Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The German Wife by Kelly Rimmer

The German Wife
by Kelly Rimmer
13 hours, 49 minutes
Read by Nancy Peterson and Ann Marie Gideon
Published June 2022 by Graydon House Publishing

Publisher's Summary: 
Berlin, 1930—When a wave of change sweeps a radical political party to power, Sofie von Meyer Rhodes’s academic husband benefits from the ambitions of its newly elected chancellor. Although Sofie and Jürgen do not share the social views growing popular in Hitler’s Germany, Jürgen’s position with its burgeoning rocket program changes their diminishing fortunes for the better. But as Sofie watches helplessly, her beloved Berlin begins to transform, forcing her to consider what they must sacrifice morally for their young family’s security, and what the price for their neutrality will be. 

Twenty years later, Jürgen is one of the many German scientists offered pardons for their part in the war, and taken to America to work for its fledgling space program. For Sofie, this is the chance to exorcise the ghosts that have followed her across the ocean, and make a fresh start in her adopted country. But her neighbors aren’t as welcoming or as understanding as she had hoped. When scandalous rumors about the Rhodes family’s affiliation with Hitler’s regime spreads, idle gossip turns to bitter rage, and the act of violence that results will tear apart Sofie’s community and her family before the truth is finally revealed.

My Thoughts: 
Another book recommended by a coworker - the same coworker who recommended Every Summer After. She recommended this one for very different reasons. She wanted me to read it because she wanted to talk about it with someone because it was a book that really had her thinking. I'm pretty picky about what books set around World War II that I'll read. It's really got to be a book with an entirely new take on that war and that's a tough thing to do after all these years and all the thousands of books written about it. 

Written recently enough that Rimmer can pull readers in by touching on current events, she's able to make readers see how easy it was for everyday Germans overlook what was happening to their country prior to the rise to the top of the Nazi party. Once you can understand that, you begin to understand the fear of having waited too long to stand up to them. And once you understand that, then you begin to understand how a person could make decisions that others would later judge, perhaps without understanding the helplessness of the people making those choices. But then again, where do you draw the line, when have those choices become unforgivable? Here it becomes the classic train line conundrum - would you choose to save one person you love at the risk of many more people you don't know? 

Not unexpectedly, this book is full of deep themes - grief, loss of dreams, death, religious persecution, the cost of war, mental illness, marriage, family, and love. Rimmer uses alternating points of view as she moves back and forth in time, bringing Lizzie and Sofie together where their histories collide.

In the end, the question we're left with is what makes a person good or bad? And then she makes us realize how easy it can be for someone to steer our thinking. In the Author's Note, Rimmer, after spending the book leading readers to consider this differently than they might have before they came to "know" the characters, leaves the reader with this - she still believes that the characters had choices to make and that they should be held accountable for those choices, regardless of the reason they made them. 

If you choose to read this one (or if you have already), I'd love to hear your thoughts! If you haven't read it yet, I can't recommend the audiobook highly enough. Peterson and Gideon do a terrific job, both pulling off their character's accents marvelously, creating an even deeper impression that we are really getting to know these women. 

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Life: It Goes On - May 29

Happy Sunday! It's sunny, it's not windy, and it's 75 degrees out right now. So I'm going to make this quick because it's pretty much perfect out right now and I'm going to take a book and a cup of coffee out on the patio and enjoy the day. We'll see how long I can relax before I see something that needs to be done! I have one spray paint project left to do and then I can put away the paints for the summer. But we're only just starting a new project out there that The Big Guy decided needed to be done...sooner, rather than later, apparently. I can't say much - you all know how I am once I get the idea for a project in my head! It will look great when it's done, and make parts of our yard usable in ways they haven't been in years, since before our trees got so big, so I'm all in on doing it and will help as much as I can. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I started Fredrik Backman's The Winners and am going to be listening to it a lot this week if I'm going to get it finished before my loan expires. This is one of those sequels that I wish didn't spend so much time explaining things from the prior books. If you want to know why people are doing things or the relationships, read the preceding books! 

Watched: College baseball, some Mrs, Maisel, some Ted Lasso

Read: Bouncing back and forth between Ken Jennings' 100 Places To See After You Die and Chris Bohjalian's Midwives

Made: A mess of my hands. I think I'm the only person I know who can get paint all over herself while she's spray painting! 

Enjoyed: We went to a graduation party in my parents' old neighborhood yesterday and it was so nice to be back with that family, who are also our family. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On finishing up some ongoing projects outside and inside. 

Thinking About: Alaska. What do we still need to pick up? When is too early to start packing?

Feeling: Happy to have a three-day weekend. 

Looking forward to: A quiet week. I think. 

Question of the week: If you're lucky enough to have a three-day weekend, what are you doing with the extra day? 

Friday, May 26, 2023

Every Summer After by Carley Fortune

Every Summer After
by Carley Fortune
Published November 2022 by Penguin Publishing Group
Read by AJ Bridel
9 hours, 38 minutes

Publisher's Summary: 
They say you can never go home again, and for Persephone Fraser, ever since she made the biggest mistake of her life a decade ago, that has felt too true. Instead of glittering summers on the lakeshore of her childhood, she spends them in a stylish apartment in the city, going out with friends, and keeping everyone a safe distance from her heart.

Until she receives the call that sends her racing back to Barry's Bay and into the orbit of Sam Florek-the man she never thought she'd have to live without.

For six summers, through hazy afternoons on the water and warm summer nights working in his family's restaurant and curling up together with books-medical textbooks for him and work-in-progress horror short stories for her-Percy and Sam had been inseparable. Eventually that friendship turned into something breathtakingly more, before it fell spectacularly apart.

When Percy returns to the lake for Sam's mother's funeral, their connection is as undeniable as it had always been. But until Percy can confront the decisions she made and the years she's spent punishing herself for them, they'll never know whether their love might be bigger than the biggest mistakes of their past.

Told over the course of six years and one weekend, Every Summer After is a big, sweeping nostalgic story of love and the people and choices that mark us forever.

My Thoughts: 
Would I be happy to work from home every day? Sure; I'd love to work in my pj's, avoid rush hour traffic, and eat hot lunches. But if I did that, then I wouldn't get to talk to book people every day. In my department of seven, three of us are avid readers who talk a lot about books and we've gotten to know each other's tastes well enough to have a pretty good idea what the others might enjoy. So when one of them recommended this book, I didn't hesitate to check it out. She didn't sell it as high fiction; she sold it as chick lit and some depth, but also light enough to break up the heavier reads. 

Which is exactly what this book is. You have to be willing to buy into the idea that a couple of childhood friends will develop such a deep love for each other than twelve years after they last saw each other, both are still incapable of falling in love with anyone else. To be honest, I did have to remind myself periodically to let go of the idea that the premise was highly unlikely and just go with the flow. Is Sam too often a little too perfect? Yes, also that. But Fortune has him mishandle things just often enough that he still feels human. Did it seem strange that Sam's mom and Percy's parents, who never seemed to spend that much time together in the summer, suddenly decide to spend holidays together. Yes; it probably would have helped to talk about them sitting on the deck having cocktails, watching the kids swim. But Fortune needed a way to have Sam and Percy spend more time together beyond just the summers so, again, you just have to go with it. And did I figure out what the big revel at the end was ahead of time. Yeah, I did (and you know how rare that is!). But I was still, to be fair, disappointed in Percy when it was revealed. 

But I loved the way Fortune described Barry's Bay and life there. I could vividly picture the lake, the houses, the lifestyle, the kind of bond two kids could develop over a summer spent living together in a world apart from real life. And I'd always prefer a relationship to develop from friendship, rather than the kind where two people bicker throughout the book (or show, or movie) and then suddenly succumb to deep passion. 

So, no, it's not high literature. But it's always fun to read a book set in the summer, with plenty of references to books, that you can just race through. AJ Brindel does a great job of handling all of the various voices and really adds to the book. Oh! One more thing! Midway through my listening, the coworker who recommended the book was talking to my other reading coworker about how this book has some depth and I said, "yeah, and plenty of sex!" Which she, not all that long after having read the book, didn't even recall! She read it for the romance and that's what she got! Which is exactly what you want in a book like this - to get exactly what you want from it. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Published June 2017 by Atria Books
Read by Alma Cuervo, Julia Whelan, and Robin Miles
12 hours, 10 minutes

Publisher's Summary: 
Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? 

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career. 

Summoned to Evelyn's luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the `80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn's story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique's own in tragic and irreversible ways.

My Thoughts: 
This is one of those books that's been on my TBR list for a very long time. Recently my niece highly recommended it so I put in a request to the library for the audiobook. My niece was staying here recently and laughed at me when she discovered that I had a copy of the book in print. Which I'm pretty sure I've had on my shelves since before I read Reid's Daisy Jones and The Six

It seems to me that this book was probably the launching point for the way Reid wrote Daisy Jones, an interviewer getting the story about the rise to (and fall from) fame of a beautiful woman. Of course, you read a title like this one and think of Elizabeth Taylor and think, gee, this lady was terrible at picking men. But, as it turns out, Evelyn Hugo chose those men very carefully; they were all men, except one, who could give her what she needed...a way into the movies, a way to become the star she longed to be, a way to keep her name off the scandal pages. She was a woman who'd grown up terribly poor and abused and she was determined to rise to the top, to become wealthy enough never to have to worry about money again. And she did. But she never told anyone why she had married all of those men until she calls a magazine and specifically requests that Monique come to her apartment for an interview. When Monique arrives, though, Evelyn has something different in mind and Monique finds herself looking at a chance to make her mark as a writer, although it might also be the end of her current career. 

Over the next couple of weeks, Evelyn spills the beans, revealing to Monique who the true love of her life was and revealing the real reason she requested Monique specifically. 

It sounds like nothing much more than a fictionalized celebrity tell-all. But there's a depth here that's unexpected. Reid tackles some tough subjects, including some that are even more timely today than they were when the book was first published. I enjoy Reid's writing style, how she is able to make me like unlikeable characters. There are some plot twists here that I didn't see coming (although you may catch on earlier - you know how I am!) and the readers are terrific. I highly recommend this one as an audiobook. Thanks to my niece for pushing me to finally get around to this one!

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Life: It Goes On - May 23

Happy Tuesday! Evening no less. No idea why I haven't been able to make myself come sit down and blog recently. Too much going on, not enough brain power, time to wind the blog down? Probably some of all of that. Likely, you'll continue to see me posting more and more mini-reviews until this season of my life passes and my brain doesn't want to veg every chance I get. But I'm reading again, so that's a good thing! 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Carley Fortune's Every Summer After, recommended to me by a friend at work. Today I started Fredrik Backman's The Winners.

Watched: I watched a movie on Netflix the other night. And now I can't remember what I watched. See how my brain is working right now when it doesn't have to work?! 

Read: I raced through Frederik Backman's Us Against You (the second book in the Beartown trilogy) because I knew the third book was going to be available on audio soon. 

Made: Full on summer dinners now - salads, pasta with tomatoes and basil, BLTs, bbq chicken. Yum!

Enjoyed: Dinner with my Tier Ones and their spouses. We haven't all eight been together in more than a year and it was so much fun that we had to take the party to our patio for s'mores and another drink! It was so good for my soul!

Celebrating: Added a new category just for this week because today is a really special day. Today my girl celebrates five years clean. She has surrounded herself with an incredible support system, shown fierce determination and courage, and been an inspiration to so many. It's a joy every day to see her flourishing and we couldn't be more proud!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: We cat sat over the weekend so I spent a lot of time downstairs with him (he can't be upstairs without constant supervision or he and my cat will go at it). Consequently, I also spent a lot of time working on organizing and decluttering down there. Two boxes overflowing with stuff for the Goodwill, three bags of garbage and a lot of pre-organizing. I'm hoping to keep up that progress this week. When I'm not outside, because you know that's where I'd much rather be!

Thinking About: Alaska. Our trip is coming up soon and I'm busily buying the last few things I "need" and wondering how many weeks in advance of a trip is too soon to start packing. Our agenda is filled with so many fun things but I might most be looking forward to just sitting on my kids' deck and talking to them. 

Feeling: Tired, but relieved. Not that I expected anything to be wrong but it's always nice to get through the annual physical and have everything looking good. 

Looking forward to: A three-day weekend!

Question of the week: Do you get a three-day weekend this coming weekend? If so, do you have big plans? 

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Kunstler's In Paradise by Cathleen Schine

Künstlers In Paradise
by Cathleen Schine 
272 pages
Published March 2023 by Henry Holt and Co. 

Publisher's Summary: 
Julian Künstler comes from New York City to L.A. like many a lost twenty-something: to find a job writing in the entertainment industry. But this is 2020 and his temporary visit turns into an extended stay, trapped by the lockdown in a little house in Venice with his glamorous, eccentric, and ancient grandmother. Ninety-three-years old, Mamie came to Los Angeles from Vienna at eleven with her parents in 1939 among a wave of Jewish musicians, directors, and intellectuals escaping Hitler. As the months roll on, she begins to tell Julian her stories of the eminent emigres she’s known and the magical world they inhabited as their old world was destroyed—people like Arnold Schoenberg, Christopher Isherwood, and Greta Garbo. Not quite all her stories, however. The pandemic isolates Julian from his world, but from Mamie he learns of the world that came before him and how much the past holds of the future. A tender, sharply wrought comic novel about exile, the power of stories handed down and handed on, and the power of stories held secretly in the heart.

My Thoughts: 
How about the thoughts of some other people first: 
  • Kirkus Reviews: dreamy, drifty, and droll
  • Wall Street Journal: abuzz with biting repartee
  • New York Times: a paean to the regenerative power of storytelling
  • Chicago Review of Books: Schine’s writing is cut glass, a mix of Jewish humor and family banter
I tell you all this so that you know that I'm not alone in my appreciation for this book. I'm a huge fan of Schine's dialogue - it's the kind of dialogue that feels both natural and yet nothing like a conversation you yourself would ever have but really wish you would. 

Schine's book always have a depth to them that the lightness of her touch belies. Salomea (Mamie) comes to Los Angeles, with her parents and grandfather, a refuge. Leaving their lives, surviving when so many they knew and loved perished at the hands of the Nazis, leaves each of them with scars they will carry for the rest of their lives. They are never again allowed to be the people they were in Vienna, despite their soft landing in paradise. 

All of this is history Julian was unaware of until the Covid lockdown strands him at his grandmother's house, where he has gone to help her recover from a fractured wrist. Julian, who has been feeling very, very sorry for himself and who has been adrift all of his adult life, is feeling very much like a refuge and suffers from survivor guilt himself, knowing that his family is much more threatened by Covid than he is. But Mamie's stories begin to give him a greater perspective and he begins to see a future for himself in her stories. 
"Mamie, his wonderful grandmother - exotic and quixotic, his mother said. And neurotic, his father would add. For Julian, she had always been, instead, possibility, an extension of his family into foreign lands, an escape from the locked-in dailiness of life."
I loved my grandmothers dearly; but I sure couldn't help wishing I'd had Mamie for a grandmother. She is no-nonsense, caring, quick witted, and honest (except when she's holding back the parts of her life that are hers alone). Mamie's companion, Agatha, is sardonic and loyal. Julian is the least likable of the main characters; but, if you've loved a 24-year-old, you'll recognize him. The more time he spends with Mamie, the less self-absorbed he becomes, recognizing that someone else may actually be a more interesting person and that other people might truly want the best for him. 
"He loved her. Not a new feeling - he had always loved her. But he'd loved her in a rhythmic, unconscious way, each visit from his grandmother or trip to her house in Los Angeles a new revelation of love, soon forgotten, made irrelevant by distance, by time. Now he loved her consciously, consistently, daily. He loved the way she looked, somewhat worse for wear, that bright hair dyed by Agatha every three weeks, her lipstick an optimistic pink, her silk scarves thrown around her neck with the same aplomb as in her youth, her gentle gravelly voice, her stories." 
I feel in love with Mamie and her stories, too. This book gave me, as they say, all of the feels. It's a book I would read again. And that's saying something. 

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Life: It Goes On - May 14

Happy Sunday and Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers of any kind! It's overcast here today, which was the perfect weather to I just woke up from one! I had intended to run into Lincoln Friday afternoon to try to get to the bank (which is no longer open any evenings or Saturdays - grrr!) but the forecast here was for severe storms. So we ran in this morning to put flowers on my mother's grave. I want her headstone to be cleaned and it to be obvious that she was loved; but, golly, does it ever get any easier to visit your mother's grave? 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Gabriela Garcia's Of Women and Salt for book club this week. Not what I was expecting from the description and I'm feeling a little bad about having picked it for book club. 

 Some music shows, some sports, and Dream Home Makeover on Netflix, which features the work of the couple behind Studio McGee, which you may have seen at Target. Very much styled after Fixer Upper, with a focus on a woman's design aesthetic and the family's life. Not as big a fan of this show, so will probably just skip around on the episodes here and there. 

Read: I started Us Against You, the second book in the Beartown series. 

Made: Gnocchi with homemade red sauce but it's mostly been salads this week. 

Enjoyed: The backyard is finished enough for us to have friends over last night for the first fire and s'mores of the year. Sat out there for hours and it was so fun and relaxing! 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I had big plans for this weekend but then got derailed by some deep cleaning. So I'll be working on those projects in the evenings this week. 

Thinking About: Actually trying to sit here and keep my mind intentionally blank, to keep out all of the thoughts that add stress to life. It's how I gave myself permission to take that nap. I highly recommend it, if you can make it work. 

Feeling: Packages are arriving almost daily now of things that we'll need for our trip to Alaska and I'm starting to get really excited about it. And anxious. Yesterday, on the news, I watched people going up the escalator of the airport with their carryon bags and began to get anxious about doing that. Have I mentioned before how much I hate escalators? Hence, the reason I needed to actively work to clear my mind!

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday. Even if I do get beat up about the book! 

Question of the week: What are you looking forward to this week? 

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O'Brien

The Little Red Chairs
by Edna O'Brien
Published March 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
9 Hours, 40 Minutes
Read by Juliet Stevenson

Publisher's Summary: 
A woman discovers that the foreigner she thinks will redeem her life is a notorious war criminal.

Vlad, a stranger from Eastern Europe masquerading as a healer, settles in a small Irish village where the locals fall under his spell. One woman, Fidelma McBride, becomes so enamored that she begs him for a child. All that world is shattered when Vlad is arrested, and his identity as a war criminal is revealed.

Fidelma, disgraced, flees to England and seeks work among the other migrants displaced by wars and persecution. But it is not until she confronts him-her nemesis-at the tribunal in The Hague, that her physical and emotional journey reaches its breathtaking climax.

The Little Red Chairs is a book about love, and the endless search for it. It is also a book about mankind's fascination with evil, and how long, how crooked, is the road towards Home.

My Thoughts: 
I've been hearing the name Edna O'Brien for years and long thought I needed to pick up some of her work. At some point, this is the one I put on my list of books to read. I don't know that I even then knew what it was about, just that it was her latest (at 85!) book. I don't know what I was expecting but it certainly wasn't what I got - I never could have imagined what I got. 

The Little Red Chairs starts as one kind of book but quickly turns to an entirely different kind of book. It opens with the arrival of Dr. Vladimir Dragon in a small Irish village, filled with the kind of quirky characters (although O'Brien's characters are not caricatures; they are fully realized people) you'd expect to find in one. There is a gossip, there is humor, there is a book club where most of the members can't find the message in the books they read. 

It doesn't take long for readers to begin to understand that Dr. Vlad is not at all the person he claims to be, not a mysterious healing man but a man on the run from international authorities. It take longer for the villagers to see him for what he is; by then he has won them over, actually providing healing for many of them. So they are shocked to see television footage of him being hauled off of a bus, wanted for committing war crimes including the murder of thousands during the siege of Sarajevo (he is modeled on the real war criminal, Radovan Karadzic, the Butcher of Bosnia). For Fidelma, though, the harm he has caused will forever change her life. She has fallen in love with him and he has given her the child she has long wanted. But, because of who he is, the child will be taken from her in a scene that is so brutal I wish that I could forget it but fear I never will. 

The story keeps changing. When Fidelma flees Ireland, the story turns to one of the refugee women Fidelma becomes involved with, their stories of their homelands and the troubles they continue to face. We find ourselves in a dreamscape, where Dr. Dragan is visited by an old friend who recounts Dragan's crimes. Finally, we are in The Hague, where Fidelma travels to witness Dr. Vlad's trial and to visit him, to make him understand the harm he caused to her. 

In reviews by people who really know how to review a book, you'll find words like "genius" and "masterpiece." It's another of those situations where I wonder what I missed in a book. Maybe if I had read it, rather than listening to it, it would have had a greater impact, would have felt more cohesive. It's not that I didn't find a lot to like about this book. Maybe the genius of the book, for me, was in the way that O'Brien created so many characters that we became deeply involved with. Maybe it was in the way that she showed how good and evil live together. But I'll be honest with you, despite there being things that will stay with me from this book, I can't, a couple of weeks after finishing it, remember how it ended. 

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Life: It Goes On - May 7

Happy Sunday! It's been a busy weekend here. We've moved past the chance of freezing weather (finally!) so I've been planting like crazy. Also spray painting chairs, tables, and trophies. And moving landscaping borders. And making decisions about where everything will go this year, now that we're the keepers of things (some of them temporarily) that used to be at my parents' house. My back is paying the price and I'm exhausted; but I'm also so happy to be getting my hands in the dirt and spending time outdoors. It's been the kind of mental health weekend I needed after a stressful week at work last week. 

Capping the weekend off with some Tom Jones and Marie Antoinette on PBS would be just the way to end Sunday. Unfortunately, as so often happens as soon as I get plants in pots all of over the yard, we have storms moving in so we need to keep the t.v. on a local channel so that we can keep an eye on the radar. You know I'm going out and moving all of my plants to cover if it looks like it's going to get very bad out there!

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished Taylor Jenkins Reid's The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and started this month's selection, Gabriela Garcia's Of Women and Salt

Watched: Some American Idol, some The Voice, and after-mentioned shows on PBS, and I (finally) watched the last episode of Orange Is The New Black

Read: I've been trying to race through John Boyne's latest, All the Broken Places but it's too good to rush so I'm afraid it will have to go back to the library and I'll have to check it out again. 

Made: I think The Big Guy did all of the cooking this week, since I've been working late most nights. 

 Dinner out with friends - the first Saturday night it's been warm enough (and not too windy) to eat outside. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I've got a few more projects to finish up outside. I was going to just paint a table I brought from my parents', but when I started cleaning it up, paint just kept chipping off. So I think I'm going to pull out the paint stripper this week and take that back to the white it was originally. Of course, once I get it to that point, there's a very good chance I'll turn around and paint it purple. Or orange. I've also got a teacart that needs a new coat of paint. Just the kinds of projects I love to do!

Thinking About: Next weekend, when my patio will be all finished and ready for drinks and s'mores! 

Feeling: See above - tired, a bit sore, but so satisfied. 

Looking forward to: This will be another quiet week so I'm looking forward to getting a lot done around here. 

Question of the week: What's your favorite way to spend time outdoors?

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Lone Women by Victor LaValle

Lone Women
by Victor LaValle  
Published March 2023 by Random House Publishing Group 
304 Pages
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
Adelaide Henry carries an enormous steamer trunk with her wherever she goes. It’s locked at all times. Because when the trunk opens, people around Adelaide start to disappear.

The year is 1915, and Adelaide is in trouble. Her secret sin killed her parents, forcing her to flee California in a hellfire rush and make her way to Montana as a homesteader. Dragging the trunk with her at every stop, she will become one of the “lone women” taking advantage of the government’s offer of free land for those who can tame it—except that Adelaide isn’t alone. And the secret she’s tried so desperately to lock away might be the only thing that will help her survive the harsh territory.

Crafted by a modern master of magical suspense, Lone Women blends shimmering prose, an unforgettable cast of adventurers who find horror and sisterhood in a brutal landscape, and a portrait of early-twentieth-century America like you’ve never seen. And at its heart is the gripping story of a woman desperate to bury her past—or redeem it.

My Thoughts: 
If you read the final paragraph of the publisher's summary, you'll note the phrase "magical suspense" and the word "horror" there. And, if you've been following my reading for very long at all, you know that neither of those things is in my wheelhouse. In fact, you'll have heard me say, repeatedly, that I will intentionally steer away from anything where magic is mentioned. But in 2017 I was offered the chance to read and review LaValle's The Changeling, which ended up being one of my favorite books of the year, so I jumped at the opportunity to read his latest work. 

Once again, LaValle has convinced me that horror is a genre that I can enjoy, provided it's done well. And LaValle does it well. In The Changeling, LaValle sucked me in with references to fairy tales and literature. Here he lures me in with history, a history he learned about that convinced him to write a book in an entirely new to him setting (his books are, apparently, usually sent in the New York City area). In the first part of the last century, anyone was allowed a land grant in areas of the West that were in need of more settlers. It was not uncommon for single women (including at least one black woman but not Chinese people) to attempt to settle the land, something they had to do for three years before they could claim it as their own. 

When Adelaide flees California, she is bound for Montana, a place she has found where she might be able to own land and live in solitude. But Adelaide is running from the murder of her parents, carrying with her a mysterious trunk, and has absolutely no clue how hard life will be in remote Montana, just as winter begins to settle in. She finds herself forced to rely on others and soon makes friends. But the mystery of that trunk soon revels itself, putting Adelaide at risk among people she is only beginning to realize might be a danger. 

While this book is set in the past, it manages to address problems that we're still grappling with - racism, the eradication of the indigenous way of life, and sexism. He also addresses other big themes, including sexual identity. LaValle gives readers nothing but strong women in this book, women capable to helping themselves, of defending their lives and property. It's clear from early on that what's in the trunk is a very real monster and that the ghosts Adelaide will later confront are real, they are also symbols of bigger things. It took me actually reading Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus to understand the symbolism in that story but it opened my eyes to the ways writers might use horror to explore bigger themes. LaValle seems to me to be a master at this and at making me cheer for the monster. 

I highly recommend this one but my recommendation does come with a warning: like The Changeling, this book is violent, bloody, and gruesome. Weirdly, in LaValle's hands, I'm ok with that as it appears essential to the greater story. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

The Dry - Jane Harper

The Dry by Jane Harper
Published January 2017 by Flatiron Books
Read by Stephan Shanahan 
10 hours

Publisher's Summary: 
After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke's steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn't tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there's more to Luke's death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.

My Thoughts: 
People have been talking to me about Jane Harper's books for a while; but they aren't, as a general rule, the kind of books that I usually pick up. Still, someone (my aunt?) recommended this one to me as the place to start; and, as I'm finding myself more drawn lately to books out of my usual comfort zone, I decided to pick it up. 

This is one of those books that I'm sure I would have enjoyed had I read it in print. But I'm glad that I listened to it instead. Shanahan does a terrific job as reader, handling both male and female voices well, and adding a layer of tension to a book that is already tension filled. 

Falk has returned for Luke's funeral because of a note he received from Luke's father, which said that he knows that Luke and Aaron lied about what happened 20 years ago. What exactly does Luke's father want from Falk? Is he threatening to reveal something that will ruin Falk? Does he not buy the theory that his son killed his own family and himself because of financial worries caused by the extreme drought and need Falk to find the truth? Or is he afraid that the truth about what really happened twenty years ago explained what Luke did? Falk soon finds himself wonder the same thing. He knows that the alibi Luke provided him was a lie but wonders if Luke was actually trying to cover up something he did. 

As with most small towns, many of the people Falk knew twenty years ago still live in Kiewarra and they have not forgotten what happened to the young girl, Ellie, whose death Falk was accused of having caused. With few people he can trust, Falk must use all of his investigative skills to solve the death of his friend's family as quickly as he can. 

Harper keeps things moving along at a rapid pace and fills the book with plenty of leads that have those trying to solve the case (and readers) chasing off in entirely new directions. There's not a lot of time to delve deeply into the characters; except, perhaps, the biggest character in the book, the land. Harper does a terrific job of painting the isolation, the desperation, and the incredible dryness of the area. The setting is vivid. I raced through this book, finding any time I could to listen to a few more minutes. I'm certain that I'll be reading more of the Aaron Falk series. And I'll be looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation, starring Eric Bana, which is available on Amazon Prime.