people again.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston
Introduction by Deborah G. Plant
Read by Robin Miles
Published January 2020 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary: 
In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.

In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo’s past—memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.

Based on those interviews, featuring Cudjo’s unique vernacular, and written from Hurston’s perspective with the compassion and singular style that have made her one of the preeminent American authors of the twentieth-century, Barracoon masterfully illustrates the tragedy of slavery and of one life forever defined by it. Offering insight into the pernicious legacy that continues to haunt us all, black and white, this poignant and powerful work is an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.

My Thoughts:
A bust of Oluale "Cudjo" Kossola sits outside Union Missionary
Baptist Church, the church he co-founded in Africatown,
This is one of those small books that packs a big punch, especially when you take into account the "Introduction," which is essentially half of the book (which is why I included that piece in the book info piece).

That introduction raises some questions about Hurston's plagiarism in her initial research about interviewing Lewis. Hurston worked as an assistant to an anthropologist when she first tried to interview Lewis and got so little information from him that she "borrowed" heavily from other pieces without credit. It's a little crushing to learn that about an author you respect.

But Hurston was not done with Lewis's story and when she went back again, she came away with an incredible story. She made no attempt this time to simply be an observer; she befriended him. Hurston plied Lewis with peaches, watermelon, and a stipend provided by a patron. Mostly, she treated him respect and dignity. She referred to him by his African name, Oluale Kossola (Kossula) and let him led the way through his story. Although he'd told his story before, he had never told it in this way and it had never been written in this way; his words are written exactly as he spoke them. It makes the book feel much more as though you're sitting on that porch with Hurston and Kossola. What's more, it makes the story so much more moving and tragic. It's a good thing Hurston's actual work was only two hours of the audiobook; I'm not sure I could have taken any more.

It's a shame it took nearly 90 years for this book to be published. It's an important part of our history that deserves to be told.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

What You Wish For by Katherine Center

What You Wish For by Katherine Center
Published July 2020 by St. Martin's Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
Samantha Casey is a school librarian who loves her job, the kids, and her school family with passion and joy for living.

But she wasn’t always that way.

Duncan Carpenter is the new school principal who lives by rules and regulations, guided by the knowledge that bad things can happen.

But he wasn’t always that way.

And Sam knows it. Because she knew him before—at another school, in a different life. Back then, she loved him—but she was invisible. To him. To everyone. Even to herself. She escaped to a new school, a new job, a new chance at living. But when Duncan, of all people, gets hired as the new principal there, it feels like the best thing that could possibly happen to the school—and the worst thing that could possibly happen to Sam. Until the opposite turns out to be true. The lovable Duncan she’d known is now a suit-and-tie wearing, rule-enforcing tough guy so hell-bent on protecting the school that he’s willing to destroy it.

As the school community spirals into chaos, and danger from all corners looms large, Sam and Duncan must find their way to who they really are, what it means to be brave, and how to take a chance on love—which is the riskiest move of all.

My Thoughts:
This is my fourth Katherine Center book - I guess you could say I'm a fan. I've come to know what to expect from Center. There will be a love story, there will be great relationships between friends and family, there will be some heavy subject matter that never seems to weigh the book down, and there will be a happily-ever-after. Given the times we're living in right now, knowing that everything would be fine in the end is one of the reasons  I jumped at the chance to review this book.

As with all of her books, Center has filled What You Wish For with humor - Sam's best friend is a math teacher who wears t-shirts every day with math jokes on them, Sam dresses like Ms. Frizzell from The Magic School Bus, and the dialogue often felt like it was straight out of a rom-com movie. It's not all fun - Center tackles divorce, the struggles of having epilepsy, death, and school shootings. But Center never touches on the tough subjects without also offering hope. The message here is that we should all "pay attention to the things that connect you to joy."
"'What does joy have to do with anything?' 'Joy is important.' Was it? I don't know...[j]oy seems pretty expendable. But Max just smiled. 'It's one of the secrets to life that no one ever tells you. Joy cures everything.'...'Joy is an antidote to fear. To anger. To boredom. To sorrow.' 'But you can't just decide to feel joyful.' 'True. But you can decide to do something joyful.'"
Isn't that what we've all been trying to do lately? Having to decide to do something joyful? Center suggests that it can be as simple as wearing fun cloths:
"I wasn't hiding anymore. I was a lady with a flower hat now. Faced with darkness, I had chosen flowers. And polka dots. And light."
I loved that message; I needed that message right now. It was enough to keep me reading even though I didn't entirely buy on to the reason Sam left the school she used to work work and even when, at times, it felt like Duncan's and Sam's relationship went forward and backward a little too much. I cared about these characters and I wanted them to heal and find the happiness. And light.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Life: It Goes On - May 24

Happy Sunday! Ours is off to a rocky start - spent a good part of the past couple of days spray painting some outdoor furniture this lovely textured stone. Last night it rained. Turns out that spray paint is not waterproof. So I'm hiding indoors (because it was totally my fault) while The Big Guy is hosing the texture off the patio, the rug, the chairs...Needless to say, he is not a happy camper! I had no idea they made spray paint that was water soluble. Lesson learned the hard way. Guess I need to uncheck that project on my to-do list!

Speaking of projects, I've been on a roll lately with getting things done around the house. Remember that floating shelf project I posted about last week? That room's still not done. I'm making a new towel rack from things I already had on hand. Which means staining and painting and figuring out how to hang it. Everything else is back up on the walls, so there's that. And the rack is ready to have the hooks screwed in and then hung so we're almost there. But that floating shelf? After all of that, I decided it was just too big for that small space and it's now going to be hung in my bathroom. And you know what that means!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I'm about half way through Emily St. John Mandel's lates, The Glass Hotel. It feels much more in line with her books prior to Station Eleven. Which is to say that I'm really liking it but it hasn't sucked me in like Station Eleven did. I also put together what I call a "crooners" playlist on Spotify that was really working for me this week.

Watched: Peanut Butter Falcon. It's one of those movies that people were telling me to watch but, for some reason, just didn't grab me. But I just happened to turn on the tv while I was working on a project last Sunday and caught it at the beginning. It is so good and Shia LeBeouf finally lives up to the potential it always seemed like he had.

Read: I'm still plugging away at Gods, Graves and Scholars. It is really interesting but not the kind of thing that you pick up and just can't put down. Now that I've fallen hopelessly behind on the readalong, I may just set that one aside for something that will really pull me in.

Made: Pasta alfredo with crab, lots of salads, and a cheesecake for later today. But the most exciting thing that happened in my kitchen this week was Miss H choosing a recipe and making a meal again all by herself. It was delicious and I love watching her gain confidence in the kitchen.

Enjoyed: Social distancing patio time with Mini-him, social distancing deck time with our friends, and Zoom book club. As an introverted homebody, I have really settled into being at home and have become less and less anxious to be able to get out. Which I know is bad for me so I'm grateful for the pushes I'm getting to see people.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: a celebration for Miss H for this evening. Yesterday she celebrated two years clean. She can't celebrate like she usually would since they are still not having in-person Narcotics Anonymous meetings so we're hosting a driveway/driveby celebration so the people who best understand what she's accomplished can fete her. I'm almost certain she doesn't read my blog so I don't think I'm ruining the surprise. I hope! 

Thinking About: Projects I want to get finished while I still have the extra time I've gained by working from home. Getting that floating shelf hung, changing up the artwork in a  couple of rooms, going through all of the scrapbooks and working to reduce the space those take up, painting some furniture...the list is never-ending!

Feeling: Frustrated. By the spray paint that isn't waterproof. By my grocery orders that have only once been entirely right this whole time (seriously, they could not possibly have been entirely out of grated Parmesan cheese by 8 a.m. yesterday). By people who think their choice not to wear a mask should be ok even though it means they could kill people. On the plus side, I'm channeling the energy of that frustration to get things done so that's good.

Looking forward to: Having tomorrow off. I've only used a half a day of PTO this year; I've been hoarding it in case I get sick and have to be off work a couple of weeks. Plus, with working from home, I've felt a little bit like I'm not really working since I don't have to drive anywhere. But it's needed.

Question of the week: I read the other day that Target's online business is up 141% while small businesses are going under every day. I'm working to try to find ways to shop local and shop small. Have you been doing that and, if so, what kinds of things are you buying from small shops?

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Case Histories (Jackson Brodie Series #1) by Kate Atkinson
Published November 2004 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: bought this one ??? years ago

Publisher's Summary:
Case One: Olivia Land, youngest and most beloved of the Land girls, goes missing in the night and is never seen again. Thirty years later, two of her surviving sisters unearth a shocking clue to Olivias disappearance among the clutter of their childhood home. . . Case Two: Theo delights in his daughter Lauras wit, effortless beauty, and selfless love. But her first day as an associate in his law firm is also the day when Theos world turns upside down. . . Case Three: Michelle looks around one day and finds herself trapped in a hell of her own making. A very needy baby and a very demanding husband make her every waking moment a reminder that somewhere, somehow, shed made a grave mistake and would spend the rest of her life paying for it--until a fit of rage creates a grisly, bloody escape.

As Private Detective Jackson Brodie investigates all three cases, startling connections and discoveries emerge. Inextricably caught up in his clients grief, joy, and desire, Jackson finds their unshakable need for resolution very much like his own.

My Thoughts:
As you can see above, I've had this one for a  long time. I think I bought it at Borders so that tells you something about how long it's been languishing on my shelf. I finally picked it up as part of a readalong and I'm so glad to have had that push. How silly to have waited so long to find out about Jackson Brodie but how lucky I am to still have the rest of the books in this series to look forward to reading.

Stephen King called this book the "best mystery of the decade." I don't read that many mysteries so I can't laud it to that extent. I'm not sure I've ever read another mystery with so many threads, so many mysteries that Atkinson manages to interweave wonderfully along with Jackson's own personal life and another client who turns out to be pivotal in the book.

As paths begin to cross I started to think I was figuring things out. I wasn't wrong but that was only one of the many mysteries and it turned out to be a little tidbit that Atkinson threw out to us so that we got all cocky and thought we knew everything. We didn't.

One character literally drove off into the sunset and I have a feeling that she's going to show up again later in the series; Atkinson spent way too much time developing her for that to be the end of it. So, if I didn't already want to see what happens next for Jackson (surely he doesn't stay with the woman he was with at the end of this book!), I need to find out what becomes of her. And I can't wait to get to know Jackson's surrounding cast again as well!

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Splendid and The Vile by Erik Larson

The Splendid and The Vile by Erik Larson
Read by John Lee
Published February 2020 by Crown Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary: 
On Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally—and willing to fight to the end.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

The Splendid and the Vile takes readers out of today’s political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when, in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill’s eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.

My Thoughts: 
This is essentially the story of Winston Churchill's first year as Great Britain's prime minister, just as World War II really began to take off and Hitler set his sites on England. In a normal life, at a normal time, one year might not amount to much. But this was not, obviously, a normal time. It's no surprise to find, in listening to this book, that Winston Churchill was the right man for Great Britain in a time of war. Despite almost certain destruction (and let's be honest, if the United States had not gotten into the war, Great Britain would almost certainly have fallen), Churchill managed to keep his nation's spirits high. He did it in no small part by being astonishingly calm throughout the bombing of London, often refusing to leave 10 Downing Street during bombing raids. Churchill also seemed to have had an uncanny knowledge of how to get Franklin Roosevelt to step up and help, working behind the scenes to get what he needed long before the U. S. finally came to England's aid.

The Splendid and The Vile is not just a book about Churchill but also those who surrounded him, his family, his aids, the people who helped save England and also, to an extent, the German leaders. It being written by Larson, the book is exceedingly well researched and the stories of everyone involved are woven together so that readers can see the full picture of what Churchill was going through both as Prime Minister and husband and father. Larson does a tremendous job of making readers feel what it must have been like to have lived in England during the bombing and he doesn't spare readers the brutality those bombs wrought. It's not an easy read.

When I pick up a book by Larson, I know I'm going to learn things that you won't find in your history books unless you're a scholar of that time and place. For example, I had no idea that Rudolph Hess had flown a plane to England, believing he might be able to bring England to the negotiating table and thus avoid war on two fronts.

The book includes an epilogue detailing what became of most of the main players in the book. The audiobook also includes, as a bonus, a Christmas speech Churchill gave after the war. I imagine the print book includes photos and I do love photos in history books. But if I'd picked it up in print, I would have missed John Lee's remarkable reading of the book.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Life: It Goes On - May 17

Happy Sunday!

How did this happen? How are we only two weeks away from the end of spring? It seemed like time was moving so slowly for so long; all of those funny memes that said something to the effect of: February was 29 days long, March was 17 weeks, and April was 5 years long felt so true. And now, here we are, almost to summer.

My Big Guy, who has suffered all of this remarkably well for a guy who likes to be going somewhere or doing something all of the time, has handled all of this isolation better than I would have thought. But this morning he was the first guy at the lumbar store, picking up wood to build his own corn hole game set. When I questioned the need for something else that will clutter up my garage, he told me he's going to need something to do this summer. Fair enough. I'm just wondering if he's remembered that someone is going to have to sew the bean bags and I didn't ask to have anything more added to my to-do list!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Colum McCann's Apeirogon on Thursday but can't seem to settle on anything to listen to next. Which is bad because I have three books on audio to listen to right now.

Watched: Cats last night on The Shows Must Go On, which Andrew Lloyd Webber has been providing for free for the past few weeks. It's no secret that I'm a musical geek so I'm sure it's surprising to hear that I've never heard all of Cats before. Maybe even more surprising to hear that I don't get it. Honestly, I was a little bored and might have shut it off except that I was annoyed with BG and left it on just to annoy him. I did like it better once I read that it was based on T. S. Eliot poems.

Read: I'm scrambling to catch up with a readalong of Gods, Graves and Scholars, a book about the history of archaeology. This is certainly an instance of a readalong getting me to read a book I might not have otherwise and of me being glad to have had the push.

Made: Ricotta-stuffed jumbo shells, chicken nachos, and lots of salads. Miss H bought a giant container of spinach last weekend for the dinner she made me and we are scrambling to get it all used before it starts to go bad.

Enjoyed: Being out of the house for a couple of hours to get my hair done. I'm not sure which was better for me, psychologically - getting rid of the grey or doing something that felt (except for the mask) almost normal. Then Friday it was warm enough at last for what I call my Tier One friends and I to do a socially distancing happy hour. It was so good to see them in person but so weird not to be able to hug them!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: I ordered a floating shelf a month or so ago and thought I knew where I was going to hang it. Until I realized that hanging it in that spot meant I needed to figure out a new place to hang hand towels. Of course, as soon as I started actually working on getting the shelf hung, it meant everything had to come off the walls to clean, patch holes, touch up know how that goes. Short story long, I'm planning to finish that project today. 

Thinking About: Getting rid of stuff. I know I just did 40 Bags in 40 Days but our neighbors got a dumpster that is much bigger than what they need for the project they're working on and told us we could put stuff in it, too. So far, all of the pallets Miss H had been saving and two patio chairs have gone into it. But, damn, I want to make sure I've taken full advantage of this opportunity!

Feeling: Productive. I got a lot of gardening work done yesterday between finding homes for some new plants BG got me and moving some lily-of-the-valley. I got the bathroom cleared, cleaned and prepped for painting. I got as much done as I could on my wedding album project until I get the rest of my supplies. I'm having one of those weekends where the more productive you are, the more productive you want to be.

Looking forward to: Book club this week. I'm trying to figure out if it will be warm enough to do a driveway, social distancing, version this month instead of Zoom.

Question of the week: What projects have you been working on through all of this?

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan

The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan
Published April 2020 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Maggie, Eliza, and Tricia Sweeney grew up as a happy threesome in the idyllic seaside town of Southport, Connecticut. But their mother’s death from cancer fifteen years ago tarnished their golden-hued memories, and the sisters drifted apart. Their one touchstone is their father, Bill Sweeney, an internationally famous literary lion and college professor universally adored by critics, publishers, and book lovers. When Bill dies unexpectedly one cool June night, his shell-shocked daughters return to their childhood home. They aren’t quite sure what the future holds without their larger-than-life father, but they do know how to throw an Irish wake to honor a man of his stature.

But as guests pay their respects and reminisce, one stranger, emboldened by whiskey, has crashed the party. It turns out that she too is a Sweeney sister.

When Washington, DC based journalist Serena Tucker had her DNA tested on a whim a few weeks earlier, she learned she had a 50% genetic match with a childhood neighbor—Maggie Sweeney of Southport, Connecticut. It seems Serena’s chilly WASP mother, Birdie, had a history with Bill Sweeney—one that has remained totally secret until now.

Once the shock wears off, questions abound. What does this mean for William’s literary legacy? Where is the unfinished memoir he’s stashed away, and what will it reveal? And how will a fourth Sweeney sister—a blond among redheads—fit into their story?

My Thoughts:
I "met" Dolan when she was writing the blog, The Chaos Chronicles and podcast by the same name. When I first started following her, she was working on her first novel, Helen of Pasadena. Having read that, and her second book, Elizabeth, the First Wife, I thought I felt sure I knew what I was getting with this book. Turns out I was only partly right.

Like Dolan's first two books, the writing is smart, it's filled with smart women, and the setting is integral to the story. This one, though, is the grown up version of those two, which bordered on chick-lit (albeit, really smart chick-lit with depth). It's less about the humor and finding love (although there is that, as well) and more about the relationships between the sisters and the relationships they had with their parents. The sisters, including the sister the Sweeney girls never knew they had, are all as different as they can be but Dolan makes it clear that even so, sisters have bonds that can't be broken. Just as in real life, each of the sisters has had their role to play in the family.  But, as they deal with the death of their father (and face the fact that he wasn't necessarily the man they'd grown up idolizing), each of them grows and changes and finds their true place.

It's not the book I was expecting, exactly. Less funny, less light. I didn't know exactly how it would end; but I knew that these characters would land in a good place. Dolan gave me exactly what I needed right now. Depth, characters I cared about, and a family who loved and support each other.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Say Nothing by Patrick

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder And Memory In Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
Read by Matthew Blaney
Published February 2019 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary:
In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible. But in a climate of fear and paranoia, no one would speak of it. In 2003, five years after an accord brought an uneasy peace to Northern Ireland, a set of human bones was discovered on a beach. McConville's children knew it was their mother when they were told a blue safety pin was attached to the dress—with so many kids, she had always kept it handy for diapers or ripped clothes.

Patrick Radden Keefe's mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath uses the McConville case as a starting point for the tale of a society wracked by a violent guerrilla war, a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with. The brutal violence seared not only people like the McConville children, but also I.R.A. members embittered by a peace that fell far short of the goal of a united Ireland, and left them wondering whether the killings they committed were not justified acts of war, but simple murders. From radical and impetuous I.R.A. terrorists such as Dolours Price, who, when she was barely out of her teens, was already planting bombs in London and targeting informers for execution, to the ferocious I.R.A. mastermind known as The Dark, to the spy games and dirty schemes of the British Army, to Gerry Adams, who negotiated the peace but betrayed his hardcore comrades by denying his I.R.A. past—Say Nothing conjures a world of passion, betrayal, vengeance, and anguish.

My  Thoughts:
In 2013, Patrick Keefe happened upon the obituary of Dolours Price, formerly a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He knew a great story when he saw one. After reading that obituary, Keefe began a four year journey that would take him to Ireland seven times and have him interviewing more than 100 people. Many people refused to be interviewed and others backed out - The Troubles may have ended, but the fear had not left Northern Ireland. Many of the primary "characters" in the book were either dead or refused to be interviewed. Keefe was left to piece together the truth, as best he could, from other interviews and extensive research.

Top to bottom, left to right: Marian and Dolours Price at
10 Downing Street, Dolours Price, Dolours Price from the
book cover, Dolours and Marian Price at the march that
radicalized them, Marian's and Dolour's mug shots.
It's telling that I have looked at the front of the this book perhaps a hundred or more times at this point and it never once occurred to me that the person on the front of the book, a person I understood to be a member of the IRA, was a woman. That is not a man. That is Dolours Price. I am not alone in not thinking of a woman as an violent radical; Dolours and her sister, Marian, used their femininity to get into places they could not have gotten into if they were men and back out of plenty of trouble. The Price sisters were, in fact, more than willing to resort to violence for their cause as part of the branch of the IRA known as The Unknowns. They were inexplicably tied to many others who believed in the fight to rid Northern Ireland of the British including Brendan Hughs and Gerry Adams, who led the IRA (although Adams denies any involvement); Pat McClure, who led The Unknowns; and Bobby Sands, the IRA soldier who was the first IRA member to be allowed by the British to die on a hunger strike.

Jean McConville with three of her children, Gerry Adams
and Brendan Hughs at Long Kesh internment camp, newspaper
headline about the death of Bobby Sands, the aftermath of the Old
Bailey bombing for which Dolours and Marian were arrested.
It's clear that Keefe has little sympathy for the British but finds plenty of blame for what happened in the thirty-year period known as The Troubles. That bit of bias takes nothing away from this book. It is deserving of every accolade it earned last year. Keefe dives deep into the history of the IRA and The Troubles and the lasting impact of the divisions. Three decades after the Easter Sunday peace accord was reached, The Disappeared still have not all been found, the IRA, while, in theory, disarmed, still strikes fear into people, and Britain is still in Ireland, a fact that many still fight against.

Matthew Blaney is marvelous reading the book but the audiobook doesn't include the notes. They weren't necessary for me to be blown away by the book: I didn't even know they existed until the end of the book. But once I was aware for them, I really wished I had a copy of the physical book to refer to while I listened. If you're going to read this book, and get your hands on both the audio and print book, I certainly suggest you do that.

If you're looking for a book filled with fascinating people, a little known history (at least in the U.S.), and a remarkably well-told tale, I'd highly recommend Say Nothing.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Life: It Goes On - May 10

Happy Mother's Day to those of you who are mothers in any way!

We had planned to head to my parents' to drop off a Mother's Day dinner for my mom and to chat through the screen door for a bit. It not that warm and felt certain they wouldn't want to sit outside to talk. Imagine my surprise to pull into their driveway and find that they had set up two eating areas, socially distanced from each other, on their driveway. So we got to spend a couple of hours in the sun, talking, and feeling like things were at least a little bit normal. It was marvelous!

Then my daughter made us dinner in the evening. Mind you, if I ask her to cook some dinner, it's a given that it will be spaghetti or boxed mac 'n' cheese or chicken nuggets. My boys are both great cooks but my daughter NEVER really cooks. Not only did she make a delicious meal, she did entirely without any help or guidance from me at all. What a great gift that was! Of course, she probably didn't understand that now that I know she can make spinach-stuffed chicken breast (and even improvise!), I'm going to expect more going forward!

Last Week I:

Listened To: Apeirogon by Colum McCann which I'm really enjoying - so interestingly written.

Watched: Some Mrs. Maisel, some Grace and Frankie, more of the documentary about the Chicago Bulls, The Last Dance, and The Voice.

Read: I feel like I'm moving to a different kind of reading lately, working in more light stuff to balance my usual fare. My latest effort at breezier reading is Katherine Center's latest, What You Wish For; I know there will be some dark issues but that things will end, more or less, happily and that Center will give me a lot of book gems to enjoy along the way.

Made: Chicken nachos, reuben sandwiches, BLT salads, oatmeal butterscotch cookies, twice-baked potatoes, and strawberry shortcake. I've been trying very hard not to bake too much through all of this but lately I've been craving all the sweet treats - we'll see what this week brings!

Enjoyed: See above - it was so wonderful to finally be able to see my parents. I'd show you a picture of us eating on their driveway but none of us with hair want anyone to see pics of us just now!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: I give up with the planning. Every week I have a plan on Sunday and then I get distracted by something else I'd rather do. This week I took the three books we had from our engagement/wedding and started blending them altogether into one book. So my plan is to finish that this week. But we'll see what this week brings!

Thinking About: How blessed we are with the artistic family we have. My living room is full of paintings by family members. This week I got a custom picture frame made by my brother-in-law (Red Cedar Works) to frame a photo I got from my brother's business (See-Nile Photography) a couple of years ago. It turned out exactly the way I'd been envisioning it - love it!

Feeling: It's been a tough week emotionally. No real reason, just the times. I had two panic attacks. No reason, just the times. Today was just what my heart needed.

Looking forward to: Getting my hair done on Wednesday!

Question of the week: No question - just wanted to talk a moment to let you know that I'm hoping that you're all holding up well through all of this and that I'm here for any one who ever needs someone to talk to.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Book of Longing by Sue Monk Kidd

The Book of Longing by Sue Monk Kidd
Published April 2020 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In her mesmerizing fourth work of fiction, Sue Monk Kidd takes an audacious approach to history and brings her acclaimed narrative gifts to imagine the story of a young woman named Ana. Raised in a wealthy family with ties to the ruler of Galilee, she is rebellious and ambitious, with a brilliant mind and a daring spirit. She engages in furtive scholarly pursuits and writes narratives about neglected and silenced women. Ana is expected to marry an older widower, a prospect that horrifies her. An encounter with eighteen-year-old Jesus changes everything.

Their marriage evolves with love and conflict, humor and pathos in Nazareth, where Ana makes a home with Jesus, his brothers, and their mother, Mary. Ana's pent-up longings intensify amid the turbulent resistance to Rome's occupation of Israel, partially led by her brother, Judas. She is sustained by her fearless aunt Yaltha, who harbors a compelling secret. When Ana commits a brazen act that puts her in peril, she flees to Alexandria, where startling revelations and greater dangers unfold, and she finds refuge in unexpected surroundings. Ana determines her fate during a stunning convergence of events considered among the most impactful in human history.

My Thoughts:
Anytime you write a fictionalized account of Jesus' life in the unknown years, you've risked alienating a whole group of readers. When you decide to give him a wife, you are, as they publisher's summary says audacious. When you take it even a step further and suggest that Jesus did not grow up believing he was the son of God, you've ventured into territory that could really upset some people. I mean, it's not The Last Temptation of Christ but it could certainly be considered controversial.

I spent a lot of time at the Presbyterian church up the street from us when I was younger; I grew up with the story of Jesus. What we're taught about him is, in my mind, mostly incontrovertible. So, even though I'm more what I would call spiritual rather than religious these days, I confess to having had problems with the liberties Monk Kidd took in the story of Jesus. I'm not opposed to filling in those missing years; I'm not even opposed to making him a little more questioning or giving him a wife. I think what I struggled with was the idea that, while Jesus was faithful (although struggling with that), his movement was more akin to the teaching of Martin Luther King than God, the idea that change in the government could be made through peaceful means.

It wasn't the only thing I struggled with in this book. Do you ever watch action movies, where everything bad that could happen, does happen? This book felt like that to me. Ana's mother doesn't like her, her father sells her off in marriage then tries to barter her off as a concubine. She has only one friend who is brutalized and banished, most of her in-laws don't much care for her, and her uncle confines her to the house for a year and a half. All of that and we already know how things are going to end for her brother and her husband.

I always want to love passionate, intelligent women in books. I wanted to love a character who fought back, who told the stories of women and stood up to men. Early on, It's not that I didn't like Ana. She was a strong young woman who stood up for what she believed, admitted her faults, and wore her passion on her sleeve. But it so often felt like her story got lost in all of the dramatic events and Jesus' story.

I loved The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings. I felt certain that Monk Kidd could take this idea and create something that would impress me. I wish it had. I do recommend, if you read it, reading her notes at the back about why she wrote it and her research. It truly is a well-researched book.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie

Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie
Read by Amy McFadden
Published February 2020 by St. Martin's Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Agnes Murphy Nash is in big trouble. When she returns home one evening only to find the locks changed on the gates of their mansion, the security guard breaks the news: her famous producer husband has filed for divorce. And he’s not going to play fair. Trevor Nash wants custody of their tween daughter, Pep, but only for the sake of appearances. And Agnes can’t let him win.

With the help of her ex-con sister, a Hollywood psychic, a ballsy female lawyer, and a host of friends and “frenemies,” Agnes realizes that when he changes the locks, she needs to change the rules. But a crisis can lead to opportunity, and for Agnes, this gigantic betrayal brings her to a crossroads that will have her asking herself what she really wants out of life, who she really wants to be, and which man she really lovesl

My Thoughts:
Guys, I've been on the struggle bus with my reading. Even books I've loved have been work to get through; I just can't stay focused. I knew I needed something light and fun. I read and enjoyed Levangie's The Starter Wife (my review) and when I saw this available, I jumped all over it, knowing it would be just the right thing.

Levangie knows how to have fun with her characters - sure, there are caricatures aplenty but it's all done tongue-in-cheek. The woman who is convinced to go to rehab because she thinks it'll be a great break from her regular life, the woman who starts a Go Fund Me because she's so broke she has to drive a brown BMW, the producer who can't fall asleep without a sleeping companion, the older father who jumps from one girlfriend he meets online to the next, and the sister with the shady morals who might just turn out to be the person Agnes most needs - there's not a lot of depth but that's exactly what makes the book fun.

Nothing is going Agnes' way and it's not all her fault (although, a far amount of it is and you can't quite believe she doesn't see somethings coming). But you know everything will work out in the end, but Levangie keeps you wondering how until the very end. The way Levangie wraps things up keeps up the fun factor.

My favorite part of the book - Amy McFadden's reading. She does a terrific job of voicing multiple characters, including men, and brings just the right breezy feel to the book. You might enjoy this one in print but I'd really recommend you listen to it instead.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Life: It Goes On - May 3

Happy May! Hope you've all had as beautiful a week where you're at as we've had here. I've so enjoyed working from home now that it's warm enough to throw the windows open and catch a breeze. On the long list of things I'm going to miss when I have to go back to the office, that's near the top, just below no commute and no makeup.

How are you all holding up through this? Is your state starting to ease up on restrictions? Nebraska is, even as our numbers continue to grow exponentially. I am pretty excited to have a hair appointment next week; but, otherwise, I don't see myself returning to normal routines any time soon. It will be interesting to see what happens as things start to open back up.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I'm finishing Zora Neale Hurston's Barracoon today and will start Colum McCann's latest, Apeirogon tomorrow. I had just started listening to Motherless Brooklyn on iBooks when the other two became available through the library but it will have to wait a couple of weeks.

Watched: Awkwafina's The Farewell; The Highwaymen, starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson; a couple of episodes of Case Histories, based on the Kate Atkinson book of the same name; and the most recent episodes of The Last Dance, the documentary about the year the Chicago Bulls won their sixth championship. It's been a good week for t.v. viewing.

Read: I finished both Say Nothing and The Splendid and The Vile on audio and started Lian Dolan's latest, The Sweeney Sisters.

Made: I ordered a pork roast last week and made a whole boatload of pulled pork. We've had it twice and I sent a dinner of it to Mini-him and the rest is going into the freezer which will be nice to have on hand once we're back to the office. We did an egg casserole breakfast dinner one night and another night finished dinner off with the first strawberry shortcake of the season. The Big Guy is determined that we have enough food on hand for a month at any time so my dinner dilemma problem right now is too many choices!

Enjoyed: Lots of sunshine and patio time but the most exciting thing was a social distancing evening on our friends' deck. We snuck around back and had to leave once we needed to use the facilities, but for a couple of hours, things felt normal.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: It's going to be cooler and rainier here this week so there will be less patio time which means I might actually get to the organizing I need to do in the house. I started sorting through some pictures yesterday and came across this one of us with a group of long-time friends from 1991. Marie Kondo says to go through your pictures and get rid of most of them because you have your memories. I don't know about you, but I need the pictures to jog the memories. I love, love the looks on the kids' faces. That's me in the front in the striped shirt, holding Mini-him. Don't he and his buddy look ornery? That's because they were!

Thinking About: How much I'm going to miss my work buddy when I have to go back to the office. She's the best therapy on stressful days!

Feeling: Relaxed. Which is rare for me. I'm sure it won't last long!

Looking forward to: See above reference to hair appointment. I'm so over the grey and bangs that are in that awkward in-between phase!

Question of the week: What's the one thing you regularly do that you haven't been able to do in the past couple of months that you're really missing? I'm missing Friday happy hours out with friends and thrift store shopping.