Thursday, July 29, 2021

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Malibu Rising
by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Read by Julia Whelan 
Published June 2021 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over—especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud—because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own—including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come rising to the surface.

Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them . . . and what they will leave behind.

My Thoughts:
Two years ago and listened to, and very much enjoyed Reid's Daisy Jones and The Six (review here) so it was a no brainer to pick up Reid's latest, Malibu Rising

Like Daisy Jones, Reid plays with structure here, giving us a decades long history of the Riva family juxtaposed against twelve hours of the day we already know that Nina's house will be yet another of Malibu's famous fires. Because we know that all four of the Riva children will be at the party, we know that they will survive a childhood that sees their father abandoning them not just once, but twice, and a mother who self-destructs when he leaves for the second time. But it's their upbringing that has made the Riva children so close, the fact that they had to rely on each other to survive their mother's collapse, the fact that they discovered surfing together and find their lives tied to it. 

But they each have secrets they've been keeping from each other that will be revealed the night of the party, a night they discover another secret they've long suspected and a night they confront the man who all but abandoned them a third time when he didn't come to help them when their mother died. 

I was especially drawn to the parts of the story  set in the past, when Reid keeps readers hoping for the best for the family even as she is letting us know that things are going to get worse before they'll get better. We know almost from the minute we meet Mick Riva that he's not going to keep his promise never to leave the children's mother, June. We know from the minute a woman comes to the door and hands June a baby she says she can't keep and thinks he should be with his father that while June may not forgive Mick, she will love this child as her own. We know that even as things happen that could tear the children apart that they will, in fact, be better for what's happened. 

This one's getting great reviews, understandably. Reid has written four very strong characters in the Riva children, with very real relationships. For me, though, it suffered from my own high expectations. In the day of the party sections, it felt like Reid was adding too much to help that part of the book hold up to the history of the family. Too many extra characters, too much background on the people who came to the party and then behaved miserably, too much bad behavior. I liked this one but I would have liked it more if Reid had held back some.

Credit Julia Whelan for doing, as always, a terrific job reading this book. I was glad that I opted to listen to this one. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Spotlight: Any Dumb Animal by A. E. Hines and The Trevor Project Fundraiser

        Coming in Fall 2021

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.

Preorder at Main Street Rag   Why preorder? Because a preorder gets you a nice discount on the book AND for every book pre-sold between June and November 2021, a group of anonymous donors will match dollar for dollar each sale and done it to The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project was founded in 1998 and is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25. 

Early reviews

“This compellingly candid work speaks the language of courage, of breath-taking transcendence. Finely crafted, it is a remarkable debut collection. Take note, world: a powerful lyric poet has emerged. Take note and rejoice!” ~ Paulann Petersen, Oregon Poet Laureate Emerita

“I was amazed over and over at the bravery of these poems, never shying from the difficult moments in life, and all the while staying true to the clear-eyed, fearless vision of their author.” ~ James Crews, Editor of How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope

“With a strong gift for storytelling and an eye attuned to detail, Hines ultimately shows us the beauty and knowledge made of experience.” ~Richie Hofmann, Author of Second Empire

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Life: It Goes On - July 25

Happy Sunday from, once again, cloudy Omaha! Would have been an easy day to sleep the morning away. Wait! I did that yesterday - I didn't wake up until 10:30!In my defense, I'd been up very late watching the Olympics. Because that's what I do when the Olympics are on. Last night I couldn't go to bed before watching the women win in both volleyball and softball. It'll be hard to get me away from a television for the next couple of weeks. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Daphne du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel, which is read by the actor Jonathan Pryce. He is fantastic! 

Watched: ALL of the sports! I still haven't found the new-to-me sport that will capture my love as curling did ten or so years ago. 

Read: I read like crazy early in the week to finish three books that I needed to have finished for varying reasons. I finished The Guest List, The Summer Before The War, and The Ocean In Winter. I really need to do a better job of keeping track of when things will be due so I don't do that to myself so often!

Made: More caprese salad (it basically lives in my refrigerator in the summer), naked pasta with tomato and basil, and Spam sandwiches just like Mom used to make. 

 Date night with the hubby. We hit up our favorite pizza place in Omaha followed by ice cream at one of the great creameries in town. I went with the tried-and-true coffee flavor but The Big Guy got basil and white chocolate and it was amazing. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Miss H is coming to town this weekend so, while I'm cleaning the guest room for her and putting on clean sheets, I'm going to do some rearranging and organizing in there. 

Thinking About: One of the accounts I follow on Instagram has adopted the philosophy, as she tries to find a way to tackle all that needs to be done as a new mom, "Inch by inch, life's a cinch; yard by yard, life is hard." I had a migraine Friday that resulted in what I call a headache hangover yesterday. Making myself get up and get busy was hard but I finally decided I'd work inch by inch and ended up getting a lot done. I think that will be my new philosophy - it's certainly the way I've traditionally tackled big projects so it shouldn't be hard to adopt for every day life. 

Feeling: A bit sad, if I'm honest. I found out this week that Mini-me and Ms. S will be moving to Alaska in October. What a great adventure for them but it will mean we'll see much less of them. 

Looking forward to: My sister and niece are coming down this weekend for a baby shower for my niece. I'm looking forward to seeing them and hoping my other niece, who recently had a baby, will also be able to come so that I can meet that little man. 

Question of the week: What's on the menu this week? I'm on the struggle bus in the kitchen right now and need ideas?

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Ocean In Winter by Elizabeth de Veer

The Ocean In Winter
by Elizabeth de Veer
Published July 2021 by Blackstone Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
The lives of the three Emery sisters were changed forever when Alex, eleven at the time, found their mother drowned in the bathtub of their home. After their mother’s suicide, the girls’ father shut down emotionally, leaving Alex responsible for caring for Colleen, then eight, and little Riley, just four. Now the girls are grown and navigating different directions. Alex, a nurse, has been traveling in India and grieving her struggle to have a child; Colleen is the devoted mother of preteens in denial that her marriage is ending; and Riley has been leading what her sisters imagine to be the dream life of a successful model in New York City. Decades may have passed, but the unresolved trauma of their mother’s death still looms over them creating distance between the sisters.

Then on a March night, a storm rages near the coast of northeastern Massachusetts. Alex sits alone in an old farmhouse she inherited from a stranger. The lights are out because of the storm; then, an unexpected knock at the door. When Alex opens it, her beautiful younger sister stands before her. Riley has long been estranged from their family, prompting Colleen to hire the private investigator from whom they’d been awaiting news. Comforted by her unexpected presence, Alex holds back her nagging questions: How had Riley found her? Wouldn’t the dirt roads have been impassable in the storm? Why did Riley insist on disappearing back into the night?

After her mysterious visitation, Alex and Colleen are determined to reconcile with Riley and to face their painful past, but the closer they come to finding their missing sister, the more they fear they’ll only be left with Riley’s secrets. An unforgettable story about grief, love, and what it means to be haunted, The Ocean in Winter marks the debut of a remarkable new voice in fiction.

My Thoughts:
Twenty-five years after their mother committed suicide, Alex, Colleen, and Riley continue to struggle with the after effects of the event that changed their lives. Their father has become a recluse and something of a hoarder, requiring his girls to not only care for themselves but for him as well. 

Alex, who lives with the memory of finding her mother and seeing her dead, never marries but goes into a career where she continues to care for people. That is until she gets some news that rocks her world just as an opportunity to travel to India gives her the chance to finally do something entirely for herself. 

Colleen has been living the perfect life - great marriage, perfect house, two kids that she devotes her entire being to - until suddenly things aren't so perfect. Her husband has moved out, and fire leave Colleen and her children homeless, and she finds out her husband has found another woman. And her baby sister, Riley, has been out of touch for months. Desperate to try to pull her family back together, Colleen hires a private investigator to find Riley; but when he does, the news isn't good. 

Riley, who has no recollection of her mother, has become a famous model. But that lifestyle and her painful history have cause Riley to turn to drugs. A stint in rehab worked for a while but slowly Riley is unraveling again and this time there is no safety net. 

There's a lot going on here and de Veer touches on a lot of tough subjects - suicide, mental health, addiction, abuse, family dynamics, infertility, marriage. It felt like a bit more than was needed to make the book compelling and a supernatural elements that de Veer introduced didn't really work for me. But, overall, with the alternating first person narratives of the three sisters, this was a book that pulled me through it, wanting to know what secrets were still hidden and hoping that each of the sisters could find the peace they needed. De Veer does a terrific job of helping the reader to feel the cold and grey of the winter that mirrors what is happening in the sisters' lives. This is de Veer's debut novel; I'm looking forward to seeing where she goes from here.

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

About Elizabeth de Veer:
 Elizabeth de Veer has a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and has been admitted to writing residencies at the Jentel Artist Residency, the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is a member of several writing groups, including Grub Street Writers’ Collective of Boston, the Newburyport Writers’ Group, Sisters in Crime New England, and the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. She lives in a small town in Northeast Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and labradoodle. 

To learn more, check out her web site at Connect with Elizabeth:  Website | Facebook | Instagram

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Life: It Goes On - July 18

Happy Sunday! Boy, was this a week that didn't go as planned! Wednesday a.m. Miss H woke up in a lot of pain and took herself to the emergency room. After five hours, someone finally looked at her and after three more hours determined that she had kidney stones that were moving and that she needed surgery. Needless to say, this mama spent a good part of Wednesday distracted then came home from work and packed to head south early Thursday morning. Got her home Friday and I got home late Friday night. After spending the night Thursday in a hospital recliner, I may have offered to let one of her friend's 13-year-old daughter come live with me and tried to kidnap her roommate's dog. Neither of these would have been popular with The Big Guy! 

Last Week I: 

My view Thursday
 Listened To: I finished Malibu Rising and started Daphne du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel for books. I also listened to Hamilton when I was driving in the city and to keep me awake on the way home. 

 I lost track of how many episodes of Friends, The Office, Impractical Jokers, and Brooklyn 99 Miss H and I watched while I was there. Believe it or not, I had never sat through an entire episode of The Office before. Also, I can happily live the rest of my life without ever seeing Impractical Jokers again. 

Read: I'm balancing books that are due for review, book club, and expiration dates so I've got three going right now: The Guest List, The Summer Before The War, and The Ocean In Winter. Good thing I'm enjoying all of them but I'd prefer to be able to focus on them one at a time. 

 Not as much as I'd planned, needless to day. I did get some caprese salad made - that's something that basically lives in my refrigerator throughout the summer. We also grilled chicken, burgers, and corn on the cob and I made some cucumber dip. And I just pulled a loaf of sourdough bread out of the oven - maybe the best loaf I've ever made, at least to look at. 

Enjoyed: A new, to me, place to eat in Kansas City (Shawnee, actually) - McLain's Market. We will definitely be going back when we're down to see her again. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Finishing up a plant project I'm working on inside the house. Things are getting repotted, moved, pruned. We've got sixteen on the first floor and they were starting to feel like they were taking over the place!

Thinking About: The new to us chair and ottoman that need to be reupholstered and what that will take. 

Feeling: Grateful for the staff at the hospital who worked hard to keep Miss H pain free without narcotics, which, as a recovering addict, are a real danger for her. 

Looking forward to: Book club Tuesday. 

Question of the week: My family has spent so much time in hospitals that I'm kind of a pro when it comes to packing to spend time in one. What's something you always take that you'd recommend? 

Monday, July 12, 2021

Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital by Eric Manheimer, MD

Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital
by Eric Manheimer, MD
Published July 2012 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: checked out from my local library 

Publisher's Summary:
Dr. Manheimer describes the plights of twelve very different patients--from dignitaries at the nearby UN, to supermax prisoners at Riker's Island, to illegal immigrants, and Wall Street tycoons. 

Manheimer was not only the medical director of the country's oldest public hospital for over 13 years, but he was also a patient. As the book unfolds, the narrator is diagnosed with cancer, and he is forced to wrestle with the end of his own life even as he struggles to save the lives of others.

My Thoughts:
Bellevue Hospital is the oldest public hospital in the United States and one of the largest, by number of beds. The hospital itself is 25 stories tall, has an attending physician staff of 1200 and a total staff of 5500. It's a "safety net" hospital, which means that it healthcare for people regardless of their ability to pay or insurance status. It handles over half a million patient visits a year. They handle the medical care of inmates from Riker's Island and for years provided long-term care for mentally ill persons. In other words, as the medical director of Bellevue for almost 15 years, Dr. Manheimer had his hands full. Certainly he was involved in every aspect of the hospital, right down to being one of its patients. 

Through twelve patients, Manheimer touches on not only a number of medical issues but the roles that politics, a broken health care system (including such a desperate need for money that hospitals feel forced into signing agreements with soft drink companies), and societal woes play in the care of patients. It's a  book about so much more than just medical diagnoses and treatments. Through these patients, Manheimer tackles immigration issues and the effect of trade agreements on immigration, the foster care system, the justice system, medical errors, drug addiction and its causes, mental illness, organ donations, end-of-life care, and medical ethics. 

Manheimer is clearly a man who cared very deeply about his employees and his patients, trying to make sure that every one of his patients received care that was based on the best decisions for each without prejudice. He spent a lot of time getting to know his patients, trying to get down to the reasons for their conditions that might effect treatment, and their families. He has a lot to say about society and the ways that we have failed ourselves when it comes to how we treat each other and how medical care it delivered. I learned a lot and, for the most part, agreed with Manheimer's assessments. Manheimer and his wife have led an interesting life outside of his medical practice that allowed him to connect on a more personal level with many of his patients, but I did, sometimes, feel like we got a little too much background on their experiences. 

There was one chapter that I had issues with - one where he addresses obesity. To be fair, he's not wrong that excess weight can cause a host of medical problems; but he seemed to be saying that it's a given that people who weigh more than the medical community says they should are all at risk. Further, he seemed to really be pushing surgery for those who have failed traditional diets. I have major issues with this approach, given the risks and psychological damage these surgeries can cause. 

On the other hand, the chapter about his own cancer is gripping. Having experienced cancer in my own house, I could relate to an extent, on the toll the treatments take on not only the patient but their families, as well. Manheimer confesses to having reached the point in his treatment and disease that he was ready to give up. His wife talked him into continuing. But Manheimer readily acknowledges that this is not necessarily the best choice for all patients. 

This is not an easy read but one well worth taking the time to read and consider. I'll be thinking about these patients for a long time. 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Life: it Goes On - July 11

Happy Sunday! We are counting our blessing this weekend - Omaha got hit with a terrible thunderstorm Friday night and we had only minimal damage and didn't lose power. Our fifty-gallon recycling bin did get filled up with rain water (rain was coming off the roof so fast it went over the gutters). I calculated that that much water weighed about 400 lbs! Throughout a lot of town, though, power is still out, trees were uprooted, and property damaged or destroyed.  We went out to grab a quick bite last night and there were big crowds at all of the restaurants of people who can't make themselves a meal at home right now. Whenever you get to feeling sorry for yourself, it's good to be reminded that there are other people who have it harder than you do.

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I started Taylor Jenkins Reid's latest, Malibu Rising. As much as I enjoy Julia Whalen's reading, I'm wondering if I would like this one better in print. Maybe some of the analogies wouldn't seem so cliche. 

Watched: Lots of HGTV and I found a channel that shows repeats of some of HGTV's older series. One of the series, Find and Design, focused on using flea market and garage sale finds to redesign a room and even 17 years after it originally aired, it still inspired me. I love finding things (or better yet, having someone say "hey, I'm getting rid of this; do you want it?") and making them my own. Every room in my house has at least one piece of furniture I've painted, refinished, or repurposed. 

Read: I finally finished Twelve Patients. It had a lot of interesting and thought-provoking information but I also had some issues with it. Yesterday I started Lucy Foley's The Guest List

Made: Bbq chicken, cowboy caviar, loose meat sandwiches, french onion dip - it was all about summer eating at our house this week. 

 I took an extra day off last weekend and got my hair done. You know how much I love those couple of hours getting pampered and feeling ten years younger when I leave the salon! For the past year, since I wasn't really seeing anyone, I've been sticking to the same old, same old. This time I kicked up the fun again and my stylist threw some reddish, purplish colors in there.

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I've been slow this summer about lightening up the house but this week I'm pulling up some rugs (which will get cleaned in the driveway today), swapping out the patriotic decor for some summer vibes, and doing some decluttering. 

Thinking About: The Big Guy's brother and his wife were getting rid of a chair (which, of course, I didn't hesitate to say "yes" to taking!) and it will need to be reupholstered to work where I want to use it. The questions are: what fabric to use, do I paint or strip the wood, and do I attempt to reupholster it myself? BG is just rolling his eyes (as usual) but I promise him he'll like it when I'm done!

Feeling: Happy. My kids all seem to be in good places right now and that makes this mama's heart happy. 

Looking forward to: I've got some good things planned for eats this week, including some new recipes. Today caprese salad is on the menu. 

Question of the week: What's your favorite food that's in season in the summer? 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawon

Broken (in the best possible way) 
by Jenny Lawson
Read by Jenny Lawson
Published  April 2021 by Holt, Henry and Company, Inc
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
As Jenny Lawson’s hundreds of thousands of fans know, she suffers from depression. In Broken, she explores her experimental treatment of transcranial magnetic stimulation with brutal honesty. But also with brutal humor. Jenny discusses the frustration of dealing with her insurance company in “An Open Letter to My Insurance Company,” which should be an anthem for anyone who has ever had to call their insurance company to try and get a claim covered. She tackles such timelessly debated questions as “How do dogs know they have penises?” We see how her vacuum cleaner almost set her house on fire, how she was attacked by three bears, business ideas she wants to pitch to Shark Tank, and why she can never go back to the post office. Of course, Jenny’s long-suffering husband Victor—the Ricky to Jenny’s Lucille Ball—is present throughout. 

A treat for Jenny Lawson’s already existing fans, and destined to convert new ones, Broken is a beacon of hope and a wellspring of laughter.

My Thoughts:
I love Jenny Lawson. I love her incredible sense of humor but even more her incredible honesty and openness. I love to listen to her books because she always reads them and I'm certain that they are just that much funnier, that much more thought provoking, and that much more empathetic. Although, I did just find out that the printed book has photos and drawings and I'm a little bummed to miss that. 
“The Bloggess writes stuff that actually is laugh out loud, but you know that really you shouldn’t be laughing and probably you’ll go to hell for laughing, so maybe you shouldn’t read it. That would be safer and wiser.” —Neil Gaiman

Lawson got her start writing a blog, called The Bloggess (hence the reason Gaiman referred to her as such), which is where I first discovered her. In her debut collection of stories, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson talked about her life, from her very unconventional childhood through becoming a parent. I have never laughed so hard when I read (listened) to a book.  Until now. One day, as I drove home from work listening to this book, I swear to you I actually guffawed. I was laughing so hard that I seriously considered pulling my car off the road. 

But things are not all funny. There's a full chapter that's a letter to an insurance company; to say that Lawson's troubles highlight the problem with our entire health care system is an understatement. Lawson has a lot of medical problems, from rheumatoid arthritis to anemias to inactive tuberculosis. And that doesn't take into account her mental health issues which include avoidant personality disorder, anxiety, ADD, and treatment resistant depression. Despite having insurance, she spends hundreds of dollars every month on medicines and treatments that her insurance will not cover but which work for her. Her quiet rage is entirely understandable. I'm certain her fearlessness in sharing her battles with all of this helps other people who face similar battles although she is quick to credit those how have shared, through comments on her blog, their own struggles, which led to her writing more openly about her issues. 

Lawson is probably not for everyone - she does curse quite a lot and reproductive body parts come into play frequently. But if you can handle that, and you don't mind chapters that often veer wildly off the original topic, I promise that you will laugh out loud (not just say "lol"), who will actually get some pretty good insights into what makes a marriage work, and, most importantly, you will get to hear from a woman who wants you to know that you are not alone. That's important to her because she needs readers to remind her that she is not alone either. We're all in this together. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Life: It Goes On - July 6

Happy Tuesday! Because Sunday was busy and Monday was headache day. Did you all have a good holiday weekend? We went to Lincoln twice to see family, both Saturday and Sunday and got to spend time with my sister and her husband and The Big Guy's brother and his wife, and, of course, my dad. BG's brother and his wife have a condo in a building in downtown Lincoln that has a communal deck on the 11th floor. From there we could see fireworks for miles across Lincoln; the sound was deafening. It might be my new favorite way to watch fireworks, in no small part because I don't have to worry about fire and limbs while I'm watching. We ate so much of the traditional Fourth of July faves that we only needed two meals and still went to bed feeling like we'd eaten too much!

Last Week I: 
Listened To: My dad give his 45th speech at the 45th annual neighborhood Fourth of July breakfast. This year the focus of his speech was on how the 84 words near the beginning of the Declaration of Independence made it so much more than a mere declaration and how they changed the world. I may be biased but I'm always so impressed about how he finds new ways to teach his neighbors (and family).  
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government..."

 We went to a movie, we went to a movie! The first movie BG and I have been to in more than a year and a half. We went to see Lin-Manuel Miranda's In The Heights, which we both very highly recommend. The cinematography, choreography, and singing are all terrific and we had fun finding people in the cast that we recognized from other things. 

Read: I haven't done much reading this past week. I'm plugging away at Twelve Patients but I'm eager to pick up something less weighty. My dad just loaned me Dennis Lehane's latest and I'm looking forward to picking it up soon.

Made: The traditional egg casserole for the Fourth of July breakfast and traditional red velvet cake for Fourth of July dinner. 

Enjoyed: See above and also an evening on friends' deck, catching up and decompressing. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I'm trying to decide which project to tackle next. I need to do some room painting but I'm not sure I'm up to tackling that big a project just now so I may focus on some smaller things, like a mini-makeover in my dining room or re-decorating the shelves in my family room. 

Thinking About: I learned a couple of weeks ago that a long-time friend has been diagnosed with lung cancer and last week found out that it is Stage 4. She is in my thoughts constantly. Yet more proof that life is not fair. 

Feeling: Relaxed. I took an extra day off to give myself a four-day weekend and I'm headed off shortly to have my hair done (and you know how much I love those two hours!). 

Looking forward to: We're hoping to be able to catch our nephew from California who will be in Lincoln. 

Question of the week: I grew up loving musicals and love them to this day. How do you feel about plays/movies where the characters break into song and dance?

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth
by Sarah Smarsh
Read by Sarah Smarsh
Published September 2018 by Scribner
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Sarah Smarsh was born a fifth generation Kansas wheat farmer on her paternal side, and the product of generations of teen mothers on her maternal side. Through her experiences growing up on a farm thirty miles west of Wichita, we are given a unique and essential look into the lives of poor and working class Americans living in the heartland. 

During Sarah’s turbulent childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, she enjoyed the freedom of a country childhood, but observed the painful challenges of the poverty around her; untreated medical conditions for lack of insurance or consistent care, unsafe job conditions, abusive relationships, and limited resources and information that would provide for the upward mobility that is the American Dream. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves with clarity and precision but without judgement, Smarsh challenges us to look more closely at the class divide in our country.

My Thoughts:
I live in Nebraska. Sarah Smarsh grew up in Kansas. Right next to each other, both are considered agricultural states. But that's about as much as we have in common. When people disparaged my state, I was always quick to distant myself from the rural parts of the state. I grew up mostly in a city, middle-glass, stable and loved. Smarsh spent a lot of time on farms (being on a farm was all that kept her family from going hungry) growing up but she lived a lot of different places (she went to four different schools for kindergarten), the men in her life came and went and were often abusive, and her mom was distant. Still, Smarsh is so good at describing how her family lived and the way she grew up that it's easy to relate to her experiences. 

More importantly, Smarsh makes readers respect people like her family, people who work hard but can never pull themselves out of the hole of poverty. They are people who work jobs that don't provide insurance (even if they do, the price is too steep), who work dangerous or dirty jobs, whose schools don't necessarily have the same advantages as city schools. Children find themselves mired in histories of physical and substance abuse, teenage pregnancies, and absent parents. 

Smarsh shames those who harshly judge those mired in poverty, who treat the poor as though their lot is a choice they have made, a failure on their part. She points out the many, many ways the government, the banking industry, and businesses have pushed the poor further and further down. From the farm crises of the 1980's (her family didn't think much of those rich musicians performing in Farm Aid concerts, raising money that never made it into their empty pockets), Reaganomics (trickle down economics has never seemed to trickle down to the people who most need the help), and businesses that don't provide safe working conditions or a livable wage. 

Smarsh has written this book speaking to the child she never had, the child she never wanted or intended to have. It's a unique way to write a book but that child is what saved her. She named the child August before she was even old enough to know that name also meant venerable, respected, distinguished. In the beginning August was the "person" Smarsh could always talk to; then the "person" who drove her to fight for a better life; and, finally, the "person" she worked hard to avoid having so that she could finish school, attend college, and have that better life. 

This is one of those books everyone should read but it will especially ring true for those of us who live in middle of the country, in the bread basket of America, where schools are continually forced to consolidate, jobs are disappearing, and the family farm has all but disappeared. 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Northernmost by Peter Geye

by Peter Geye
Published August 2020 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In 1897, Odd Einar Eide returns home from a near-death experience in the Arctic only to discover his own funeral underway. His wife, Inger, stunned to see him alive, is slow to warm back up to him, having spent many sleepless nights convinced she had lost both him and their daughter, Thea, who traveled to America two years earlier but has yet to send even a single letter back to them in Hammerfest, their small Norwegian town at the top of the earth.

More than a century later, Greta Nansen has finally begun to admit to herself that her marriage is over. Desperately unhappy and unfulfilled, she makes the decision to follow her husband from their home in Minnesota to Oslo, where he has traveled for work, to end it once and for all. But on impulse, she diverts her travels to Hammerfest: the town of her ancestors, the town where her great-great-grandmother Thea was born—and for some reason never returned to. Braiding together two remarkable stories of love and survival, Northernmost wades into the darkest recesses of the human heart and celebrates the remarkable ability of humans to endure nearly unimaginable trials.

My Thoughts:
Peter Geye quickly became one of my favorite authors when I read his debut work, Safe From The Sea; it was, by far and away my favorite book of 2011. In 2012, I read the first book in his Eide family series, The Lighthouse Road. The series continued in 2016 with Wintering. In Northernmost we have what would appear to be the end of the family's story, traveling back to the first Odd Einar Eide and the ordeal that made him a Norwegian folk hero. 

We sing of winter wonderlands but it's more often the harshest of environments and nobody captures that better than Peter Geye, both the brutality and the beauty of winter. He gives us the joy of a child laughing as snow flakes land on her face and her awe as a great lake freezes enough to walk out onto it. But we can also vividly hear the wind blowing through the gaps in a cabin's walls and understand how that unrelenting sound could make a person made. In Northernmost, we see winter in all of its forms - the tamed version where we have vehicles that are able to traverse easily along snowy roads and the untamed where Odd Einar fights for his life against both beast and nature above the Arctic Circle. 

Geye is equally as good writing about family relationships - between fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, our ancestors and ourselves. His books are always an exploration of those relationships - Odd and Inger, Greta and Frans, Greta and her father, Gus - as well as our relationship with the family that came before us. His characters are almost always complex and interesting. 

Kirkus Reviews says that Geye's choice to pair Greta's quiet struggle to find happiness and her own life against Odd's fight for survival is chancy but that "Geye maintains an elegant counterpoint between the two narratives so that the novel is equally satisfying whether it’s situated in the past or present." I'm afraid I was not as equally satisfied. I was far more drawn to Odd and Inger's storyline than I was to Greta's, perhaps because I couldn't summon empathy for Greta. She had married a man she wasn't sure she loved and stayed with him for 20 years; she was every bit as much to blame for the failure of their marriage as her husband. And Stig, the man Greta falls for when she travels to Norway felt too much like a set piece. 

I can't tell you how much this disappointed me because I had such high hopes for this book. Even a lesser book by Geye still has a lot to offer, though. His writing here is often poetic, there are some marvelous passages here and quotes to keep, and I love the way Geye uses words that challenge me (palimpsest, for example). Now I'll just look forward to Geye's next novel!