Thursday, October 21, 2021

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Raddon Keefe

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty 
by Patrick Raddon Keefe
Read by Patrick Raddon Keefe
Published April 2021

Publisher's Summary: 
The Sackler name adorns the walls of many storied institutions—Harvard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oxford, the Louvre. They are one of the richest families in the world, known for their lavish donations to the arts and the sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that the Sacklers were responsible for making and marketing a blockbuster painkiller that was the catalyst for the opioid crisis.

Empire of Pain begins with the story of three doctor brothers, Raymond, Mortimer and the incalculably energetic Arthur, who weathered the poverty of the Great Depression and appalling anti-Semitism. Working at a barbaric mental institution, Arthur saw a better way and conducted groundbreaking research into drug treatments. He also had a genius for marketing, especially for pharmaceuticals, and bought a small ad firm.

Arthur devised the marketing for Valium, and built the first great Sackler fortune. He purchased a drug manufacturer, Purdue Frederick, which would be run by Raymond and Mortimer. The brothers began collecting art, and wives, and grand residences in exotic locales. Their children and grandchildren grew up in luxury.

Forty years later, Raymond’s son Richard ran the family-owned Purdue. The template Arthur Sackler created to sell Valium—co-opting doctors, influencing the FDA, downplaying the drug’s addictiveness—was employed to launch a far more potent product: OxyContin. The drug went on to generate some thirty-five billion dollars in revenue, and to launch a public health crisis in which hundreds of thousands would die.

This is the saga of three generations of a single family and the mark they would leave on the world, a tale that moves from the bustling streets of early twentieth-century Brooklyn to the seaside palaces of Greenwich, Connecticut, and Cap d’Antibes to the corridors of power in Washington, D.C. Empire of Pain chronicles the multiple investigations of the Sacklers and their company, and the scorched-earth legal tactics that the family has used to evade accountability. The history of the Sackler dynasty is rife with drama—baroque personal lives; bitter disputes over estates; fistfights in boardrooms; glittering art collections; Machiavellian courtroom maneuvers; and the calculated use of money to burnish reputations and crush the less powerful.

Empire of Pain is a masterpiece of narrative reporting and writing, exhaustively documented and ferociously compelling. It is a portrait of the excesses of America’s second Gilded Age, a study of impunity among the super elite and a relentless investigation of the naked greed and indifference to human suffering that built one of the world’s great fortunes.

My Thoughts: 
That smiling guy is a guy who became incredibly rich (and set up his family to become even more wealthy) by being incredibly ethically challenged. I'll give it to him - the guy was a genius and an amazingly hard worker. He had his hands in every aspect of getting new pharmaceuticals on the market and making a fortune off of them. His advertising agency(s) developed ad campaigns that inflated the efficacy of medications and downplayed the dangers; he was invested in medical journals that wrote glowing reviews of the medications his agency was pimping; and he took a cut of the sales of the medications that he advertised. It was corruption on a level I could hardly believe as I listened to this book. 

Arthur passed those ethics right on to his brothers, along with buying them a small pharmaceutical company called Purdue Frederick, a company which would eventually spin off a branch called Purdue Pharma. It developed a method of slowly releasing oxycodone and then marketed it under the name Oxycontin. 

Even as Oxycontin (along with other opioids) began to ravage the country, the Sacklers kept their hands clean. They had long kept their individual names quiet when it came to the business and they continually maintained that only people who misused Oxycontin became addicts. Not one of the heirs of the Sackler brothers, including Raymond's son, Richard, who oversaw the launch and barrage of Oxycontin on the country, has ever admitted any guilt. In fact, when it became clear that the company might be financially at risk, the family members made a money grab to protect their fortunes. 

Empire of Pain is, more or less, split into two parts - Arthur's story and the rise of the brothers he brought along with him and then the story of Oxycontin. Arthur's story is terrifically interesting, even as it made me more and more angry at the way he was able to game the system and saw nothing wrong with the way he was manipulating the market for drugs he was profiting from. 

Then the focus of the book switches. While the family continues to play a big part in the book, Oxycontin, and how it came to overtake the country, became the real story. We learn why the drug was developed, how Purdue Pharma (especially Richard) threw everything they had at making the most money they could out of it, and how medical professionals were convinced to push this product on their patients. Keefe throws a lot of the family into the picture in this part of the book, as he tries to introduce readers to all of the family members who would eventually face charges, but it became hard to keep track of who was who in this part of the book and each of them made less of an impression except in the way each of them reacted when the toil their family's business was taking on the country began to be too big to ignore. Eventually we get to the part where various people begin to try to make the family and the company accountable. To say that I was disappointed in our justice system is an understatement. Money talks. To say that I was angry is an even bigger understatement. 

My daughter was a victim of the Sacklers. I've made no secret of the fact that my daughter is a recovering addict. One of the things she was addicted to was Oxycontin. This book was personal for me. This book will be personal for anyone who knows someone who became addicted to this drug, especially those whose addiction escalated to heroin or who died from Oxycontin overdoses (that number includes people who had only taken one pill or who were taking it entirely as prescribed).

Even those of you who were never touched by this drug will find this book fascinating and eye opening. Keefe has done his research and had the courage to publish it despite threats from the Sackler family attorneys. It is a work of narrative nonfiction so it is not without some degree of bias. Still, there is more than enough history and fact here to convince me that Keefe has found the truth. 


Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

A Complicated Kindness
by Miriam Toewes
Published 2004 by Counterpoint
246 pages

Publisher's Summary:
Left alone with her sad, peculiar father, Nomi Nickel's days are spent piecing together why her mother and sister have disappeared and contemplating her inevitable career at Happy Family Farms, a chicken slaughterhouse on the outskirts of East Village, a town founded by Mennonites on the cold, flat plains of Manitoba, Canada. This darkly funny novel is the world according to Nomi, a bewildered and wry sixteen-year-old trapped in a town governed by fundamentalist religion and in the shattered remains of a family it destroyed. In Nomi's droll, refreshing voice, we're told the story of an eccentric, loving family that falls apart as each member lands on a collision course with the only community any of them have ever known.

My Thoughts: 
When I put together the list of books for my book club to read this year, one of my tasks was to choose a book written by a Canadian author. I chose one, read it, and decided it was too dark. And then I looked and looked for a book by a Canadian author that was set in Canada and not too dark. Having enjoyed Toews' Women Talking and The Flying Troutmans, I picked this book. Which is, if not dark, bleak. Although it is loaded with dark humor. 

In a small, restrictive town, it should be no surprise that things happen slowly in this book with hardly a ripple in the pool that is life in East Village. A daughter leaves home. A mother is excommunicated and leaves town. A father, unable to deal with the loss of the love of his life, slowly comes apart. A young teen, adrift with no one to really care about her well-being, begins to fail in school and stay out nights doing more and more drugs.

A lot of reviews of this book compare it to The Catcher In The Rye, a book I've never read. But I'm given the impression that Holden Caulfield, angsty teen, has not particular reason for being disaffected. Nomi, on the other hand, has had her life turned upside down. Growing up concerned that one or the other of her family members might be headed for eternal damnation, Nomi was happy. She admired her sister and loved her parents even though she knew how deeply unhappy her sister, Tash, was in East Village and how mixed-up thing seemed to be. After Tash and their mother leave, Nomi gradually begins to see how constricted her life will be if she stays in East Village and how trapped she has become. Tash has taught her "that some people can leave and some can't and those who can will always be infinitely cooler than those who can't and I'm one of the ones who can't because you're one of the ones who did and there's this old guy in a wool suit sitting in an empty house who has no one but me now thank you very, very, very much." 

Religion rules the village and Nomi's life. It's a complicated thing - real life is nothing like the life American tourists come to the village to see. It's so different that the villagers have set up a separate part of town where the tourists can see villagers acting out the way life used to be. But the young people in East Village behave very much like teenagers every where, especially those who feel trapped in a small town with no good prospects. Which makes me wonder about the Mennonites I see here sometimes. Are they really who they appear to be in when they are in public? 

The days seem to drag on, every day much the same as the other - walking around town, driving around town, sitting in his truck with her boyfriend, visiting her friend Lydia in the hospital, getting kicked out of school again and again for being mouthy to the teachers, and trying to help her father stay afloat. In many ways, as I was reading, it felt like we were treading water and it was work to keep going. 

In doing some research to put together discussion questions for my book club, the question of what the title means kept coming up and, as with so many books, there were a lot of different theories. Not until just this moment did I finally come up with my own opinion about what the title means. But I'm sorry to say that I can't tell you what that theory is because it has to do with the end of the book, an ending I can't say I thought much of until this theory occurred to me. And now I'm left wondering if that complicated kindness with have been worth what it cost. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Life: It Goes On - October 17

Happy Sunday from a weary woman! We made a quick trip south this weekend - left yesterday morning to celebrate my brother's 60th birthday and to bring my dad to Columbia to spend the week with my brother and his family; spent the night in Kansas City so that we could spend some time with Miss H today. We can't complain about how much we drove, though. Mini-me and Ms. S left last Saturday and drove two separate cars five 13-16 hour days in a row to get from their home in Rochester to their new city, Anchorage. They arrived exhausted, happy to be done with it and convinced that if/when they return to the continental U.S. they will do it by plane.  
Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Empire of Pain, which I raced to finish before the loan expired, and then I started Kate Atkinson's A God In Ruins. It's a tough listen as it bounced back and forth in time very rapidly. 

Calvin Mattheis - News Sentinel
One of the worst displays of sportsmanship I have ever seen from a fanbase during the Tennessee - Ol' Miss game and I've been watching sports all of my life. Fans threw so much onto the field that Tennessee's own band and cheerleaders felt unsafe in their own stadium. We have lost all ability to remain civil.

Read: I've had to push my way through this months' book club selection, Miriam Towes' A Complicated Kindness. It's only 246 pages but I am just not connecting with it and may end up apologizing to my book club for choosing it. 

Made: I've only been home for meals half of this week so I haven't made much of anything. 

 Getting to celebrate my brother and to spend time with my dad, my sister-in-law, all of their kids and two of their grandchildren this weekend. 

Thursday evening three book club friends and I went to hear Amor Towles speak about his latest book, The Lincoln Highway. He was fabulous and I highly recommend seeing him if he is in your town. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Sadly, it's time to start putting the yard and gardens to bed for the cold months so there will be plenty of yard work that needs to get done this week. 

Thinking About:
The hotel we stayed in last night. A little dog was barking across the hall for 25 minutes solid after we arrived but we saw and heard no other guests. The t.v. didn't work. It had been remodeled in the past couple of years and I'm pretty sure that the owners hired their cousins to do the painting and everything was just a little beat up and felt cramped. Not gonna lie, I half expected to come out of my room and find twins at the end of the long hall. 

Feeling: I'm having all the warm fuzzies tonight. Miss H loves, loves Hamilton but has never seen it live. The Big Guy decided that needed to be rectified so tonight he ordered tickets for the two of them to go see it in a couple of weeks when it's in town. They haven't had a father-daughter evening in a very long time and she is so excited. He's a good daddy!

Looking forward to: A quieter week except for book club on Tuesday. 

Question of the week: Last night was not the worst hotel experience we've ever had and the other times make for great stories. What are some of the worst experiences you've had at hotels?

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Apples Never Fall
by Liane Moriarty
Published September 2021 by Holt, Henry and Company, Inc.
480 pages
Source: check out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
The Delaney family love one another dearly—it’s just that sometimes they want to murder each other . . .

If your mother was missing, would you tell the police? Even if the most obvious suspect was your father?

This is the dilemma facing the four grown Delaney siblings.

The Delaneys are fixtures in their community. The parents, Stan and Joy, are the envy of all of their friends. They’re killers on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they’ve finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. So why are Stan and Joy so miserable?

The four Delaney children—Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke—were tennis stars in their own right, yet as their father will tell you, none of them had what it took to go all the way. But that’s okay, now that they’re all successful grown-ups and there is the wonderful possibility of grandchildren on the horizon.

One night a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy’s door, bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend. The Delaneys are more than happy to give her the small kindness she sorely needs. If only that was all she wanted.

Later, when Joy goes missing, and Savannah is nowhere to be found, the police question the one person who remains: Stan. But for someone who claims to be innocent, he, like many spouses, seems to have a lot to hide. Two of the Delaney children think their father is innocent, two are not so sure—but as the two sides square off against each other in perhaps their biggest match ever, all of the Delaneys will start to reexamine their shared family history in a very new light.

My Thoughts:
Publisher's Weekly calls this book a psychological thriller and I suppose it is. Which actually comes as something of a surprise to me, even though Moriarty keeps readers in suspense as to what happened to Joy Delaney. Even though she gradually reveals truths about the Delaneys and their home that begin to point to nefarious activity and an obvious suspect. 

Having read Moriarty before, though, I just knew that the obvious suspect wasn't the suspect, even as an arrest was about to be made. Because having read Moriarty before, I've come to see a pattern in her books and (I suppose this is true of any even remotely decent thriller) the obvious suspect won't be guilty but the guilty party will definitely be someone who's been around all along. Moriarty will skewer suburban life. Check. She'll load her book with gossip as a means of delivering the truth. Check. She'll give us perfectly ordinary families who aren't so perfect after all. Check. All of those elements are in this book. 

This book as an extra element - that stranger who shows up on the Delaneys' doorstep and, in so doing, begins to unravel the truths about the Delaneys and their relationships. 

Those truths? Those I really enjoyed, the way small cracks began to appear in the facade of a happy family. The way parental expectations can both shape and undo a child. The way those same expectations can undo a marriage. I enjoyed seeing these sibling struggle with how to or whether to support a father who they believe has, maybe, killed their mother. 

But that stranger? I have very mixed feelings about that stranger and how she came to ensconce herself in Stan's and Joy's home and their lives. Moriarty's written nine books now and been successful enough that I can't help but wonder if she's not allowed more leniency with the final product than a newer writer might be given. Would an editor advised a less successful writer to cut back on the stranger's story? It's just a little...too much. 

Still, I raced through this book once I got into it. There were plenty of surprises, I liked the way Moriarty used neighbors and friends and the people who provide services for the Delaneys to drop snippets of gossip; but are those snippets the truth or merely a sliver of the full picture? And as much as I thought there was too much of that stranger, I did like that she was multi-dimensional. Oh yeah, the tennis; I liked the tennis. Even though I'm not a tennis player or a particular fan of the sport I liked the way Moriarty used it to develop her characters and her story. 

Fan of Moriarty's won't be disappointed. I wasn't. I just think it could have been just that much better. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Harlem Shuffle
by Colson Whitehead
Published September 2021 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
336 pages

Publisher's Summary:
"Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked..." To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, making a decent life for himself and his family. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver's Row don't approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it's still home.

Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his façade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger all the time.

Cash is tight, especially with all those installment-plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace, Ray doesn't ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweler downtown who doesn't ask questions, either.

Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa—the "Waldorf of Harlem"—and volunteers Ray's services as the fence. The heist doesn't go as planned; they rarely do. Now Ray has a new clientele, one made up of shady cops, vicious local gangsters, two-bit pornographers, and other assorted Harlem lowlifes.

Thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he begins to see who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs?

My Thoughts:
Colson Whitehead is one of the best writers out there right now. Two Puliter Prizes say I'm not alone in believing this to be true. Which means that expectations are high for any book he writes. This is the third of his books that I've read and I've been wow'd by every one of them. 

Is this one a crime thriller? The story of a family? An homage to 1960's Harlem? Yes, yes, and yes. And every one of those elements is marvelous. 

"Living taught you,’ Ray believes, ‘that you didn't have to live the way you'd been taught." Sort of, anyway. Ray's father was the kind of criminal that people are still talking about long after his death. Ray is not that man. But Ray also wants a better life for his family - a home that will get his in-laws off his back, room for his children to have space to grow, a view out the windows and no elevated rail outside his building. So if he has to bend a few rules to make that happen, he's ok with that, as long as it's done quietly. You can't help but like Ray. Life's been hard he only wants what every man wants for his family. 

“Crooked world, straight world, same rules,” Ray thinks. “Everybody had a hand out for the envelope.”

When he tries to move up in the world in a more above board way, Ray learns a lesson about the morals of the men he thought were the cream of the neighborhood that doesn't sit well with him. Then Freddie, who has been getting Ray into trouble since they were little boys, really brings the heat down on him. Between Ray wanting revenge and trouble Freddie brings to Ray's door, things get really tense and dark.

It was as hard to read as The Underground Railroad or as heartbreaking as The Nickel Boys, but it is, once again, a reminder for white readers that life for black people has always been just that much harder. That the system is set up against black people and poor people. That there is corruption around every corner. 

You can take those lessons from this book. Or you can just enjoy is as a crime thriller. Or a book about a family's struggles to rise above poverty and their past. Or one of those rare books where the setting plays as big a role as the characters and the action. I liked it for all of those reason. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Life: It Goes On - October 10

Happy Sunday from a very tired me! As it gets darker earlier, my body keeps thinking that it's bed time by the time it's been dark for a couple of house and I'm on the struggle bus to stay awake after 8 p.m.! 

We made a quick trip to Kansas City this weekend for a surprise birthday party for Miss H's roomie. First stop was City Market because I needed to go spice shopping and to pick up some flowers for the birthday girl and we needed some lunch. Then it was off to visit the roomie's (relatively) new storefront, Whiskey + Bone. If you live in K.C., especially in the Leawood area, you should definitely check it out! We spent the night with The Big Guy's niece and her family so we got to catch up with them. And, of course, there was the birthday dinner. It was a bit of a whirlwind, and we didn't actually get to see much of Miss H, but it was fun to get out of town. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Patrick Raddon Keefe's latest, Empire of Pain. I can't say I thought much of wealthy people, big pharma, or big business to begin with and this book is definitely confirming all of my opinions. 

Watched: The usual. 

Read: I finished Liane Moriarty's Apples Never Fall and started Miriam Towes' A Complicated Kindness for book club next week. 

Made: Steak salad, nachos, caprese pasta - as long as the temperatures stay warm, summer meals will continue. 

Enjoyed: See above! Plus dinner with a friend I haven't seen in several years one night and happy hour with friends on their deck another night. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On transplanting some perennials. 

Thinking About: The friend I had dinner the other night has cancer and her treatment is just buying her time. I'm heartbroken for her and trying to think of ways to make life easier for her and to bring happiness to her life. 

Feeling: Happy. We enjoyed our trip and also managed to get a lot done around the yard while we were home. It was a good weekend. 

Looking forward to: We have some fun plans for next weekend but I can't tell you about them just yet. 

Question of the week: We both enjoy a quick weekend trip to recharge our batteries. Do you? 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Any Dumb Animal by A. E. Hines

Any Dumb Animal
by A. E. Hines
Published November 2021 by Main Street Rag
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and Poetic Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
Any Dumb Animal (Main Street Rag, 2021), the debut poetry collection by AE Hines, presents a memoir-in-verse as told by a gay man raised in the rural South who comes of age during the AIDS crisis. Flashing back and forth in time, a cast of recurring characters and circumstances are woven into a rich tale of survival and redemption, exploring one man's life as a queer son, father, and husband, over a span of more than thirty years.

My Thoughts: 
A few weeks ago, I posted that a group of anonymous donors would match, dollar for dollar, each pre-sale of this collection of poetry and donate it to The Trevor Project. Having read the publisher's summary for this collection, I thought I knew the reason why. I only knew half of it. 

Perhaps A. E. Hines never attempted suicide. Perhaps he never contemplated it. I don't know that. What I can tell you, after reading this collection that is a memoir of Hines' life, is that it would have been perfectly understandable had he contemplated it. There has been so much pain in his life, so much unrelenting pain and it is so very palpable in this collection. 

The collection opens with a poem, "Phone Call," about a drunken call to tell his father that he hates him and that his only son is gay "like it's some kind of punishment." His father responds "I blame myself...Wasn't hard enough on you. I failed." Trust me when I tell you that is simply not true. In "How We Learn," we learn that Hines' father, understanding his fear of water, "became fond of tossing me into the deep end of pools..." and told Hines that "any dumb animal can learn." 
"Childhood was all about drowning: 
first in the ocean, a few year later
in the river named Fear.
I was too young to understand 
this would be a metaphor for my life."
Early on Hines' learns that his entire family can "only love a man down on his knees." They seem determined to keep him there and Hines' seems to have, for many years, been determined to do that as well. He made poor choices in men, including a spouse who was every bit as abusive as the father who had taught Hines that he deserved nothing better. 

Hines takes readers through the end of his marriage and his divorce; through being a parent, through committing his mother to an asylum; to surviving the AIDS epidemic and then CoVid; and finally, at last, learning to swim in all of the ways that counts. 

As you know, I don't read a lot of poetry, although I'm not sure why not. It is, perhaps, the easiest way to see inside of a person, to feel their pain and their joy. What I've read in the past few years has felt incredibly honest. This collection is the most raw, most heartbreaking, most honest collection I think I've ever read. But it's a tough read and it perhaps explains why I don't pick up more poetry. When it is this emotionally draining, it takes time to recover. 

Thanks to Serena, and Poetic Book Tours for including me on the tour for this collection. For other opinions, check out the full tour here

About the Author: 
AE Hines (he/him) grew up in rural North Carolina and currently resides in Portland, Oregon. His poetry has been widely published in anthologies and literary journals including I-70 Review, Sycamore Review, Tar River Poetry, Potomac Review, Atlanta Review, Crosswinds Poetry Journal and Crab Creek Review. He is winner of the Red Wheelbarrow Prize and has been a finalist for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. He is currently pursuing his MFA in Writing at Pacific University. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

Wish You Were Here
by Jodi Picoult
Published November 2021 by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary:
Diana O’Toole is perfectly on track. She will be married by thirty, done having kids by thirty-five, and move out to the New York City suburbs, all while climbing the professional ladder in the cutthroat art auction world. She’s an associate specialist at Sotheby’s now, but her boss has hinted at a promotion if she can close a deal with a high-profile client. She’s not engaged just yet, but she knows her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, is about to propose on their romantic getaway to the Galápagos—days before her thirtieth birthday. Right on time.

But then a virus that felt worlds away has appeared in the city, and on the eve of their departure, Finn breaks the news: It’s all hands on deck at the hospital. He has to stay behind. You should still go, he assures her, since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. And so, reluctantly, she goes.

Almost immediately, Diana’s dream vacation goes awry. Her luggage is lost, the Wi-Fi is nearly nonexistent, and the hotel they’d booked is shut down due to the pandemic. In fact, the whole island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, she must venture beyond her comfort zone. Slowly, she carves out a connection with a local family when a teenager with a secret opens up to Diana, despite her father’s suspicion of outsiders.

In the Galápagos Islands, where Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was formed, Diana finds herself examining her relationships, her choices, and herself—and wondering if when she goes home, she too will have evolved into someone completely different.

My Thoughts:
I was very late to the Jodi Picoult game. I didn't read my first of her novels until 2019; when I read a second of her books, this is what I had to say:
"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."
Obviously, this is a book that has been written in a short amount of time and it is clearly about the latest "big" controversy (ok, one of them). And yet, not for one minute did I doubt that Picoult had had the time to write a thoughtful, well-researched novel. 

There is a little bit of an echo of The Book of Two Ways, with Diana struggling to decide between two men, one who she initially disliked but came to have feelings for and the other who was left behind and who seemed perfect. As with The Book of Two Ways, I've tired of the narrative of the cranky man who turns out to be wonderful and I'm growing tired of stories of the heart torn between two men. And here I felt like Picoult had to work a bit to make Diana's choice seem right. That might have meant that the book wouldn't work for me. 

But this book is so much more than the story of a love triangle. It is a book about family, about survival, about our dreams, about adapting to changes, and about forgiveness. And all of those themes, they worked for me. I was mesmerized by Finn's accounts of treating CoVid patients and watching them die and I felt his anguish. I was frustrated for Diana as she came across one obstacle after another and as she dealt with her relationship with a mother who she felt had essentially abandoned her but who now needed Diana to care for her. And, dang, I did not at all see the twist coming in this one!

I am bad about reading the author's notes at the ends of books. When I finish the story, I tend to want to move on; there are so many books waiting for me. This time I glanced at the author's notes just long enough to realize that I probably wanted to read further, to understand how Picoult's experience with CoVid 19 had inspired this book. 

In reading that, I understood why this book didn't feel rushed and how it happened that Picoult could know so much about both this disease and the Galapagos. And, as it happens when you have all the time in the world, you have plenty of time to talk to people who have both treated CoVid patients and to the people who have survived it. Those stories lent a real feeling of credibility to the story, the kind of credibility that allowed the book to pack an emotional punch. That emotional punch resonated in this book. It's not a book without flaws, but it's a book that made me forgive those flaws.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Life: It Goes On - October 3

Happy Sunday from sunny Omaha! 

This was meant to be the weekend to move some plants and head to the pumpkin patch. But yesterday was was cool and drizzly and today's plans sort of got turned upside down. Still hoping to head out for pumpkins soon, but I think the pumpkin patch is out. Transplanting will have to get down after work this week as we won't be around much for the next couple of weekends and time is running out. I want to love fall, I really do; but once I have to start pulling plants that are done producing out and working that an early freeze might end my outdoor gardening any day, I have a hard time appreciating all that's wonderful about the season. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I raced through Nathan Harris' The Sweetness of Water and started Patrick Raddon Keefe's latest, Empire of Pain, about the Sackler family and the opioid epidemic.  

Watched: Football, volleyball, the new season of The Voice

Read: Colson Whitehead's Harlem Shuffle and now I'm reading Liane Moriarty's latest, Apples Never Fall

Made: The best homemade macaroni and cheese I think I've ever made, BLT sandwiches, and caprese pasta. Still loving fresh-picked tomatoes and, if the weather holds, we may still be enjoying them for a couple more weeks. 

Cookie cutters I picked 
up thrifting for $2
Enjoyed: Spending an evening with a friend from Arizona I haven't seen in a couple of years, thanks to CoVid, getting my hair done yesterday, some thrifting, and the better part of a day with the house to myself. 

This Week I’m:  

Besides the transplanting, I'm also going to be starting a furniture refinishing project. The Big Guy's grandmother's sewing machine cabinet has been living in my basement for the past many years; I'd like to use it as an end table in one of the guest rooms but it needs some TLC after all of these years. It shouldn't take long. But then you've all heard me say that before and then seen progress pictures that seem to go on for weeks!

Thinking About: Christmas shopping. They keep telling us that there are going to be shortages this season so I'm trying to get as much done as I can early. I'm actually ordering a couple of things for BG to give me, things he gives me every year that might be an issue to find later - I know he won't think to order early. 

Feeling: A little down, to be honest. But the sun is shining and I think I need to get out into it to lift myself back up again. 

Looking forward to: I think we're going to surprise Miss H and head down to see her this weekend. Haven't actually seen any of my kiddos in weeks and I need a kid fix. 

Question of the week: Do you buy just the one pumpkin to turn into a jack-o-lantern or are you someone who has pumpkins spilling off the porch?

Thursday, September 30, 2021

We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz

We Were Never Here
by Andrea Bartz
Read by Becca Tobin
Published August 2021 by Random House Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary:
Emily is having the time of her life—she’s in the mountains of Chile with her best friend, Kristen, on their annual reunion trip, and the women are feeling closer than ever. But on the last night of the trip, Emily enters their hotel suite to find blood and broken glass on the floor. Kristen says the cute backpacker she brought back to their room attacked her, and she had no choice but to kill him in self-defense. Even more shocking: The scene is horrifyingly similar to last year’s trip, when another backpacker wound up dead. Emily can’t believe it’s happened again—can lightning really strike twice? 

Back home in Wisconsin, Emily struggles to bury her trauma, diving headfirst into a new relationship and throwing herself into work. But when Kristen shows up for a surprise visit, Emily is forced to confront their violent past. The more Kristen tries to keep Emily close, the more Emily questions her motives. As Emily feels the walls closing in on their cover-ups, she must reckon with the truth about her closest friend. Can Emily outrun the secrets she shares with Kristen, or will they destroy her relationship, her freedom—even her life?

My Thoughts:
Some mystery/thriller books that hold up long after they're first published. Despite getting great reviews, I'm not sure this book will be one of those, although it's certainly a wild ride. 

Emily and Kristen become best friends in college and, because they both have families their in no rush to spend time with, they'll travel the world during breaks from school, trips that continue years after they've finished school. But as a trip to Chile devolves into burying a body in the middle of nowhere, Bartz gradually reveals that this is not the first time these two young women have found themselves getting rid of the body of a man who attacked one of them only a year earlier. And here's where I first started having problems with this book. 

If you'd found yourself hiding the body of a man because you felt certain that a foreign justice system wouldn't buy that it was self-defense, how quickly would you be willing to travel to another foreign country? Even if you're answer is a year, and even if you're not yet thirty-years-old, would you even remotely considering going to your room with a total stranger in yet another foreign country? Or even in the same city you live in, for that matter? 

The two young women head home, Emily to Milwaukee, Kristen to Australia WITH A FAIRLY LARGE PIECE OF EVIDENCE IN HER LUGGAGE!!! Ok, yeah, you don't want it lying around to implicate you. But maybe drop it in the trash in the airport? These are only a couple of the things that raised questions for me within the first 100 pages of the book. Even after the young ladies returned home, there were so many times I wanted to slap Emily to wake her up. 

Normally I'd feel bad if I gave away this much about a mystery novel, but the publisher's summary gets you well into the book before they decide they've finally given you enough to lure you in.

Here's the thing, though - even with all of the issues that I had with this book, I raced to make sure I finished it before it automatically was returned to the library because I really needed to know how Bartz was going to resolve this. Was Kristen gaslighting Emily? Had Kristen killed before? Or was Emily burying memories that would acquit Kristen? The tension ratchets up and up and there seems to be no way either of these young women is getting away with what they did in Chile. Bartz did manage to keep me wondering until the end and she managed to throw in a couple of surprises I did not see coming. 

The verdict? Despite all of the issues I had with this one, there was still enough here to keep me reading and there's certainly a lot that book clubs would find to talk about. 

Bonus for me: Emily lived in the very neighborhood that my son and his wife lived in when they were in Milwaukee, she went to a beach we'd been to, and Bartz described the city in very much the same way that I would describe the downtown. It's always good to find that kind of connection in a book. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The #1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

The #1 Ladies' Detective Agency
by Alexander McCall Smith
Read by Lisette Lecat
Published 1998

Publisher's Summary:
This first novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s widely acclaimed The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series tells the story of the delightfully cunning and enormously engaging Precious Ramotswe, who is drawn to her profession to “help people with problems in their lives.” Immediately upon setting up shop in a small storefront in Gaborone, she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. But the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witchdoctors.

My Thoughts:
When Alexander McCall Smith first published The #1 Ladies' Detective Agency he was already a successful author, having published nine books before this one. I have no idea how successful those were; but I had the feeling, as I listened to this book, that he knew going in that there was a good chance that this might before a series. Smith gives readers the full background of Precious "Mma" Ramotswe and introduces us to a number of characters you can't help but feel you'll be seeing again. And while the book ties up all of the cases introduced here, Smith leaves readers with the impression that Mma Ramotswe is just starting to make a real success of the agency she's started and leaves her behind just as she's accepted a proposal from a man whose been pining over her for years. 

Precious has some history that makes her compassionate and interesting and a personality that can't help but appeal to readers. She's plenty smart but it's her common sense, observant nature, and quick thinking that really make her a success at the business she's used her father's inheritance to open. Even more appealing, for me, was that she was a fallible, middle-aged woman, heavy-set woman who people liked - in other words, she was relatable in a way so many mystery heroines are not. 

This book (and, I would assume, the series) leans more toward a cozy mystery while still touching on the darker side of people which makes it more appealing to me than your average cozy mystery. Smith gives readers good insight into life in Botswana, the culture, the landscape, the people. Lisette Lecat, who does a fantastic job giving each character a unique voice, also enhances the setting of the book. I can't recommend the audiobook version of this book highly enough. My coworker, who recommended this book to me, was absolutely correct on that score! Knowing that Lecat will continue reading the series, I'm certain that I will be picking up the next book in the series when next I need a break from heavier, longer books. 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Life: It Goes On - September 26

Happy Sunday! It's definitely feeling like fall in Omaha this past week but I think we're headed back to summer temps this week. I love that this time of year - the mornings are still cool and it cools back off pretty early in the evening. Plus it keeps my flowers blooming; my cosmos decided just this past week to finally start blooming and it's going to be so pretty on my patio in the coming few weeks if the weather holds. 

We're headed off to have lunch with my dad soon and there's not much to report from here so I'll be brief today!

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished We Were Never Here and started Nathan Harris' The Sweetness of Water

 Football. Lots of football. Yesterday I was back to have college football on in the background all day as I got things done around the house. 

Read: Colson Whitehead's Harlem Shuffle which is so good. I need to get that finished up because I picked up a library hold Friday. 

Made: A couple of Molly Yeh's (Girl Meets Farm) recipes - Funeral Hot Dish (what a terrible name!) and a romaine salad. The hot dish was good but neither of us was a fan of the dressing on the salad. 

Enjoyed: Book club Tuesday. We had such a good conversation about the book (You'll Never Believe What Happened To Lacey) and racism. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: More laundry stripping, more deep cleaning, more putting the house back in order. 

Thinking About:
What to read for RIP XVI. It started in September but I'm always late to that party. I'm thinking it's finally time to pick up Wilke Collins' The Woman In White

Feeling: Relaxed. I got a lot done around the house yesterday so I'm feeling less weighed down by the to-do list today. 

Looking forward to: A friend who lives in Arizona is coming to town this week and I'm looking forward to seeing her for the first time in three years. 

Question of the week: Do you have any Halloween, spooky-type read recommendations for me? 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Maiden Voyages: Magnificent Ocean Liners and the Women Who Traveled and Worked Aboard Them by Sian Evans

Maiden Voyages: Magnificent Ocean Liners and the Women Who Traveled and Worked Aboard Them
by Sian Evans
Published August 2021 by St. Martin's Press

Publisher's Summary:
During the early twentieth century, transatlantic travel was the province of the great ocean liners. It was an extraordinary undertaking made by many women, whose lives were changed forever by their journeys between the Old World and the New. Some traveled for leisure, some for work; others to reinvent themselves or find new opportunities. They were celebrities, migrants and millionaires, refugees, aristocrats and crew members whose stories have mostly remained untold—until now.

Maiden Voyages is a fascinating portrait of these women as they crossed the Atlantic. The ocean liner was a microcosm of contemporary society, divided by class: from the luxury of the upper deck, playground for the rich and famous, to the cramped conditions of steerage or third class travel. In first class you’ll meet A-listers like Marlene Dietrich, Wallis Simpson, and Josephine Baker; the second class carried a new generation of professional and independent women, like pioneering interior designer Sibyl Colefax. Down in steerage, you’ll follow the journey of émigré Maria Riffelmacher as she escapes poverty in Europe. Bustling between decks is a crew of female workers, including Violet “The Unsinkable Stewardess” Jessop, who survived the Titanic disaster.

Entertaining and informative, Maiden Voyages captures the golden age of ocean liners through the stories of the women whose transatlantic journeys changed the shape of society on both sides of the globe.

Cunard's RMS Aquitania

My Thoughts:
I made a mistake when I began reading this book. I took it to be a story primarily about the women who worked and traveled on the ocean liners that ferried people back and forth between the New World and the Old. I was expecting it to the be stories of particular women, especially those who worked on the ships, and about the ocean liners as well. 

Cunard's RMS Laconia
That's some of what I got. I got a lot of information about ships. So much information that I began to wonder if Evans was padding the book due to a lack of information about the women. Eventually, I understood that to be background to set up the period between the wars. I also got a lot of history. About World Wars and prohibition and the ways the shipping industry helped change the lives of women, from taking them across the ocean for new opportunities to providing them jobs they'd never been eligible for before during wartime. On those floating microcosms of society, we learn about the various roles the female employees of the ship lines served. In first class, one woman might work as a secretary or dresser for a single customer. In third class, there might be only one woman to ensure the welfare of all of the people desperately looking for a new beginning. One woman was so desperate that she hid in one of the ballast containers, burying herself under a layer of gravel to avoid detection during inspection and staying in that container until she estimated that the ship was more than half way to America, too far to turn back.
Marlene Dietrich

The book is loaded with who's who of famous women of the area and we learn about how hard the liners worked to make these women feel comfortable and safe, outfitting the ships to feel more like hotels than ships. Those are the kinds of stories, of course, that make readers see a summary and decide to read a book. But it's the stories of the women in third class and the women who worked tirelessly on these ship, all in a bid for a better life, such as Violet Jessop who served as a stewardess, who really caught my attention. 

Violet Jessop, who survived the Titanic

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Oh, William ! by Elizabeth Strout

Oh, William!
by Elizabeth Strout
Published October 2021 by Random House
Source: courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William. 

Lucy Barton is a writer, but her ex-husband, William, remains a hard man to read. William, she confesses, has always been a mystery to me. Another mystery is why the two have remained connected after all these years. They just are. 

So Lucy is both surprised and not surprised when William asks her to join him on a trip to investigate a recently uncovered family secret—one of those secrets that rearrange everything we think we know about the people closest to us. What happens next is nothing less than another example of what Hilary Mantel has called Elizabeth Strout’s “perfect attunement to the human condition.” There are fears and insecurities, simple joys and acts of tenderness, and revelations about affairs and other spouses, parents and their children. On every page of this exquisite novel we learn more about the quiet forces that hold us together—even after we’ve grown apart. 

At the heart of this story is the indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who offers a profound, lasting reflection on the very nature of existence. “This is the way of life,” Lucy says: “the many things we do not know until it is too late.”

My Thoughts:
In The New York Times' review of Elizabeth Strout's My Name Is Lucy Barton, Claire Messud called Strout's vision of the world "Protestant and flinty." In Strout's return to Lucy Barton, Protestant and flinty are, again, apt descriptions of her writing. 
"I feel invisible, is what I mean. But I mean it in the deepest way. It is very hard to explain. And I cannot explain it except to say - oh, I don't know what to say! Truly, it is as if I do not exist, I guess is the closest thing I can say. I mean I do not exist in the world. It could be as simple as the fact that we had no mirrors in our house when I was growing up except for a very small one high above the bathroom sink. I really do not know what I mean, except to say that on some very fundamental level, I feel invisible in the world."
Despite being a successful author, Lucy Barton continues to feel invisible and to find it surprisingly difficult to put her feelings into words. Except for when it isn't:
"A tulip stem inside me snapped. This is what I felt. It has stayed snapped, it never grew back. I began to write more truthfully after that."
A childhood of poverty and abuse has led Lucy to live her life feeling "less than," a feeling that was reinforced by a mother-in-law she simultaneously loved and resented. Catherine asked Lucy to call her "Mom" when Lucy married Catherine's son, William. But she found any number of ways to make Lucy feel out of place and beneath her, from giving Lucy hand-me-down nightgowns to giving her a set of golf clubs knowing that Lucy didn't enjoy golfing. So Lucy was as surprised as William when he discovered that Catherine's childhood was not all that different from Lucy's own. 
"How is it that some people know how to do this [cross the lines in our world], and others, like me, still give off the faint smell of what we came from? I would like to know. I will never know. Catherine, with her own scent that she always wore. My point is that there is a cultural blank spot that never ever leaves, only it is not a spot, it is a huge blank canvas and it makes life very frightening."
In Oh, William! Strout explores the ways we never completely escape our upbringing and that cost that trying to do so takes. In her quiet, spare way, she also, as always, explores the lasting relationships between parents and children and spouses, even after divorce. William and Lucy have a complicated relationship that is only underscored by the wonderful relationship Lucy had with her second husband who only recently died. 

I'm a huge fan of Strout's and I love the way she comes back to characters again and again (this is her third book that includes Lucy), even working characters from other books into her stories (here characters from The Burgess Boys show up). While some readers may read this book and feel that they are missing something by not having read My Name Is Lucy Barton (and I kept wondering if I was forgetting things from that book), in looking back at my review, and others, of that book, I find that Strout left somethings to the readers' imaginations before as she does again here. You're getting all you need to have to understand Lucy. This one crept up on me and my appreciation of it grows even after I finished reading it. If you're a fan of Strout's, you'll enjoy this one. If you're new to her work, understand that this is a quiet, slow-paced book that is filled with introspection. It will make you think, if you have patience. I'm glad I did.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Life: It Goes On - September 19

Happy Sunday! I know it's almost officially fall (and I am starting to get the fall feels) but it feels like summer here this weekend. We ate breakfast on the patio and it was absolutely still and quiet out and I wondered why we haven't done that more often while it's been nice out. 

I got to work from home a couple of days this week. Since the big desk rearranging this summer, The Big Guy is now working in the room I used to work in and I had to move up to what I euphemistically call "my office." The beauty of that is that the table I set up on is positioned between two windows on the second floor and it felt a little bit like I was working in a tree house. I threw open windows, pulled a comfy chair up to the window for the cat to sleep in and thought I was going to really enjoy working from there 2-3 days a week going forward. And then my peer at work put in her notice and once she's gone, I'll have to be in the office full time. Oh well, it was good while it lasted. 

Last Week I:

Listened To:
 I finished The #1 Ladies' Detective Agency and I'm now about half way through Andrea Bartz's We Were Never Here, which is another of the Reese Witherspoon book club's recent picks. 

Watched: Football, the finale of America's Got Talent, some HGTV, and John Legend on Austin City Limits. That show's long been something we watch on Saturday nights if we're home; but, my goodness, have their lineups changed in the past couple of years. 

 I finished Jodi Picoult's latest, Wish You Were Here, and started Colson Whitehead's new book, Harlem Shuffle. I'm not always good about reading the Author's Notes at the end of books, but reading Picoult's really gave me a greater appreciation why she'd written her story the way she did. I've only just started Whitehead's book and I'm already, once again, so impressed with his storytelling.

 On Meatless Monday, we had pasta with freshly picked tomatoes and basil. Otherwise, it was bacon week for us. BG picked up some really good slab bacon and croissants so we had BLTs with those and homegrown tomatoes...twice. Another night we had fried potato casseroles with, you guessed it, bacon. Last night we went out to eat and, of course, I ordered a burger with bacon. This week - salads!

Enjoyed: Spending the day with my dad yesterday then capping the day with dinner out with friends. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I'm picking up the "ingredients" for laundry stripping today so I'll be doing a lot of that this week. Also, I'm already playing catch up on the Fall Cleaning Challenge so I need to finish up the bathrooms and move on to the kitchen. 

Thinking About: Funerals. Yesterday my dad and I went the memorial service of a friend's mom. It's the first time either of us has been to a funeral since my mom's and I think we were both a little nervous about going. But it was the right thing to do, so we went; and we both came away with some very distinct impressions about what we do and do not want for our own services. 

Feeling: Excited - I have tomorrow off for absolutely no reason other than just to take a day off. 

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday. 

Question of the week: Have you ever given any thought to your own funeral or memorial service? I was so grateful that my mom had put everything in writing long before it was needed and I've since chosen music and some readings. What music would you choose?

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

The Last Thing He Told Me
by Laura Dave
Published May 2021 by Simon and Schuster

Publisher's Summary:
Before Owen Michaels disappears, he smuggles a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers—Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.

As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered, as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss, as a US marshal and federal agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.

Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they’re also building a new future—one neither of them could have anticipated.

With its breakneck pacing, dizzying plot twists, and evocative family drama, The Last Thing He Told Me is a riveting mystery, certain to shock you with its final, heartbreaking turn.

My Thoughts:
I fell into this book and couldn't pull myself out of it until I finished it. We don't know, in the beginning, why Owen has fled. Is he also guilty of the fraud his boss has been arrested for? And where did the money he left in a bag for Bailey come from? Is the man who says he's a U.S. Marshal really a U.S. Marshal? Also, why hasn't Owen worked harder to get his daughter to like her new stepmother? Oh wait, that last one was just a niggling question as the tension and mystery built. 

Dave moves Hannah's narrative back and forth between her search for the truth and the back story of Hannah and Owen...or whatever his name really is. Owen's given Hannah a very convincing story about his past and how he and Bailey came to be living in Sausalito. But the more she thinks about what she knows about Owen, the more things Hannah recalls that don't add up. 

Bailey is just afraid enough that she's willing to hop on a plane with Hannah to follow up on a lead; she's just as eager to find out what happened to her dad and she may have long lost memories that will help solve the mystery of who Owen really is and what might have become of him. 

And now I have more questions. How is it that a sixteen-year-old suddenly recalls so much about something that happened when she couldn't have been more than three or four years old? And isn't it convenient that people who don't want it help in the beginning (and probably shouldn't even be giving away the information they are) so willing to help with a little persuasion? Again, oh wait! I don't really care because I'm all in at this point and willing to suspend disbelieve. 

And then we get to the ending. I need someone who's read this to get in touch because I need to talk about the ending. Was the book written to be made into a movie? It feels so much like it was. I'm still not sure if I liked the ending or not. It feels implausible but so do all of the other possible endings once Dave had reached a certain point in the story. 

Final question - is it worth reading? Yes! For 250 pages, I was loving this book; it was just wanted I needed without even knowing I needed it. While I may have mixed feelings about the ending, you may love it. It's not bad. It just wasn't what I was hoping for even if I'm not exactly sure what I was hoping for.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

While Justice Slept by Stacey Abrams

While Justice Slept
by Stacey Abrams
Read by Adenrele Ojo
Published May 2021 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary:
Avery Keene, a brilliant young law clerk for the legendary Justice Howard Wynn, is doing her best to hold her life together—excelling in an arduous job with the court while also dealing with a troubled family. When the shocking news breaks that Justice Wynn—the cantankerous swing vote on many current high-profile cases—has slipped into a coma, Avery’s life turns upside down. She is immediately notified that Justice Wynn has left instructions for her to serve as his legal guardian and power of attorney. Plunged into an explosive role she never anticipated, Avery finds that Justice Wynn had been secretly researching one of the most controversial cases before the court—a proposed merger between an American biotech company and an Indian genetics firm, which promises to unleash breathtaking results in the medical field. She also discovers that Wynn suspected a dangerously related conspiracy that infiltrates the highest power corridors of Washington. 

As political wrangling ensues in Washington to potentially replace the ailing judge whose life and survival Avery controls, she begins to unravel a carefully constructed, chesslike sequence of clues left behind by Wynn. She comes to see that Wynn had a much more personal stake in the controversial case and realizes his complex puzzle will lead her directly into harm’s way in order to find the truth.

My Thoughts:
It's getting late, I'm reading so much I hardly have time for writing reviews, and I really, really need to get to comments so I'm going to keep this one short.

Why'd I Read It: It was recommended to me by my sister-in-law, a woman who is crazy busy but still finds time to read a lot of mysteries. When she recommends one to me, I know I'm going to like it. 

Some Backstory: You'll know the name Stacey Abrams from her run from Governor of Georgia and, more importantly, for her tremendous work in getting eligible persons signed up to vote in that state. She wrote this book many years ago but had no luck getting it published. Did her name recognition help in the end? Undoubtedly. But this isn't the first book that Abrams has had published - she's previously written and had published several romance novels and a number of nonfiction books. 

What I Liked: 
  • Adenrele Ojo does a fine job reading the book which will make you think you should pick up the audiobook if you want to read this one. Read on.
  • Abrams includes biotech, genetics, espionage, medical, legal, and political elements and makes readers pay attention to the ways she weaves these elements together. 
  • Avery comes with a background that makes her feel more real, including a drug addict mother, a history of gambling, and a educational background that had her jumping from school to school.
  • Once this book gets rolling, there's no stopping it - it feels like it's ready made to be an non-stop action movie. 
What I Didn't Like:
  • The good guys are practically wearing white, while the bad guys are in black. There's almost no grey here. I kept waiting for one of the good guys to turn out to be a bad guy but it never happened. 
  • I prefer authors to give us a sketch of their characters but not to dwell on them. Abrams gives readers every detail, often enhancing those descriptions as the book goes on. 
  • Avery's mother, Rita, is an addict and, we are given to infer, a sex worker. Abrams seems to a very little sympathy for either addicts or sex workers, painting Rita in the most negative of lights and never given the impression that either addicts or sex workers are victims. 
  • There are some pretty glaring points where Abrams has characters, particularly Avery, doing things that we've been led to believe they are too smart to do. 
About that comment I made earlier about the audiobook. There is so much going on in this book, especially in the first half as it is set up, that it's tough to keep up with all of the details when you're listening to it. I'd definitely recommend you at least have a copy of the book on hand if you're going to listen to this one, so that you can refer back to it. 

Now, you're probably thinking that even though I said that I'm bound to like any book my sister-in-law recommends, I didn't seem to like this one much. It does have its flaws. But I was all in for the story and Abrams never made solving the problem too easy for the smart group Avery surrounded herself. Was the ending a little implausible? Well, yeah. But it's the ending you want and I was happy with it. And it had me looking forward to the next two Avery Keene books which Abrams is already contracted to write for Doubleday. 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Life: It Goes On - September 12

Happy Sunday from Omaha, where it can't decide if it's going to be a seasonably temperate 80 degrees or Indian summer. I've got some yard work I wanted to do this weekend but I think it will wait until later in the week...or October! And certainly I have plenty to do in the house to fill the day; I played a lot this week and it shows around here. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: On the recommendation of a coworker, I started The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. She said that the reader, Lisette Lecat, is fabulous and I concur. If the rest of the books are available through the library, this will make a nice break between longer, more difficult reads. 

Watched: Lots of football, of course. Yesterday I spent a good chunk of the day with my Dad and watched the Huskers win with him. 

 I raced through The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave, which was a recent selection for Reese Witherspoon's book club. 

Made: I wasn't home for a lot of meals this week so there wasn't much cooking to be done. I did make a yummy cheesy roasted tomato pasta and some pepperoni pizza rollups. No healthy eating going on in our house this week!

 Mini-him and Miss H are seven years apart in age but have become very close and have a lot in common, including a love of music. This week, Mini-him drove down and picked up Miss H so they could go to a concert together in Wichita. I love seeing them have so much fun together!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On Instagram I follow the account of a cleaning company called GoCleanCo and, at sixty years old, I've discovered that an old dog can learn new cleaning tricks. So when Sarah announced a Fall Cleaning Challenge, I jumped on board. It was GoCleanCo that convinced me to pull off the shower doors last weekend to be able to clean them better, after all. If you're thinking about a fall deep clean, you can download the paperwork here.

Thinking About: Talking a brief break from social media. It's a time suck that brings me as much stress as it does pleasure some days. 

Feeling: When my mom died, one of my sister's friends was a rock for our family. She brought us coffee, she sat by my dad's side and shared the grief of losing her husband with him, she helped us laugh. This week her mom passed away and I am broken-hearted for her. 

Looking forward to: A quiet, normal week. As much as I like a three-day weekend and the shorter week that follows it, somehow that week ends up throwing everything off kilter. 

Question of the week: Did you watch any of the 9/11 coverage yesterday? I watched some of the ceremonies in the morning and found myself in tears without even realizing I was crying and knew I wasn't going to be able to spend much time with it this year.