Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Life: It Goes On - September 26

Happy Tuesday! We returned yesterday evening from a wonderful long weekend visiting my sister and her family and I just could not muster the energy to post. I wish someone would invent a way to teleport one of these days so we can actually return from a break rested instead of exhausted by an eight hour drive in heavy traffic and/or rain. We didn't help ourselves any by spending a little extra time hanging out with my niece and her little guy before we headed south but it was so fun to get more time with him. Is there anyone else more fun than than a 2-year-old? 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: A Fever In The Heartland, by Timothy Egan (what an eye opener!) and more of The Wager, while we were driving. We were hoping to finish it yesterday but the drive was too stressful to focus on a book. 

Watched: A lot of Husker sports - two volleyball matches and a football game. 

Read: Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet. 

Made: Who can remember back in time to before we left for the weekend?

Enjoyed: Lots of family time; and a rainy, but very fun, trip along the north shore of Lake Superior, with stops to check out the view, get down by the water, and stop at a winery. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: My dad will be moving sooner than originally planned so we will be working this weekend to get him packed up and ready. 

Thinking About: What needs to be done to move my dad, Miss H, and, possibly, Mini-him yet this fall. 

Feeling: One day back and I'm already in need of Friday to get here soon!

Looking forward to: I have a half day on Friday that will be spent doing lots of things just for me. 

Question of the week: If you could teleport anywhere for a long weekend without the time and expense of travel, where would you go?

Thursday, September 21, 2023

All The Broken Places by John Boyne

All The Broken Places
by John Boyne
Read by Kristin Ahterton and Helen Lloyd 
12 hours 42 minutes
Published November 2022 by Penguin Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
Ninety-one-year-old Gretel Fernsby has lived in the same well-to-do mansion block in London for decades. She lives a quiet, comfortable life, despite her deeply disturbing, dark past. She doesn’t talk about her escape from Nazi Germany at age 12. She doesn’t talk about the grim post-war years in France with her mother. Most of all, she doesn’t talk about her father, who was the commandant of one of the Reich’s most notorious extermination camps. 

Then, a new family moves into the apartment below her. In spite of herself, Gretel can’t help but begin a friendship with the little boy, Henry, though his presence brings back memories she would rather forget. One night, she witnesses a disturbing, violent argument between Henry’s beautiful mother and his arrogant father, one that threatens Gretel’s hard-won, self-contained existence. 

All The Broken Places moves back and forth in time between Gretel’s girlhood in Germany to present-day London as a woman whose life has been haunted by the past. Now, Gretel faces a similar crossroads to one she encountered long ago. Back then, she denied her own complicity, but now, faced with a chance to interrogate her guilt, grief and remorse, she can choose to save a young boy. If she does, she will be forced to reveal the secrets she has spent a lifetime protecting. This time, she can make a different choice than before—whatever the cost to herself….

My Thoughts: 
I did that thing again, the thing where I don't finish listening to a book before my loan expires and then months later, when I finally get it back again, I can't remember a thing I listened to before and I have to go back aways into the book to refresh my memory. In no time, though, I was once again swept into this book and everything it made me feel. 

In 2006, Boyne wrote the bestseller The Boy In The Striped Pajamas. Readers of that book will recognize the main character in this book. Gretel Fernsby was 12 years old in that first book. Almost 80 years later, she is still living with the guilt of what she did then and what her father (and, by extension, her family) did and stood for. 

Here we are centered on present-day Gretel, but Boyne drops us back in to different times in Gretel's life. First to the time she and her mother spent in Paris, then to the time she spent in Australia, then to her early life with her late husband and son. In all of those places, Gretel is faced with the repercussions of what her father did, of her own feelings about it, of her implicate others who were guilty of heinous acts. But Gretel has been living for a long time with the past buried, in no small part because she keeps so much to herself. But young Henry has brought back the memory of what Gretel did to her brother and she finally sees a way to at least partially redeem herself. 

Like The German Wife, this book left me with mixed feelings about the main character. How much of what happened in those camps is she complicit in? What is her responsibility to those who died and those who suffered? Are we meant to feel sorry for her or should she be punished for what she did (or didn't) do? To be fair, Gretel was a young girl, not able to stop anything. But she could, in later years, have done more and it's hard to forgive her for that. Especially in light of the fact that she seems to feel much greater guilt for what happened to her brother than what happened to the millions of others who died. I wanted her to make things right in some way and here Boyne did not disappoint. 

I definitely recommend the audiobook (although I'm sure it's great in print, as well) and can imagine that this book would give book clubs a lot to talk about. 

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Life: It Goes On - September 17

Happy Sunday! Why do weekends have to go by so quickly?! I wasn't nearly as productive this weekend as I had hoped to be. Well, let's rephrase that - I didn't knock nearly as many things off of my to-do list as I had hoped to but I did get a lot done. Just a lot of the kinds of things that don't really show (although they show when they aren't done). Went to get the milk out of the fridge this morning and that lead to a lot of cleaning and cooking I hadn't planned to do. Where did all of the energy I used to have go?!

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I'm all over the place this week. I was listening to Poverty, By America (so interesting!) but my loan expired so now I'm waiting on the book. Then I went back to Now You See Us but yesterday, while we were driving to KC, The Big Guy and I started listening to David Grann's The Wager. One day, I'll actually finish a book!

Watched: Football, volleyball, and more football. And one episode of Ted Lasso, which we're still enjoying but it's gotten to be so heavy and sad that it's hard to binge. 

Read: The Many Lives of Mama Love, which I didn't realize was a memoir. Enjoying it but need to get it back to the library soon. Partly because when I went to pick up a book I had on hold, it turned out that I, once again, had three books ready. 

Made: You all know how my heart wants the warm weather to continue. But there's definitely a part of my subconscious that's screaming to let autumn in because today I roasted a pork tenderloin, baked some chocolate croissants, and made Hungarian mushroom stew. I can't vouch for how Hungarian it is. It does have lots of paprika, but I don't know that it originated in Hungary. It's definitely one I'll make again but if I'm making for just the two of us again, I'll cut the batch in half. 

Enjoyed: We went with friends to a new-to-us Mexican restaurant on Friday, as part of Omaha Restaurant Week. For a set price, each of us got an appetizer, a main course, a dessert, and a drink. Far more food than any of us would regularly eat but it was good. And we will definitely be going back for their churros again! 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: A trip north to visit my sister, her husband, and their daughter's family. I can't wait to see them. They moved to where they are now three years ago, but one thing or another has kept us from getting up there. 

Thinking About: Did I tell you that I'd gotten a bonus at work? I have spent far too much time lately planning how to spend that. New clothes, new shoes, a new custom piece of jewelry, some organizing products, new patio furniture, something new for the house, a new tattoo...the list of things I might get are endless. So much so that I've sort of reached decision paralysis. Does that ever happen to you?

Feeling: A little on edge. We went by Miss H's new place yesterday when we were in KC and BG and I were not thrilled with it, concerned about whether or not it's safe enough. We feel a bit like she got mislead but now wonder how far her parents can push it to get her into a different place. On the other hand, I'm pretty darn proud of how we've Jenga'd everything into her storage unit! Sometimes having grown up kids is almost as tough as having young ones. 

Looking forward to: Book club this week (although I have yet to start the book - do you think I can read it in 48 hours and still do all of the other things that need to be done?). 

Question of the week: On Instagram I watched accounts get all fired up with fall decor and now, before September is even over, they've already switched to Halloween. Do you decorate for the season or for the holidays? 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead

Crook Manifesto
by Colson Whitehead
336 pages
Published July 2023 by Doubleday

Publisher's Summary: 
It’s 1971. Trash piles up on the streets, crime is at an all-time high, the city is careening towards bankruptcy, and a shooting war has broken out between the NYPD and the Black Liberation Army. Amidst this collective nervous breakdown furniture store owner and ex-fence Ray Carney tries to keep his head down and his business thriving. His days moving stolen goods around the city are over. It’s strictly the straight-and-narrow for him — until he needs Jackson 5 tickets for his daughter May and he decides to hit up his old police contact Munson, fixer extraordinaire. But Munson has his own favors to ask of Carney and staying out of the game gets a lot more complicated – and deadly. 

1973. The counter-culture has created a new generation, the old ways are being overthrown, but there is one constant, Pepper, Carney’s endearingly violent partner in crime. It’s getting harder to put together a reliable crew for hijackings, heists, and assorted felonies, so Pepper takes on a side gig doing security on a Blaxploitation shoot in Harlem. He finds himself in a freaky world of Hollywood stars, up-and-coming comedians, and celebrity drug dealers, in addition to the usual cast of hustlers, mobsters, and hit men. These adversaries underestimate the seasoned crook – to their regret. 

1976. Harlem is burning, block by block, while the whole country is gearing up for Bicentennial celebrations. Carney is trying to come up with a July 4th ad he can live with. (“Two Hundred Years of Getting Away with It!”), while his wife Elizabeth is campaigning for her childhood friend, the former assistant D.A and rising politician Alexander Oakes. When a fire severely injures one of Carney’s tenants, he enlists Pepper to look into who may be behind it. Our crooked duo have to battle their way through a crumbling metropolis run by the shady, the violent, and the utterly corrupted.

My Thoughts: 
My first Colson Whitehead book was his masterpiece The Underground Railroad. Of it I said, "It is the rare book that more than lives up to the hype that has swirled around it." Here's the thing about Whitehead: it is not a rare thing at all for his books to live up to the hype. Crook Manifesto is the fourth book by Whitehead I've read and I'm astonished by his ability to...well, I'm just astonished by his ability. 

Crook Manifesto is a follow up to Whitehead's Harlem Shuffle (my review here). We're again brought into the world of Ray Carney, furniture store owner who has worked hard, since we last met him, to stay on the up-and-up. In this book, Whitehead has broken his story into three different years that show the decline of Harlem and New York City in general. In the first act, we're again brought into the world of Ray Carney, furniture store owner who has worked hard, since we last met him, to stay on the up-and-up. 

In typical Ray fashion, and in a bid to be a good dad and connect with his daughter, in the first act of this book, Ray finds himself once again involved in the tough life of Harlem. Also in typical Ray fashion, he finds a way out. Things we love about Ray: 1) he tries very hard to be a better father than his own father was (not all that tough), 2) he wants to be a good man but life in 1970's Harlem makes that difficult, and 3) Ray always seems to find a way out. 

Act two finds Ray taking a step back in the action, when Hollywood comes to Harlem via a wealthy arsonist named Zippo who has dreams of being a famous director. Here readers are reintroduced to Ray's friend Pepper, a thug who does what needs to be done. Pepper has been hired as a guard on set but is called in to find the leading lady when she goes missing. Pepper solves problems in the way you would expect a thug to solve them but it always seems appropriate to the situation. In the end both Zippo and Pepper will find themselves back the worlds they come from. 

In the third act, both men must work together, facing both the so-called underbelly of Harlem and the elite. 

Violent? Yes, all of the Whitehead books that I've read are very violent. As a general rule, I'm not a fan of violence in books but in Whitehead's books it feels very necessary to set the tone, to force the reader to accept the reality of the world he's created. Genre? Yeah, Whitehead's book defy genre. Is it a crime novel? Yes...and no. Crime drives the action but this is a book about family and community. I was so impressed with Whitehead's ability to put me right into 1960's Harlem in Harlem Shuffle and he's done it again here. Within pages I was envisioning 1970's New York City, remembering images of that time from watching the news when I was growing up. Whitehead is unparalleled in his ability to do that. 
"It was a glorious June morning. The sun was shin gin, the birds were signing, the ambulances were screaming, and the daylight falling on last night's crime scenes made the blood twinkle like dew in a green heaven. Summer in New York that bicentennial year was full of promise and menace in every sign and wonder, no matter how crummy or small."
The reviewer in The Atlantic said that Whitehead had lost the plot in this book. Now, I know that that reviewer is a professional but I feel like he missed the point. The plot is there, just not in the way we would typically see it. It's one of the reasons that I loved this book. It was, as Whitehead's books so often are, unexpected and, for me, perfect. 

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Life: It Goes On - September 10

Happy Sunday! It's going to be a busy day here today - I'm playing catch up from coming home late from work everyday last week, too tired to do much more than the essentials. Prep for Miss H's upcoming move has meant that she and I have played a lot of "take to the apartment, leave at Mom and Dad's, give away" this weekend. Between what she's getting rid of and what my dad is getting rid of in prep for his upcoming move, we've got a vehicle load that needs to be taken to charity today. I've got to run get some paint for furniture Miss H will be taking and get started on those projects today. Fortunately the weather will be perfect for taking those projects outside and you all know how much I love to work on furniture projects! 

Last Week I: 
Listened To: I'm more than half way through Now You See Us, with Poverty, By America up next. 

Watched: Lots of football, some volleyball, more Ted Lasso, and a rewatch of Drew Barrymore's Ever After

Read: Still plugging away at Crook Manifesto when I can make myself pick up a book. I'm really enjoying it; Colson Whitehead makes his time period, setting, and characters come alive. But I just don't seem to have the mental capacity to read these days. Which is a shame because I've got so many great books from the library that I need to read (and want to read!). 

Made: Granola, meatloaf, hash brown casserole. One part of my brain is fighting the end of summer but another part of my brain has clearly accepted that fall is here. 

Enjoyed: We met good friends at a brew pub last evening for drinks on the patio and it was such a lovely evening to sit outside, relax, and catch up. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Work will continue on getting things ready for Miss H's move. I've hired a friend of Mini-him, who has a cleaning service, to come help me clean some furniture for Miss H and to help clean up the basement. I'm looking forward to catching up with her and moving forward in the basement. 

Thinking About: Between work and the upcoming moves, I haven't thought of much else. 

Feeling: Productive. 

Looking forward to: We're headed back down to KC with another load to put into storage for Miss H this coming weekend. I'm hoping that we'll finally get to see the restaurant where she is working now. 

Question of the week:
Have you heard about the group MoveOn's banned bookmobile? They are traveling around parts of the country giving away books that have been banned in the libraries of those areas. My dad asked me the other day if there were books that I wouldn't have wanted my kids to come across in a library. There are books that I don't think my kids might were ready for when they first might have come across them. But I've always felt like that was my decision. I paid attention to what they were reading and had conversations with them about the books. In the end, I'd say we've raised three intelligent, thoughtful adults who were only enhanced by what they read. What are your thoughts on banning books?

Knowing what an advocate against book banning that I am, my dad gave me a new coffee mug this week; I'm enjoying my coffee in it this morning! 

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The Turk and My Mother by Mary Helen Stefaniak

The Turk and My Mother by Mary Helen Stefaniak
316 pages
Published January 2004 by W. W. Norton and Company 

Publisher's Summary: 

Every family has its secrets. But toward the end of his life, George decides to tell his daughter the story of his mother and the Turk. This initial revelation leads to a narrative tour de force that follows a family through four generations and around the world―through love, marriage, and betrayal, through illness, death, and war. Mary Helen Stefaniak's charming and flawed characters and the warmth of her prose will stay with readers long after they close the book.

My Thoughts: 
Several years ago my book club read Stefaniak's The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia - we were charmed by the book and by Stefaniak, who graced us with her presence when we met to discuss the book. I've had this book of hers sitting on my shelf for many years and when I chose this years' book club theme, You Learn Something New Every Month, I thought it was a good time to read a book that addresses different cultures and employs a different story telling style. 

I'm sorry to say this one was not a hit with my book club. Although, I think it might have been better received had people found the cast of characters that was hidden at the back of the book. Many people complained that it was confusing and were surprised by some of the things that were revealed to them when we discussed the book. This I attribute to the unusual way the book is crafted. 

The story is based, rather loosely, on members of Stefaniak's own family. Told through the point of view of several different characters, we come at the story from several different vantage points. We start with George and move, without readers even being very much aware of it, to George's grandmother, Staramajka who, in telling the story to her grandchildren, is, in fact, telling it to their mother, Agnes, who is eavesdropping. It's through that story that we come to learn of the relationship between Agnes and a prisoner of war, who is presented as being a Turk (but who, we learn, is actually Serbian) in the small Croatian village where Agnes and her husband, Josef, have started a family. Josef has gone to Milwaukee to earn money, with plans to return to the village. But war intervenes and it's years before Agnes and Josef will reunite. 

We'll learn more about the circumstances of the family when we follow the trail of Josef's brother, Marko, who is taken prisoner by the Russians and presumed to have died. We learn more, yet again, from the point of view of a woman George befriended when they were young. The stories and characters merge and separate and reveal that the details of a story often vary depending on the storyteller. We learn of Staramajka's relationship with a gypsy, of Marko's marriage to a Russian and escape from the White Army, and of Josef's relationship with a woman whose daughter would later befriend George. 

While my book club may not have liked this book, I was the lone exception. Was it confusing at times? Yes. But I loved all of the stories that Stefaniak managed to work into the book and how things tied back together. Most of all, I loved the way the book ended making me want to go write back to the beginning and start again to see what it was that I had missed in the story telling. It's not unusual for me to like a book more than the majority of my book club does (and sometimes less); it's rare for me to be the only person to like a book. But here I am fine with being that person and suggesting that you disregard their opinions and give this book a chance. 

Monday, September 4, 2023

Life: It Goes On - September 4

Happy Monday Sunday! That is to say a Monday that serves as the last day of the weekend. Hope yours has been a good, long one! We had company this weekend and packed in loads of time with family but we still had plenty of time to get things done around the house when our family was off visiting other family. 

Found myself wondering when the pumpkin patch was going to open of the season the other day, which surprised me because, generally speaking, I'm not going in to the fall happy about it. My potted plants are already winding down, my garden beds are already needing to be cut back - in general it's time to begin reversing all of the fun stuff I did in April and May. Do I like the heat and humidity of summer? Not so much. But I don't spend all of summer hot, whereas, I'm pretty much cold from December through March. And the sunshine - how I love the light of summer!

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I stopped listening to The Rabbit Hutch and started listening to Now You See Us by Balli Kaur Jaswal, as recommended by my aunt. I'm enjoying it much more. It's still dealing with some heavy topics but I'm enjoying these characters much more. 

 The Nebraska college system's Volleyball Day set a world record attendance record for women's sports at 92,003. It gave me chills to watch that crowd love on women's sports! 

Watching the Husker football team the next night was not nearly as fun! 

Read: Not much. Just can't seem to make myself pick up my book, as much as I'm enjoying it. 

Made: Very little, considering we had company. One night we just did charcuterie, one night we did an indoor picnic and the only thing I made for that was peach pie the way my grandma made it. The next morning I did get up and make my Asian chicken salad for Miss H to take home. 

 See first paragraph. My sister and her husband came down to spend time with their fathers, Miss H came up to just spend some time with us. My sister, Miss H and I got to laughing so hard Friday night that we all seriously began to wonder if it was possible to die of laughter. The result was some inside jokes only the three of us will ever find funny but we will laugh at those things for years to come. That laughter was such good medicine. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Miss H has found an apartment and I think she is only slightly more excited about it than I am. Number one - we will be getting so much stuff out of our basement! Number two - there's nothing better than seeing your children happy. I'm on a mission to make sure she has all of the things she needs to get set up, which means I'll be doing some painting and staining this coming month. Need to get over to pick up some Fusion mineral paint, which Instagram assures me is the best. I sure hope so because it isn't cheap but I love the colors. 

Thinking About: We will have a busy fall, with a couple of long weekend trips to see siblings and two people to move in November. I'm trying to get my mind wrapped around how all of that gets organized while also keeping up with the other things that need to be done and putting the house and yard to sleep for the winter. 

Feeling: Refreshed. Family time, down time, and lots of laughter were just the things I needed. 

Looking forward to: As much as I enjoyed the weekend, I'm also looking forward to the quiet week ahead. More stuff has headed both north and south this weekend and I'm looking forward to reorganizing the areas that stuff came out of. 

Question of the week: Did you get a three-day weekend? If so, how did you use that extra day? Did you enjoy a day of relaxation, hit the Labor Day sales, or hit up some of the weekend festivities? 

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Life: It Goes On - August 27

Happy Sunday! I know that so many of you cannot wait for summer to be over and fall to arrive. Heck, you're already able to get your pumpkin spice lattes. But for me, I can't believe that August is almost over. But the caterpillars eating my parsley plants and the flowers that are dying off and the shorter evenings are telling me that summer is almost over. I have not spent nearly enough time on the patio, not nearly enough to get me through the winter. So I am bound and determined to spend as much time as I can in these final really warm weeks and hope for a very long Indian summer in September. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I gave up on My Dark Vanessa (couldn't handle the subject) and started The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty. It's a prize winner and was greatly lauded; but I think that it, too, is too dark for me right now. I may return it early as well. 

Watched: The Avett Brothers in concert in Lincoln. They were the second band and we left after they played. It was a work night and we had an hour drive home so we knew we wouldn't stay for the entirety of the headliner. But we both agreed that we preferred to leave with the songs of the band we really came to see in our heads. Besides, your girl here had had all of the "peopling" she could handle for one night. Sometimes I'm astounded by the kindness of people. Other times, like Thursday night, I'm astonished by their incredible rudeness, lack of an attention span, and self-absorption. 

Read: I started Colson Whitehead's latest, Crook Manifesto but haven't gotten too far into it. It's due back Tuesday but I doubt I'll have it back to the library until they threaten to fine me. 

Made: Caprese pasta, nachoes, salads, burgers - that heat we had last week had us eating meals that required the least use of heat. 

Enjoyed: Today we went into Lincoln to celebrate with The Big Guy's siblings (and their spouses) what would have been their dad's 100th birthday. We enjoyed whiskey sours with Black Velvet whiskey (he didn't drink much but he liked those) and cherry pie (which their mom would have made). We brought some memorabilia of his for everyone to look at again. It was a lovely afternoon. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: To get ready for company coming this weekend. 

Thinking About: I haven't gotten one furniture project done all summer. Work has been so draining all summer that I just don't have the energy in the evenings to work on anything. But I've been thinking a lot, lately, about what projects I can still get finished before it's too cold to work outside. I need to paint some chairs for Miss H before she moves so that will get done; just need to get over and get the paint. 

Feeling: Very much in need a few days off of work. I need to not be waking up in the night, thinking about what needs to get done there. But my boss did pay me a very nice compliment the other day so I am feeling better about the work that's getting done by my team. 

Looking forward to: A fun week: dinner with friends tomorrow, happy hour with a friend Tuesday, and Friday my sister and her husband arrive from Wisconsin and Miss H also arrives. 

Question of the week: Do you get a three-day weekend this coming weekend? How will you use that extra day? 

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Tom Lake
by Ann Patchett
309 pages
Published August 2023 by HarperCollins Publishers

Publisher's Summary: 
In the spring of 2020, Lara’s three daughters return to the family's orchard in Northern Michigan. While picking cherries, they beg their mother to tell them the story of Peter Duke, a famous actor with whom she shared both a stage and a romance years before at a theater company called Tom Lake. As Lara recalls the past, her daughters examine their own lives and relationship with their mother, and are forced to reconsider the world and everything they thought they knew. 

Tom Lake is a meditation on youthful love, married love, and the lives parents have led before their children were born. Both hopeful and elegiac, it explores what it means to be happy even when the world is falling apart.

My Thoughts:
Peter Duke has died. Emily, Maisie, and Nell know that their mother once knew him. In fact, for a period of time in her teens, Emily was angrily certain that Duke was her father. But they have never heard the full story of how her mother met him, how she fell in love with him, and how he disappeared from her life. Until the summer of 2020, when they are all stuck together on the family cherry farm and they demand to be told the full story. They will get the story, but it won't be the full story. Only Lara will ever know the full story. Still, as the days of harvesting go on, Lara will begin telling her daughters the story of how she came to be an actress, how she went to Hollywood and made a movie, how she ended up at Tom Lake doing summer stock, and how Peter Duke became her boyfriend. And then how he broke her heart, how she stopped acting, and how she came to marry their father. Along the way, details will come out that the girls never knew before (that Lara had once, for two weeks, wanted to be a vet, that her name was spelled Laura for the first sixteen years of her life, that she took up smoking at Tom Lake) that help them better understand the person she was before she was their mother. 

I was just 30 pages into this book when I began telling people that this book would end up on my favorite books of the year list, barring a complete letdown. Not only was I never let down, the book just kept getting better and better for me. To say I was surprised to see on Goodreads that there were reviewers who gave the book 1 or 2 stars, who called it boring, who complained that it romanticizes being quarantined during CoVid is an understatement. Did they read the same book? Yes, we are hitting the point where books set during the pandemic are hitting the book stands en masse. Yes, there is a lot of talk about the play "Our Town." No, this family is not dysfunctional. 

Regarding the pandemic? It was clear that the family experiences difficulties because of the pandemic, that Nell, in particular, felt trapped by it. But Lara is willing to admit, as many people do, that there were parts of the world being shut down that appealed to her. That being stuck with people she loved wasn't the worst thing that could happen to her. I could relate to that, to an extent (although I'd have been happier if all of my children had been with us, as Lara's were). Regarding the play? Yes, there is a lot of talk about the play and I can, honestly, see where it might have been too much for some people. But it was used to teach us so much about these characters that it never felt like too much to me. Regarding the family not being dysfunctional? Thank god! There are more than enough dysfunctional families in literature. It was a pleasure to read about a "normal" family, a family that loves each other at their core, a married couple who, after many years of marriage, still love each other and have no regrets about their pasts. 

This is my seventh book by Patchett. My first of her books was The Magician's Assistant, a book I honestly can't remember all that much about, other than that I knew I would read Patchett again. After I read Bel Canto, I wasn't sure I ever could. Not because I didn't like it but because I liked it so much that I felt certain nothing she wrote could ever live up to it. To be honest, I'm not sure any of her books have ever had the impact on me that Bel Canto did, but Patchett has absolutely lived up to my very high expectations. Tom Lake is no exception. It was a pleasure to slide into a novel that spanned decades in only 300 pages without ever feeling rushed, a pleasure to read a book, at last, that I enjoyed so much that I couldn't put it down, but, at the same time, didn't want it to end. The characters are marvelously fully drawn, Patchett covers the gamut of emotions, all with a deft touch, the settings are so evocative, and Patchett even manages to throw in a few surprises. 

The audio version of this book is read by Meryl Streep. I didn't know that when I requested this book from the library or I almost certainly would have requested the audiobook. But I could get it in print much sooner and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. Maybe if I ever reread this one, I'll get the audiobook; but as great as I'm sure it is, I can't say that I'm sorry to have read this one in print. Patchett's writing is so marvelous that I hear it in my head and it feels like I'm hearing it in Patchett's voice. 

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Life: It Goes On - August 20

Happy Sunday! Mother Nature was not having it with everyone saying that summer is over because the kids are going back to school. She turned up the heat this weekend and it's here to stay for the week. It means our tomatoes are going to ripen like crazy this week, it's unlikely that there will be meals on the patio, containers of water need to be left out for the wildlife, and I'll break a sweat just watering the plants outside. Still, I'll take that over winter any day of the week. 

The Big Guy caught a cold that knocked him out for four days last week. By yesterday I was certain that I had somehow managed not to catch it. This morning I discovered that I have, in fact, managed to catch it, although I'm not feeling nearly as knocked out by it (yet) as he was. That's what I get for being so cocky about it! 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: All The Broken Places by John Boyne. I've never read his book, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, although it's almost certainly his best known book. I'll review this one later this week but I definitely recommend reading The Boy In The Striped Pajamas first because I think this one will pack an even more powerful punch that way. 

Watched: We were in KC yesterday (more on that later) and Miss H and I decided to watch The Lizzie McGuire Movie while we were eating dinner and vegging out on the sofa. Talk about a trip down memory lane. Why didn't that movie teach Miss H never to trust a guy who seems too good to be true?! 

 I'm reading Tom Lake by Ann Patchett. I'm about half way through it; barring a complete let down at the end, this one will end up as a favorite of the year. 

Made: Roasted tomatoes in a creamy sauce over pasta, BLT salads, BLTs...basically, if you can use tomatoes in it, we've been making it this past week as the tomatoes are ripening faster than we can use them. About time to freeze some. 

Enjoyed: Miss H is going to be moving soon-ish, into an apartment, and will finally need her own furniture and kitchen stuff. So BG decided we should load up the vehicles and rent a storage space to avoid having to move so much later. Since he was sick all week, we opted to take only one vehicle but then loaded it up twice more with things she had stored in the attic of the house she's currently in. Thank heavens the storage unit is climate controlled. Then we spent some time apartment hunting and just hanging out together. You know how much I love being with my kids, even if it is 100 degrees out!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: This will all depend on how I feel. If I'm feeling good enough, I'll be over to my dad's this week to continue getting him ready for his move in October. If not, I'll keep this cold away from him and focus on the basement since it's too hot outside to do anything out there. Getting Miss H's stuff out of the basement will free so much space in the basement, but I want to be very intentional about what we do with that space. 

Thinking About: How much I need to do and how little time I have to be sick. So frustrating. 

Feeling: Tired. I'll be going to bed very early tonight. 

Looking forward to:
Next Sunday would have been BG's dad's 100th birthday. We're getting together with his sibs and their spouses to celebrate Jack with some of his favorites including whiskey sours and cherry pie. I'll be taking some glassware to my SIL; pieces I culled from my pressed glass collection. Did I mention that after I had completely rearranged my secretary/china hutch, I hated it and decided I needed to get rid of some things and rearrange it again? I'm so happy that some of those things are going to a home where I know they will be used and appreciated. 

Question of the week: I know we're not the only ones suffering through high temps. What fun ways have you found to beat the heat lately? Have you been to a body of water? Sat in an air-conditioned movie theater? Eaten ice cold watermelon or popsicles? 

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker

Mercy Snow
by Tiffany Baker
336 pages
Published January 2014 by Grand Central Publishing

Publisher's Summary: 
In the tiny town of Titan Falls, New Hampshire, the paper mill dictates a quiet, steady rhythm of life. But one day a tragic bus accident sets two families on a course toward destruction, irrevocably altering the lives of everyone in their wake. 

June McAllister is the wife of the local mill owner and undisputed first lady in town. But the Snow family, a group of itinerant ne'er-do-wells who live on a decrepit and cursed property, have brought her--and the town--nothing but grief. 

June will do anything to cover up a dark secret she discovers after the crash, one that threatens to upend her picture-perfect life, even if it means driving the Snow family out of town. But she has never gone up against a force as fierce as the young Mercy Snow. Mercy is determined to protect her rebellious brother, whom the town blames for the accident, despite his innocence. And she has a secret of her own. When an old skeleton is discovered not far from the crash, it beckons Mercy to solve a mystery buried deep within the town's past.

My Thoughts: 
Titan Falls, like so many small towns, is almost entirely reliant on one industry - Titan Mills, whose owners have ruled the town for generations. But the mill is struggling; environmental rules and foreign competition are taking their toll. The weight of that hangs heavy over the town and its residents. Still Cal and June McAllister are still allowed to lord over the town, despite the way the townsfolk feel about the mill layoffs and June's imperious attitude. Neither of them is about to give up what they've fought so hard for, so when the blame for the bus accident gets laid on Zeke Snow, they work to keep the pressure on to capture Zeke and to rid the area of the Snows. 

It turns out the McAllisters have secrets to keep hidden. Secrets that go back decades, secrets that aren't entirely hidden but townsfolk can only consider them rumor without proof. And none of them is about to push the McAllisters to find the truth. 

Mercy Snow is determined to protect both her brother and her little sister. While the accident threatens to undermine all of her efforts, it also offers her the chance to redeem her family name. The three Snow children work to stay alive and together, using their knowledge of the land and its bounty. It might just be enough to save them - if the McAllisters aren't able to turn the town against them at every turn, putting Zeke in jail and Hannah in protective custody. 

I'll admit that Baker uses too many similes for my taste and that always colors my opinion of a book. But Baker was also able to really create the feel of the weight of the town's desperation, heightened by the winter setting. She did a great job of pulling a cast of townsfolk to the fore and using them as pawns in the underlying battle between the McAllisters and the Snows. Sure, some of the people of the town were a little cliche, but there were enough really interesting characters to allow me to overlook that. 

Baker had a surprise for me just a few pages into the book that really drew me into the story. There were clues throughout the book to undercover the secrets that had been slowly being revealed and Baker pulled them together in the end. Although I felt certain that the book had to end with some sadness, I still didn't see how everything was going to end up. You know I loved that. I wasn't a fan of the final chapter of the book, with its focus on June; but, otherwise, I was very satisfied by the way everything ended. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Zero Days by Ruth Ware

Zero Days
by Ruth Ware
Read by

Published by June 2023 by Scout Press

Publisher's Summary: 
Hired by companies to break into buildings and hack security systems, Jack and her husband, Gabe, are the best penetration specialists in the business. But after a routine assignment goes horribly wrong, Jack arrives home to find her husband dead. To add to her horror, the police are closing in on their suspect—her. 

Suddenly on the run and quickly running out of options, Jack must decide who she can trust as she circles closer to the real killer in this unputdownable and heart-pounding mystery from an author whose “propulsive prose keeps readers on the hook and refuses to let anyone off until all has been revealed”

My Thoughts: 
Zero Days is the seventh book by Ware that I've read, which makes her a rarity in Lisa's world. There aren't many writers who work I've devoured so voraciously. So finding that Ware had a new book out was exciting news; and, as happens so often with my go-to authors, I didn't even look at the book's summary before I requested it. Had I done that, I still would have requested this one; I just would have known that this book wasn't in Ware's usual vein. There is nearly always a locked-room component to Ware's books and, generally, an unreliable narrator. Neither of those features in this one. 

The book started off with a bang (had I read that summary, the first chapter would not have been nearly as exciting). Jack is in the process of breaking into a building, in search of the server room. In her ear, Gabe is directing her from their home, as he explores floor plans and attempts to hack further into the building's security. Of course, we're meant to believe that these two are criminals and I bought into it, except for that part of my brain that couldn't imagine that the main characters of the book would be criminals. It made for an exciting opening scene - akin to those high energy starts to action movies that don't always entirely tie into the rest of the movie, other than to introduce us to the characters and give us some background. 

And then things kind of went awry to me, even as I raced through the book. 

What worked for me: 
  • Technology playing a big part, especially having a female lead who was savvy enough to use it to stay one step ahead of her pursuers. 
  • The fast pace of the book. 
  • Thanks to another of Ware's books, I was never entirely sure that our heroine was going to solve the mystery...or even survive.
  • The ending. 
What didn't work for me: 
  • Fairly early on in her run, Jack injures herself. You and I both know that this injury is going to continue to get worse and worse and that, in the end, it will be a race against that injury to solve the mystery of who killed Gabe. 
  • Also, that injury was, very early on, causing Jack excruciating pain. I don't know about you, but when I've experienced excruciating pain, it's laid me low. But somehow Jack just keeps pushing on. Even as the pain gets even more excruciating. We know because Ware tells us again and again and again how bad the pain is. 
  • We learn early on that Jack's sister is a journalist and her brother-in-law is a lawyer. I 100% assumed they were given these careers because that was going to come into play. It doesn't and I can't imagine why not. 
  • Jack's skills don't seem to help all that much throughout the chase, except for a couple of times. 
  • Ware tries to point us in the direction of a man we're meant to believe killed Gabe because he and Jack were once in an abusive relationship. He had told her that if he couldn't have her, no one could. But I never for a minute bought that he was the killer. Except that I'm usually so bad at predicting the actual killer that I wondered if Ware was intentionally making it too obvious. 
  • Along the chase, Jack meets a person who I was certain was going to come back to play a part in the plot, but he entirely disappeared. In a book with so few characters, this seems an odd waste. 
  • Something happens about half way through the book that should have tipped Jack off immediately as to a person she couldn't trust, but she never made the connection. 
  • AND I figured out who was behind the killing almost immediately, it was just a matter of figuring out why. And even that I had figured out well before the end of the book. You all know how rare that is for me. So rare that I began to wonder if I had read too much into some things. I hadn't. 
  • Also, the ending. Yes, I know I said it worked for me; part of it did, the part where somethings were left unsettled. But other things were tied up too neatly. 
For Ware, this one was a disappointment. Even so, I did race through it, wanting to see if I was right in my assumption of who the killer was and wanting to see how Jack might survive the loss of Gabe. If I scored books, this one would probably come in at a shaky three. Still, I'm not giving up on Ware. 

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Life: It Goes On - August 13

Happy Sunday! I'm sitting here wondering how it can possibly be the middle of August already. For those of you with school-aged children, I'm sure you're wondering how it can possibly be the start of a new school year already! On social media, I'm seeing so many folks excited that fall is just around the corner. I have nothing against fall...except that by the end of fall, all of my gardens will be returned to dirt, the leaves will be off the trees, all of the leaves will be off the trees and we could already have had our first snowfall. Fall bleeds into winter and winter lasts sooooo long! Needless to say, I'm hanging on to summer for as long as I can. The cat and I enjoyed a beautiful evening on the patio, listening to the cicadas, last night, after I had watered and harvested from my garden. Bliss!

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished Ruth Ware's Zero Days and restarted John Boyne's All The Broken Places. Definitely not my favorite of Ware's books; my review will, hopefully, get posted this week. 

 The Big Guy's been off to his class reunion this weekend so I've had the tv to myself. Haven't found a new just-for-me series to watch when he's gone so I watched a couple of movies, The Dressmaker (starring Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving, and Liam Hemsworth and based on the book of the same name by Rosalie Ham) and Bel Canto (starring Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe and based on the book of the same name by Ann Patchett). Might just write up a review of the two of them later this week. 

Read: I finished Tiffany Baker's Mercy Snow and started Ann Patchett's latest, Tom Lake

Made: Easy, peasy summer foods - BLT salad, tacos with roasted corn, pasta with garden tomato and basil. 

Enjoyed: The return of my brother, his wife and their granddaughters; dinner out with my dad on Friday; a class where we worked on intention boards; and 24 hours of having the house to myself. Love BG but also love having some time with my own thoughts, my own choices of what to do or watch, and the quiet. 

This Week I’m:  

I had a couple of things yet from my parent's house that I needed to find a home for which prompted me, Friday night to completely empty by secretary and rearrange everything. I managed to get it all in but now I hate how it looks. So this week I'll probably be emptying it all back out again and making some tough choices of things to get rid of. Kim, you have any room for some more vintage glassware?

Thinking About: That long considered reread of Bel Canto. 

Feeling: Very relaxed. I really needed this laid back weekend. 

Looking forward to: Book club this week. 

Question of the week: What's your favorite movie adaptation of a book?

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Life: It Goes On - August 8

Happy...Tuesday! Wow, Sunday flew by me and then suddenly Monday was over. And, will you look at that, Tuesday is about over now, as well. I wish I could say it's because I've been accomplishing so much. But really, I've been reading a lot. And also decluttering, in 15 minute chunks. More on that later. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Tomorrow I'll finish Ruth Ware's Zero Days

Watched: Would you believe it when I tell you that The Big Guy has actually spent two nights this week with the television off until the news comes on? Yeah, I wouldn't believe it either, if I hadn't been here to witness it. 

Read: Racing through Tiffany Baker's Mercy Snow. I'm eager to see where it's going; but I also went to the library to pick up a book I received notice yesterday was in, only to discover that two more books came in today. So now I'm racing to finish Mercy Snow because I have a lot of books to get to before they need to go back. 

Made: Caprese salad, baked beans, cucumber dip, and an angel food cake with chocolate whipped cream frosting. 

 My brother and sister-in-law came up with their granddaughters to go to the county fair in the county she grew up in. On the way up, they stopped here Saturday and will stop by on the way home tomorrow night. Always enjoy spending time with my brother and his wife; but spending time with a four-year-old and a six-year-old I adore makes it even more fun. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: BG is headed to his class reunion this weekend so I'll have a lot of time to myself. What to do, what to do? Movies will be watched, decluttering will be accomplished, and something might just get painted. 

Thinking About: What to declutter next. I've joined in on Go Simplified's August Challenge, which was only to spend 15 minutes working on an area and finding 10 things in that area to get out of your house. It will come as no surprise to you to find out that I've now done that several times. Because finding 15 minutes is easy and it prevents me from overthinking whether or not to keep something, especially things with sentimental value. 

Feeling: Stressed. Work has been crazy the past few months and I swear it keeps getting worse, not better. I just have to keep telling myself that we're going to work through this patch and then things will even out again. 

Looking forward to: More time with those great-nieces of ours and then a couple of days of quiet!

Question of the week: Anyone else tired of eating watermelon or is it just me? BG has kept us in watermelon ever since the Black Diamond watermelons came in; while I like good watermelon (and these never disappoint), having it two meals a day is getting old! Is he trying to get me to want to start eating hearty fall foods?! 

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

Romantic Comedy
by Curtis Sittenfeld
320 page 
Published April 2023 by Random House Publishing Group 

Publisher's Summary: 
Sally Milz is a sketch writer for The Night Owls, a late-night live comedy show that airs every Saturday. With a couple of heartbreaks under her belt, she’s long abandoned the search for love, settling instead for the occasional hook-up, career success, and a close relationship with her stepfather to round out a satisfying life. 

But when Sally’s friend and fellow writer Danny Horst begins dating Annabel, a glamorous actress who guest-hosted the show, he joins the not-so-exclusive group of talented but average-looking and even dorky men at the show—and in society at large—who’ve gotten romantically involved with incredibly beautiful and accomplished women. 

Sally channels her annoyance into a sketch called the Danny Horst Rule, poking fun at this phenomenon while underscoring how unlikely it is that the reverse would ever happen for a woman. Enter Noah Brewster, a pop music sensation with a reputation for dating models, who signed on as both host and musical guest for this week’s show. Dazzled by his charms, Sally hits it off with Noah instantly, and as they collaborate on one sketch after another, she begins to wonder if there might actually be sparks flying. But this isn’t a romantic comedy—it’s real life. And in real life, someone like him would never date someone like her . . . right? 

With her keen observations and trademark ability to bring complex women to life on the page, Curtis Sittenfeld explores the neurosis-inducing and heart-fluttering wonder of love, while slyly dissecting the social rituals of romance and gender relations in the modern age.

My Thoughts: 
You may recall me saying, on more than one occasion, that a book every seems to like just did not seem to work for me. Here we have the opposite case. So many people on Goodreads really did not like this book at all. But me? For me, this was the right book at the right time. Summer light, but not too light, not too mindless.

The Night Owls is clearly Saturday Night Live (Sittenfeld says as much in the Acknowledgements) and I loved see behind the curtain (and I'm assuming, given the number of resources Ms. Sittenfeld lists, that it's fairly accurate). Clearly the recent spate of SNL cast members dating or marrying major stars has inspired Ms. Sittendfeld to ponder the question "why doesn't it seem to work the other way?" To be fair, have you ever seen one of the female cast members dating some knockout major celebrity? You and I both know where this is going to go, right? 

One of the strikes against this book is that it breaks no new ground. There's a meet cute. You know immediately that the Danny Horst Rule is going to be broken. But here's the thing - I expect that from a book called Romantic Comedy. More than once Sally and Noah discuss how thin the line is between cheesiness and romance. That's the same fine line Sittenfeld travels in this book and the same line she wants readers to ponder. At one point Noah says that the answer lies in whether or not you're involved in it. What made this not cheesy for me was that, although Sally was very insecure about her looks and she's had a terrible history with love, she is not ditzy, nor clumsy, nor involved in a relationship with another man that falls apart when she realizes how she really feels about Noah. None of those things we so often see in romantic comedies. Sally is smart and makes a great living without any help from any man. And how will a man win her over? Not by the grand gesture (although Sally is happy to admit that she just might be impressed by that), but by the ability of a man to show that he's a caring, real human being. I liked that. 

Plus, there's a middle section that's entirely emails between Sally and Noah. Some of those reviewers hated that part (and it may well not have been great on audio), but I loved it. Give me a good epistolary novel any day of the week. 

In all honesty, the first part of the book was better, in my opinion, and I did get tired of hearing how ordinary Sally was. But I forgave Sittenfeld for those things because there was more than enough to have me racing through this book. Right book. Right time. 

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Life: It Goes On - July 30

Happy Sunday! It's been, as it's been so many other places, really hot here this past week. Fortunately, this weekend has been much better. We were able to eat sit on the patio last evening when we went out to eat and today decent enough to do some yard work...until it rained. It was a lovely rain and much needed, especially in light of the fact that we're under water restrictions throughout the city. It was lovely to sit with the doors open and listen to the rain fall. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: A couple of podcast episodes of We Can Do Hard Things, with Glennon Doyle, the Barbie movie soundtrack, and I started Ruth Ware's Zero Days

 We went with friends yesterday to see Oppenheimer - long but very good, with excellent performances from Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey, Jr. and Emily Blount. Thought provoking and definitely makes me want to read more about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the development of the atomic bomb. 

Read: Guys, I finally found a book that I've raced through - Curtis Sittenfeld's latest, Romantic Comedy (a Reese's Book Club selection, although I didn't know that when I checked it out). The perfect kind of summer reading - light but smart. Tomorrow I'll start Mercy Snow, by Tiffany Baker. 

Made: Pasta in a creamy lemon, basil sauce; lots of salads; burgers on the grill. Almost every meal has included watermelon and there has also been a lot of fresh corn, in one way or another. This week's menu will include burgers (we have two left over from tonight), BLT's, and a version of the puff pastry creations I've been seeing all over Instagram. 

Enjoyed: Taking a vehicle load of stuff to the Goodwill today. I actually got rid of a lot of books, which I reorganized this weekend. At this point in my life, I'm starting to realize that, even if I have paid money for a book, I own books I'll never read and it's time to let them go. I thought it would be hard to let go of so many books but it was, as almost everything I let go of is, freeing. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: A couple of trips this fall to see my siblings and their families. 

Thinking About: 

Feeling: I was on a step ladder yesterday and forgot that I had to step down three steps, instead of two, and took a tumble, landing on the wooden floor. On the plus side, it was in the kitchen and I was in the middle of the room so I wasn't at risk of hitting my head on anything. But when you're in your sixties and you fall, the idea that you might seriously hurt yourself goes through your head very quickly. Fortunately, I'm not hurt, just sore. And feeling a little stupid. 

Looking forward to: Another quiet, unstructured week. Except...

Question of the week: Do you ever feel like there's something on your agenda and you just cannot remember what it is? I feel like there's something I'm meant to be looking forward to this week but I can't, for the life of me, remember what it is. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Rachel Incident by Caroline O'Donoghue

The Rachel Incident
by Caroline O'Donoghue
304 pages
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
Rachel is a student working at a bookstore when she meets James, and it’s love at first sight. Effervescent and insistently heterosexual, James soon invites Rachel to be his roommate and the two begin a friendship that changes the course of both their lives forever. Together, they run riot through the streets of Cork city, trying to maintain a bohemian existence while the threat of the financial crash looms before them. 

When Rachel falls in love with her married professor, Dr. Fred Byrne, James helps her devise a reading at their local bookstore, with the goal that she might seduce him afterwards. But Fred has other desires. So begins a series of secrets and compromises that intertwine the fates of James, Rachel, Fred, and Fred’s glamorous, well-connected, bourgeois wife. Aching with unrequited love, shot through with delicious, sparkling humor, The Rachel Incident is a triumph.

My Thoughts: 
We first encounter Rachel years later, when she is married, pregnant and a journalist (finally using that college degree). She's come across an article mentioning that Fred has fallen into a coma and it takes Rachel straight back to the past, to the time when she first met James while working in a bookstore together. At six-foot tall, bookish, and adrift, Rachel was easy prey for James, who all but bullied his way into her life. Soon the two were living together, becoming the best of friends. "Running riot" is a good description of the lives they were living; "bohemian existence" is putting it nicely. 

Everything is going swimmingly, despite them struggling to make ends meet. When James comes to the reality that he's gay, they both embrace it. But when James and Fred hook up, it changes things. Yes, Fred brings them bottles of wine, flowers, and fancy foods. But it's hard for Rachel to see Fred, her literature professor, as her best friend's lover. Until, in desperation, she realizes she can use the situation to her own advantage. Soon Fred has found her a position as his wife's intern, a position which pays poorly but gives Rachel an emotional life and a new friend. 

Meanwhile Rachel has found herself a boyfriend, a young man who is more than a little listless and unreliable. When he has to go home to care for his mother, Rachel discovers that she's pregnant. Through a misunderstanding and other circumstances, Rachel finds her relationship with Fred's wife at an end, her relationship with James tested, and herself a pariah in the community. 

O'Donoghue manages to create a book that starts out very much playing for laughs but the humor gets darker as life gets harder and harder for Rachel. Ireland in an economic collapse means Rachel's only hope for a job is in a call center, her parents' dental practice is going under, and her boyfriend can't be relied on to help. O'Donoghue tackles a lot in this one - sexuality, sexual identity, infidelity, economic crisis, unwanted pregnancy and the difficulty in finding medical help, parent/child relationships, friendships, morality. Rachel isn't always a sympathetic character, but I couldn't help but care for her, especially as the adults around her kept letting her down. I was glad that O'Donoghue circled back to the beginning of the book and gave readers (and Rachel) some closure and hope.