Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Mini-Reviews: The Circle by Dave Eggers and Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

The Circle
by Dave Eggers
493 pages
Published October 2013

Publisher's Summary: 
When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. 

As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO.

Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. 

What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

My Thoughts: 
I chose this book for my bookclub this year because I imagined it would be a book that would really make us think. I was right. There's a lot to think about in this book. While technology has done a lot to make our lives easier, we've had to be willing to give up a lot, especially our privacy, to use it. Where do we draw the line at who we will allow to have what information? Who is watching over it all to make sure no one entity becomes too big to control? How much of your personal life are you willing to give up for the company you work for, even when it seems like they are doing so much for you? Will we ever outgrow peer pressure? And has technology actually made our lives easier or more complicated, with multiple monitors to watch, multiple ways for people to get to us 24/7, and more and more ways that a failure in a system can cause chaos?

What I didn't imagine I'd find in this book was one of the most annoying characters I've come across in a book in a very long time. She's so happy to be out of her old job that it never occurred to her to question a single thing she was told to do at the Circle. Even when she'd momentarily question something she was being told to do, she'd immediately back down and do even more for the company. 

Perhaps had I read this book ten years ago, when it was first published, I would have had a different opinion about this book. But a lot of the questions this book raises are already ideas we're discussing in real life. Which makes this book not so much a dystopian novel (which, I assume, was what it was meant to be) and more a look at what life is like now. Without any answers or characters that drew me in. 

Reasons To Stay Alive
by Matt Haig
Read by Matt Haig
4 Hours, 16 Minutes
Published March 2015 by Canongate Books

Publisher's Summary:

At the age of 24, Matt Haig's world caved in. He could see no way to go on living. This is the true story of how he came through crisis, triumphed over an illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again.

A moving, funny and joyous exploration of how to live better, love better and feel more alive, Reasons to Stay Alive is more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth.

"I wrote this book because the oldest clichés remain the truest. Time heals. The bottom of the valley never provides the clearest view. The tunnel does have light at the end of it, even if we haven't been able to see it . . . Words, just sometimes, really can set you free."

My Thoughts: 
At the age of 24, Matt Haig was a step away from stepping off a cliff and ending his life. This is his memoir about how he fought back his own depression and made a life that works for him. 

If you look at Goodreads, the ratings are at either end of the spectrum. This is, generally speaking, a  book that either speaks to you and helps you with what you are battling, or you feel like Haig has no business writing a book purported to help others deal with their own depression. I'm one of the few whose opinion falls somewhere in the middle. It's admirable to be willing to share your own mental health experience in order to help those who may be having similar experiences and to help destigmatize mental illness. But Haig's experience was simply that...his own experience. Although he repeatedly says he's not against using medication, he is, personally, unwilling to use it. He recommends travel as a way to overcome depression, although most people suffering from severe depression have trouble convincing themselves to shower, let along travel. Nor can most people afford to travel every time they are battling a depressive episode. He suggests that our minds are lying to us when we are depressed (can't say that I disagree with him there); but later suggests that we must need to listen to ourselves to get us through depression. 

If you suffer from depression, this might be a book that could help you recognize ways to get through it. Or it might not. Don't rely on this book to help. It's only one man's experience. 

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Life: It Goes On - March 26

It looked like this yesterday!
Happy snowy Sunday. Yep, it snowed here last night, after two days in the mid-50's. Not much, and the roads and sidewalks are dry; but enough to put my dreams of dinners on the patio to rest for a while. 

I realized last Sunday, after I posted, that I had not reviewed pending comments in months. I'm so off my game! Favor to ask of those of you who leave comments anonymously - can you please leave your first name in the comment so I know that it's one to keep? Maybe, maybe life will become more settled soon and I can start responding to comments again and being a better blogging friend!

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Jane Harper's Dry Season, which I really enjoyed. I'm now back to Jennifer Chiaverini's Enchantress of Numbers

Watched: Lots of college basketball, some college baseball, the final episode of season five of The Crown and the last three episodes of Inventing Anna. A bad allergy attack had me spending a lot of time in a recliner watching t.v. yesterday. Can't really complain - I needed the rest and watched a lot of good stuff. 

Read: Dave Eggers' The Circle for book club and I'm also still reading Ari Shapiro's The Best Strangers In The World. I had checked out The Perfect Nanny but only read three pages before I decided that it just wasn't going to be a book I could read, at least not now. 

Made: Reuben  sandwiches.  Two nights in a row because why not? 

 While I was laid up yesterday, I watched Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris, on Netflix. For this chick, who studied fashion merchandising in college, the costumes were a big draw. But the story is just delightful and the movie is filled with so many familiar faces. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: My brother and sister-in-law will be coming through on Wednesday so I need to get the guest rooms put back together (well, at least one of them!). After the week and a half of company and the great mattress switch, things remain in a bit of disarray. Then it's off to the basement to get back to work on 40 Bags in 40 Days. 

Thinking About: I watched an episode of The Home Edit on Netflix yesterday and now my brain is racing with new ideas to reorganize my closets. 

Feeling: Sad. BG and I went into Lincoln Tuesday evening for one last pass through of my parents' house before the clean out crew came on Wednesday. I went room by room, memories of each playing in my head, saying goodbye to the house and thanking it for all of the wonderful memories. Today it occurs to me that this feeling is grief. 

Looking forward to: Watching Creighton University's men's basketball team play in the Elite Eight in just a few minutes. I've sent BG (a Creighton grad) off to a sports bar to watch with other fans because he will drive me nuts if he watches at home - he gets so passionate (and by passionate, I mean he'll be questioning every call and a lot of cursing will be involved). 

Question of the week: What have you been reading this week? I've been battling Bloglovin' again and can't get in to see what my blogging friends have been reading lately! 

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Mini-reviews: Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty and Jackal by Erin E. Adams

Because I know that I'm going to forget what I even thought of some of these books, I'm going to have to resort to mini-reviews...again.  

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty 
Read by Caroline Lee
Published September 2018 by Flatiron Books 

Publisher's Summary: 
Could ten days at a health resort really change you forever? 

These nine perfect strangers are about to find out... 

Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be. 

Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer—or should she run while she still can? 

It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.

My Thoughts: 
I've long been a fan of Moriarty's and even when I felt like one of her books was starting slowly, it always came around to draw me in, to make me think. I come to care for the characters. 

Except this one. I kept waiting for the moment when Moriarty would reel me in but it never happened. Maybe it was because I never cared much for any of the characters. As much as we learned about them, I never felt like any of them was particularly nuanced; rather that they were each developed to fill a need. I fact, before I finished listening, I had set the pace to 150%. I had heard that this one wasn't Moriarty's best, but I assumed that even a lessor Moriarty would still be a book I'd enjoy. I'm sorry to say I was wrong. 

by Erin E. Adams
336 pages
Published October 2022 by Bantam

Publisher's Summary: 
It’s watching. 

Liz Rocher is coming home . . . reluctantly. As a Black woman, Liz doesn’t exactly have fond memories of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white town. But her best friend is getting married, so she braces herself for a weekend of awkward and passive-aggressive reunions. Liz has grown, though; she can handle whatever awaits her. But on the day of the wedding, somewhere between dancing and dessert, the bride’s daughter, Caroline, goes missing—and the only thing left behind is a piece of white fabric covered in blood. 

It’s taking. 

As a frantic search begins, with the police combing the trees for Caroline, Liz is the only one who notices a pattern: a summer night. A missing girl. A party in the woods. She’s seen this before. Keisha Woodson, the only other Black girl in school, walked into the woods with a mysterious man and was later found with her chest cavity ripped open and her heart missing. Liz shudders at the thought that it could have been her, and now, with Caroline missing, it can’t be a coincidence. As Liz starts to dig through the town’s history, she uncovers a horrifying secret about the place she once called home. Children have been going missing in these woods for years. All of them Black. All of them girls. 

It’s your turn. 

With the evil in the forest creeping closer, Liz knows what she must do: find Caroline, or be entirely consumed by the darkness.

My Thoughts:
Honestly can't remember what made me request this book on Netgalley. I think I received an email saying, "since you read _______, you might like Jackal." I must have liked that first book because it made me think I would enjoy this one. And I did. But for one thing and I'm not sure I can even tell you what it was, without giving away the ending of the book. 

Let's just say that it threw the book into a genre that isn't my usual read. To be fair to the book, Adams gave me plenty of hints that's where she was going. I just kept hoping that the evil would turn out to be something different. Fair enough to say that there's plenty of evil in this book that has nothing to do with fantastical elements. And there are plenty of monsters of all kinds, as Adams uses the horror genre to explore racism. 

Did I hope for a different ending? Yes, slightly. But along the way, Adams had me chasing my tail, trying to figure out who Liz needed to be most afraid of, tossing red herrings out all through the book, making a book that was well worth the read. 

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Life: It Goes On - March 19

Happy sunny Sunday! I'm coming to you after a week that has been most unusual. As you may recall from last Sunday's post, my sister and her husband had come down last weekend to help celebrate my dad's birthday. While they were here, my brother-in-law's sister was admitted to the hospital and his family spent the five days sitting vigil as she entered hospice, passing away Wednesday morning. This meant an unexpectedly long stay for my sister and her husband and the arrival Wednesday evening of my niece and her sixteen-month-old son. This morning they all loaded up their vehicles and headed north on their long trip home. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I'm listening to Jane Harper's The Dry, which I'm really enjoying. Should finish that up by midweek and then I'll go back to Enchantress of Numbers. 

Watched: My great-nephew run in circles around my house, exhausting everyone except himself. He's such a good tempered little guy and was just the tonic his family needed to get them through the week. 

Read: Almost nothing. 

Made: Almost nothing. My sister cooked one night, friends of theirs brought over pizza another night, and we ate leftovers a couple of meals. I did make a double batch of ham and cheese sliders which we enjoyed two nights. 

Miss H playing chase-
Enjoyed: Despite the reason my family was all here, I so enjoyed getting to spend so much time with them. My niece and I stayed up late each night and we got some one-on-one time that we've never gotten before, which was great. Last night she, Miss H, The Big Guy and I stayed up late and watched the most ridiculous show on Netflix and laughed until we snorted. So fun!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: This is a week to put the house back in order. I've brought things home from my parents' house three times in eight days and need to find homes for everything, we're switching out some mattresses, and there is bedding to be washed up and put back on beds. 

Thinking About: I knew I was starting to get old when funerals started making me think about planning my own service. I know from experience that my family will be glad to have it all written down; but they'll also be laughing that, even after death, I still have to be in control. 

Feeling: Tired. I took two naps today. But so happy that we were able to be there for our family. 

Looking forward to: Book club Tuesday then BG and I are going to see Book of Mormon on Saturday. 

Question of the week: Have you made any plans for your own funeral service? 

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Life: It Goes On - March 12

Happy Sunday! I just noticed, as I pulled up Blogger, that I had a post that was unpublished because it violated Community Guidelines. Huh??? It doesn't even tell me what post it was and, for the life of me, I don't remember posting anything since last Sunday (or should I say attempting to post something). And what in the world might I have said that violated community guidelines? Because my blogging grew up with my mom reading it, I've always tried to be cautious of what I said in my posts so minimal cursing, minimal talk about any kind of subject that might be offensive to anyone. Oh, well. It's not like I'm losing a lot of money because of this. If I were, I'd sure be doing a better job of getting reviews posted!

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished Dave Grohl's The Storyteller (which I really enjoyed) and have started Jennifer Givhan's River Woman, River Demon which I found through the library. It's the Together We Read book for March. 

Watched: I'm watching the Oscars even as we speak. 

Read: I finished Jackal and have started Ari Shapiro's The Best Strangers In The World.

Made: My sister, sister-in-law and I made birthday dinner for my dad - pot roast, carrots, roasted broccoli, mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh fruit, Coke cake. It was so fun having my siblings, their spouses, my aunt and uncle all here to celebrate my dad's birthday and to say goodbye to my parents' house. 

 The Big Guy and I went to see Les Miserables last night and it was soooooo good! I was hoping Mini-him's date to see it tonight would fall through so I could go see it again!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: My plans for this coming weekend fell through so I'm looking forward to a quiet week, with lots of purging. 

Thinking About: Life and taking care of this only body I have (don't panic, I'm fine!). 

Feeling: So, so ready for spring - it was so cold here today and I am so over it! 

Looking forward to: See Planning. 

Question of the week: Do you watch the Academy Awards?

Monday, March 6, 2023

Life: It Goes On - March 6

Happy Monday! Yesterday got away from me; we started in Kansas City, then had three hours of traveling home, followed by being exhausted from a freakin' cold that took more than a week to finally really hit me...just as the weekend, and our trip, arrived. Worked from home today and am finally feeling better. Which is a good thing, as both of my siblings and their spouses are spending the weekend here (coming to celebrate my dad's birthday) so I need to get the house cleaned. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Dave Grohl's The Storyteller, which was recommended to me by someone I follow on Instagram (but I can't remember who know, which is sad because I really want to thank them!). Will finish it in the next couple of days. 

Watched: I feel like there was a movie that I watched this week that I was going to tell you about; but now I can't remember what it was at all. I've pretty much reached the point in my life where I have to write down every single thing. 

Read: I'm reading Erin E. Adams' Jackal, which is way out of my wheelhouse but which is really pulling me along. 

Made: Monster cookies, which Miss H picked instead of a birthday cake. Well, actually, she picked monster cookie dough but I did make some cookies to take for her, as well as a tub of cookie dough. Yes, yes, I know you're not supposed to eat raw cookie dough. But it's just so good!

Miss H, in red, with some of her K.C.
 Some Miss H time, although a few hours of it had to be devoted to getting a new car ordered for her. Went out to dinner, with her Kansas City family, to celebrate her birthday and picked up breakfast yesterday from our favorite place in Shawnee. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On trying to both clean my house for company and keep forward progress going on 40 Bags. With weekends busy four weekends in a row, I'm going to have to make good use of week nights. 

Thinking About: The plan is for family to have everything out of my parents' house that we want after this weekend so that next week we can begin moving forward with getting it on the market. It's going to be hard to say goodbye to it but after seeing it become gradually less "home" as it's become emptier and emptier is helping. 

Feeling: Excited to have everyone together this weekend, including my aunt and uncle. His birthday is Friday, my dad's is Monday, so we'll get to celebrate both of them. 

Looking forward to: The Big Guy and I are going to see the touring company of Les Mis this weekend (tickets bought long before we knew we'd have company). I've watched the movie adaptation and a stage adaptation on PBS in preparation, so the songs are now on rotation in my brain. 

Question of the week: Are you someone who loves a good cake for your birthday or do you prefer something different? 

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison

Lawn Boy
by Jonathan Evison
320 pages
Published April 2018 by Algonquin Books

Publisher's Summary: 
For Mike Muñoz, a young Chicano living in Washington State, life has been a whole lot of waiting for something to happen. Not too many years out of high school and still doing menial work—and just fired from his latest gig as a lawn boy on a landscaping crew—he knows that he’s got to be the one to shake things up if he’s ever going to change his life. But how? 

 In this funny, angry, touching, and ultimately deeply inspiring novel, bestselling author Jonathan Evison takes the reader into the heart and mind of a young man on a journey to discover himself, a search to find the secret to achieving the American dream of happiness and prosperity. That’s the birthright for all Americans, isn’t it? If so, then what is Mike Muñoz’s problem? Though he tries time and again to get his foot on the first rung of that ladder to success, he can’t seem to get a break. But then things start to change for Mike, and after a raucous, jarring, and challenging trip, he finds he can finally see the future and his place in it. And it’s looking really good.

My Thoughts:
It's been a while since I share with you what Mama Shepp's Family Recommends so you may not remember that there are a lot of readers in  my family. In fact, my Rhode Island aunt is also in a book club and she and I enjoy talking about what each of our bookclubs is reading. Recently she mentioned that she was reading Jonathan Evison's Lawn Boy and not much enjoying it. By the next week, when she had finished the book, her opinion had turned around and she was recommending it. So I immediately requested it from the library...because if it goes on the TBR list, it might never see the light of day again. 

My experience with the book was very much the same as was my aunt's. A story about a young man struggling to make it in the world and find his way initially intrigued me and then, for me, devolved into a ceaselessly depressing read as things went from bad to worse for our protagonist. The humor began to fade and I became so disappointed in the bad decisions Mike made that it was hard to feel sorry for the bad luck he was experiencing. I began to despair that I would not round the corner that my aunt had. And then...there we were, on the other side. Things began to fall into place. The easy but questionable paths shut down for Mike but pushed him down a path that would lead him in the right direction to turn his life around. Then I could return to the feeling that I'd had in the beginning of the book, that life is stacked against so many people and choices are so limited that it's all but impossible for them to lift themselves out of poverty. We can't help but hope throughout the book that Mike will be able to do that and that we could find a way to help more people do that.