Thursday, June 29, 2023

100 Places To Visit After You Die by Ken Jennings

100 Places To Visit After You Die
by Ken Jennings
Published June 2023 by Scribner
320 Pages
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary: 
Ever wonder which circles of Dante’s Inferno have the nicest accommodations? Where’s the best place to grab a bite to eat in the ancient Egyptian underworld? How does one dress like a local in the heavenly palace of Hinduism’s Lord Vishnu, or avoid the flesh-eating river serpents in the Klingon afterlife? What hidden treasures can be found off the beaten path in Hades, Valhalla, or NBC’s The Good Place? Find answers to all those questions and more about the world(s) to come in this eternally entertaining book from Ken Jennings. 

100 Places to See After You Die is written in the style of iconic bestselling travel guides—but instead of recommending must-see destinations in Mexico, Thailand, or Rome, Jennings outlines journeys through the afterlife, as dreamed up over 5,000 years of human history by our greatest prophets, poets, mystics, artists, and TV showrunners. This comprehensive index of 100 different afterlife destinations was meticulously researched from sources ranging from the Epic of Gilgamesh to modern-day pop songs, video games, and Simpsons episodes. Get ready for whatever post-mortal destiny awaits you, whether it’s an astral plane, a Hieronymus Bosch hellscape, or the baseball diamond from Field of Dreams. 

Fascinating, funny, and irreverent, this light-hearted memento mori will help you create your very own bucket list—for after you’ve kicked the bucket.

My Thoughts: 
Yes. THAT Ken Jennings. Which made this one interesting to me even if the title and description hadn't intrigued me, which they did. 

Yes, this book is funny and irreverent and light-hearted. Which made me so happy - I was so hoping that Jennings would be just as humorous in writing as he seems to be on t.v. And, no surprise, just as smart. There are, actually, one hundred entries in this book, in seven different categories. He includes references to the afterlife in mythology, religion, books, movies, television, music and theater, and a miscellaneous group. Yes, I know it says 100 in the title, but I didn't seriously believe that there would be 100 different ways that Jennings could refer to the afterlife. I don't for a minute believe that Jennings pulled these 100 references off the top of his head, but he had to have had a pretty good number to start with or he wouldn't have even considered the idea for a book, right? 

This is not a book to be read straight through; it's a book to read a couple of chapters at a time, especially in the mythology and religion sections. There's a lot to be said about all of those references and if you read too many at once, it's for it to begin to feel a little repetitive and (for me) a little boring. But read a bit at a time, the humor holds up much better. As does your ability to refresh your memory in one of those areas; or, as I did, learn new things. 

Of course, when we got to television, movies, and books, I was more in my element...and the chapters were shorter and more diverse so it became easier to read a few more chapters at a time. Also, those chapters were a lot less gruesome. Those mythology and religious afterlives can be crazy gruesome! Not that Dante wasn't every bit their equal. 

Where can you choose to travel to in the afterlife? Hades and Valhalla (of course), the Bardo, Limbo, Nirvana, Johanna and Jannah, the Three Kingdoms of Glory, Aslan's Country, King's Cross, Pandemonium, the Bogus Journey, Hotel Hades, Iowa, the Bad Place, Robot Hell, Hadestown, Rock and Roll Heaven, and the Outer Planes. 

It's great fun and it's definitely one I'd recommend. Just put it on your coffee table or nightstand, and read a chapter or two every night for maximum enjoyment! 

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Life: It Goes On - June 25

Happy Sunday! We are back from our great adventure, although we're on day two of recovery - not much energy yet. We're happy to be back in shorts and sunshine and our own bed, but already planning our next visit to Alaska. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Lucy Foley's latest, The Hunting Party. See below about my reading. 

Watched: A Man Called Otto and Amsterdam on the plane rides. 

Read: Some of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America and some of Caroline O'Donoghue's The Rachel Incident. Honestly, I thought I'd do a lot more reading on those long flights; but I found that I was better distracted by movies and I slept a good chunk of the time on the way up. 

Made: Nothing for a full week except some toast for breakfasts. 

Top Row: Eagle River Nature Center, moose we saw 15 minutes from Mini-me's house, Matanuska Glacier (we did get closer later); Middle Row: Ridge view from above Eagle River (we could faintly see Denali 240 miles away), Alaska Sea Life Center sea lion exhibit, Hobart Glacier; Bottom Row: Aialik Glacier (it's 1 mile across and there was a massive amount of ice in the cove from calving), sea lions seen on our boat ride, and the Anchorage Museum (really excellent museum we'll see again when we return)

 Spending a lot of time with my kids (and grand-animals!); a concert by one of Alaska's up and coming bands; seeing a bull and female moose, bald eagles, reindeer, sea otters, sea lions, 3 kinds of puffins, jellyfish, and 3 humpback whales (checked that off my bucket list!); seeing five glaciers (we are a quarter mile away from the glaciers on the water); lots of hiking and so many mountains and incredible views; visiting a fantastic museum; and some really great food and beer. Your girl here even tried a yak burger and reindeer sausage! 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: My while-we-were-away houseguests left my house in excellent condition and we're fully unpacked and laundry is caught up so I'm ready to get back to projects around here. First up is The Big Guy's great-grandmother's table, which needs some sanding and then just some oil or wax. Project Clear Out The House will also get back up and running. 

Thinking About: All of the little details of our trip. I meant to journal as we went but just didn't find the time so I'm writing like crazy this weekend so I can get it all down before I forget things. 

Feeling: Tired but so relaxed. A week away from home was exactly what I needed. Also, sad. I don't know when we'll get to see Mini-me and Ms. S again and it's always a little depressing to be done with something you've looked forward to for so long. 

Looking forward to: Haven't even looked at my calendar for this week, so I don't know what's on the horizon. 

Question of the week: What's your best tip for getting back in the swing of real life after a big trip? 

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Someone Else's Shoes by Jojo Moyes

Someone Else's Shoes
by Jojo Moyes
Published February 2023 by Penguin Publishing Group
12 hours, 21 minutes
Read by Daisy Ridley

Publisher's Summary: 
Nisha Cantor lives the globetrotting life of the seriously wealthy, until her husband announces a divorce and cuts her off. Nisha is determined to hang onto her glamorous life. But in the meantime, she must scramble to cope—she doesn’t even have the shoes she was, until a moment ago, standing in. 

That’s because Sam Kemp – in the bleakest point of her life – has accidentally taken Nisha’s gym bag. But Sam hardly has time to worry about a lost gym bag—she’s struggling to keep herself and her family afloat. When she tries on Nisha’s six-inch high Christian Louboutin red crocodile shoes, the resulting jolt of confidence that makes her realize something must change—and that thing is herself. 

Full of Jojo Moyes’ signature humor, brilliant storytelling, and warmth, Someone Else’s Shoes is a story about how just one little thing can suddenly change everything.

My Thoughts: 

What I Liked: 
  • It's Moyes, so you know that there will be a blend of humor, love, and drama. I've come to learn how I can expect Moyes' books to end, as well; and this was one of those times that I was happy to have that happen. Although I will never forget the gut punch she delivered in Me Before You. I can't help but hope that one day she'll surprise me again like that. 
  • The women and their relationships. I don't think I'm giving anything away when I tell you that this book is about the unlikely friendships that often develop between people when circumstances throw them together. 
  • The growth we see in these characters. It's slow to develop, as you would expect it would be in real life, and brings out the best in each of the women. 
  • Although there was a part of me that felt like Moyes was dropping too much weight onto Sam's shoulders (one of those "if it can go wrong, it will" situations). But then it occurred to me that many of us are dealing with similar situations - caring for older parents, a stressful job, depression taking it's toll on a family, a lack of self-confidence that often comes with middle age. 
  • Daisy Ridley's reading. She does a terrific job differentiating the characters and with the accents. 
What I Didn't Like: 
  • As much as we see growth in most of the female characters, there's one character that's an a#@ from start to finish. To be fair, not all of us do grow and learn, so it's probably more realistic this way but he did feel fairly one-dimensional. 
  • The woman who has stepped into Nisha's place seems destined, in the beginning, to be a driving force in the events that have transpired to this point. But it turns out that she doesn't play much of a role at all, other than to drive Nisha nuts when Nisha sees her out and about in Nisha's designer clothes. 
  • Although I wasn't entirely sure how Moyes would bring things to a climax and closure (and some of it was unexpected), it mostly predictable. I know, I know, I said I was happy about that earlier. But it was a bit too predictable. Even though it was what I needed. Yeah, I know it makes no sense, but that's how I'm feeling. 
Overall, Moyes never really disappoints. I enjoy her characters, I enjoy the relationships she builds, I enjoy the balance of emotions she creates. I just wish that one day she would make my heart really hurt again. 

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Life: It Goes On - June 11

Happy Sunday from grey, cool Omaha! I wanted to drag an old rug out onto the driveway today to wash it and let it dry in the sun...but no sun and warmth = no washing the rug. Which, to be honest, was not a task that needed to be completed this week, so it's just as well that the time was freed up for things that DO need to be done this week. We leave on Friday for Alaska. The Big Guy would freak out if he knew I was telling people, online, that we'll be out out town - but I know that a) you all are good people who won't rob me; and 2) people will be living in my house the entire time we're gone so the house won't be empty). There's nothing like having a house full of people visiting...while you're not even home! make you feel like you have to clean every last nook and cranny. I mean, I reorganized the cleaning products in my laundry room yesterday on the off chance someone will need to, I don't know, dust? 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Jojo Moyes' Someone Else's Shoes - hope to finish it in time to write a review before I leave. 

 We finished season 1 of Ted Lasso and I watched the first few episodes of Schmigadoon. I don't really know how to feel about it and I'm not sure I'll keep up with it. But the cast is spectacular - Kristin Chenoweth, Aaron Tveit, Ariana DeBose, Alan Cumming - so it may be worth it just for those great voices. 

Read: Very little. 

Made: Mini-him brought his new girl over for dinner last night so we grilled and I made pocket potatoes and a corn dip. We played it easy with dessert and served root beer floats. 

Enjoyed: Time with friends and family, including a quick visit from Miss H. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On finishing the cleaning, picking up the last few things we need, and packing. 

Thinking About: You all know me well enough by now to know that my mind is racing! 

Feeling: Excited, nervous, and a little frantic. 

Looking forward to: You know!

Question of the week: What's your best trip for traveling by air? 

Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Winners by Fredrik Backman

The Winners
by Fredrik Backman
Published September 2022 by Atria Books
Read by Marlin Ireland
21 hours, 22 minutes

Publisher's Summary: 
Over the course of two weeks, everything in Beartown will change. 

Maya Andersson and Benji Ovich, two young people who left in search of a life far from the forest town, come home and joyfully reunite with their closest childhood friends. There is a new sense of optimism and purpose in the town, embodied in the impressive new ice rink that has been built down by the lake.

Two years have passed since the events that no one wants to think about. Everyone has tried to move on, but there's something about this place that prevents it. The destruction caused by a ferocious late-summer storm reignites the old rivalry between Beartown and the neighboring town of Hed, a rivalry which has always been fought through their ice hockey teams.

Maya's parents, Peter and Kira, are caught up in an investigation of the hockey club's murky finances, and Amat-once the star of the Beartown team-has lost his way after an injury and a failed attempt to get drafted into the NHL. Simmering tensions between the two towns turn into acts of intimidation and then violence. All the while, a fourteen-year-old boy grows increasingly alienated from this hockey-obsessed community and is determined to take revenge on the people he holds responsible for his beloved sister's death. He has a pistol and a plan that will leave Beartown with a loss that is almost more that it can stand.  

As it beautifully captures all the complexities of daily life and explores questions of friendship, loyalty, loss, and identity, this emotion-packed novel asks us to reconsider what it means to win, what it means to lose, and what it means to forgive.

My Thoughts: 
Curse you, Fredrik Backman! I knew you could play with my emotions; you've done it so many times, including in this series. But you took it to a whole other level with this one. You broke my heart! 

As much as the events of Us Against You were a followup to Beartown, they were even more a set up for the events of The Winners. What Richard Theo set in motion in the second book comes to fruition in The Winners but we don't even see it coming for well into the book, after the devastating storm amps up the animosity (as if it hadn't already reached its peak) between Beartown and Hed. We know things are going to come to a terrible end as soon as the book begins; Backman is the king of foreshadowing. He's also the king of foreshadowing that means something different than what readers first assume. So you don't know for sure what's going to happen. Except that the unnamed boy in the publisher's summary is probably going to play a part. It often feels like Backman is playing a game of cat and mouse with his readers. 

Terrible things happen. But the terrible things, as terrible things so often do, causes enemies to come together, causes communities to pull together more than ever. Backman gives us, as he always does, the full range of human emotions. It's what makes his books so relatable. Life is full of anger, violence, sadness, enemies and loss; it is also filled with friendship, humor, happiness, healing and love. 

I had a couple of quibbles with this one but I can't really go into what they were without giving things away, so I won't. I highly recommend these books in audiobook format; Ireland is fantastic and it's good to hear the pronunciations of the names. Of course, in print you can go back and read those trademark marvelous insights into humanity, so maybe print? Either way, you can't really lose.  

After three books, Backman seems ready to be done with the people of Beartown. There's not much left that he can do to these people without it beginning to feel like a soap opera. So he spends the end of this book catching readers up with what will happen to the characters in the rest of their lives. It felt a bit rushed but each character's future felt true to what you would hope and expect for them. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

Us Against You
by Fredrik Backman
Published March 2019 by Washington Square Press
448 pages

Publisher's Summary: 
Have you ever seen a town fall? Ours did. Have you ever seen a town rise? Ours did that, too.

A small community tucked deep in the forest, Beartown is home to tough, hardworking people who don’t expect life to be easy or fair. No matter how difficult times get, they’ve always been able to take pride in their local ice hockey team. So it’s a cruel blow when they hear that Beartown ice hockey might soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in the neighboring town of Hed, take in that fact. As the tension mounts between the two adversaries, a newcomer arrives who gives Beartown hockey a surprising new coach and a chance at a comeback.

Soon a team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; always dutiful and eager-to-please Bobo; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the town’s enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.

As the big game approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the communities pile up and their mutual contempt intensifies. By the time the last goal is scored, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after everything, the game they love can ever return to something as simple and innocent as a field of ice, two nets, and two teams. Us against you.

My Thoughts: 
When you don't start reading a trilogy until after the third book is out in the world, it's easy to say that you knew there would be more books after the first one. I'm pretty sure, though, that I would have felt that way even before Us Against You was published. The characters in Beartown left us wanting to know more. How will Maya, Amat, and Benji move on? What friendships will survive what happened in the first book and which will fall apart? What new friendships will grow? It's a given that hockey will play a role, but how? And what new truths about community, family, friendship, and humanity will Backman explore?

This is the fifth novel by Backman that I've read and Backman's commentary about the human condition is something I've always loved about this books. As Kirkus Reviews says, "evident in all his novels is an apparent ability to state a truth about humanity with break taking elegance." Yes, one could argue that the story itself should revel those same truths. And this is the first time that I've actually felt like Backman should stop telling me so much and just show me through the actions of his characters. I really, really wanted to get to the people, to find out what was going to happen to them.  the Medium reviewer says, the novel was frequently "baggy and digressive." Even having said that, that same Medium reviewer said this novel was "impeccably written work that explores the love and passion, and the sense of community." Also true. Which makes this still a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed, even though I thought it was 50 pages too long. 
"People say that leadership is about making difficult decisions, unpalatable and unpopular decisions. "Do your job," leaders are constantly being told. The impossible part of the job is, of course, that a leader can carry on leading only as long as someone follow him, and people's reactions to leadership are always the same: if a decision of yours benefits me, you're fair, and if the same decision harms me, you're a tyrant. The truth about most people is as simple as it is unbearable: we rarely want what is best for everyone; we mostly want what's best for ourselves."
It's that kind of observation that makes readers face uncomfortable truths about themselves and makes readers forgive those 50 pages too man. 

One of the other things I've admired about Backman's writing is his ability to humanize all of his characters. Some of them are not a "good" as others, some more prone to violence, others more prone to be cruel. But Backman tends to readers see the reasons those characters have become those people, giving readers the ability to see them as fully human and to see the goodness in them (and, I'd add, push us to try to find the same in real people). In Us Against You, though, Backman has introduced a new character, a politician that is more one-dimensional. He is clearly the bad guy here, despite any thought that he is taking on the established political hierarchy. I kept waiting for that moment when Backman would revel a side of Richard Theo that would make him understandable. It never came. Perhaps that's a revelation of another sort. 

I may have become even more attached to some of the characters than I was in Beartown (I see you playing with my emotions, Mr. Backman). I had to race through this one to make sure all of them would be ok. Here's the thing with Backman's books - some of them won't be, some of them will flourish. Some that I didn't care for in the first book will become dear to me, others will fall out of favor. And hockey? Hockey is, once again, just a device to show us those truths about people. 

Did I love it as much as I did Beartown? No. But it's still a mighty fine encore. It could stand on its own but I wouldn't recommend reading it without reading Beartown first. 

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Life: It Goes On - June 4

Happy Sunday! I'm happy to report that the project we were working on in the backyard has had to be put on hold for a couple of hours due to rain! That makes twice in the last three days that we have finally gotten a decent amount of rainfall. It is so needed that I don't even care that it may mean it will be too muddy when it's finished for us to continue. 

It's been a productive weekend. We've filled 9 more yard waste bags and a garbage dumpster from under our trees, we've trimmed up all of the bushes and yews, we've laid landscaping fabric, arranged fieldstone, and moved in pea gravel. There is a lot more to be done but we're both so excited by how much nicer it's going to look when we're finished. Outdoor work is the one time when I'm perfectly willing to be dripping sweat because I'm working so hard. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Fredrik Backman's The Winners, the final book in the Beartown trilogy. I'll have reviews up this week of this one and the second book. 

Watched: A lot of college baseball and the 1952 movie adaptation of My Cousin Rachel

Read: Same things as last week. I might finish a print/ebook this week...or I might not. 

Made: I did cook this week but I can't even remember, now, what we ate. 

Enjoyed: We went with friends to the comedy club last night. The Big Guy got free tickets and we didn't even look beforehand to learn anything about the comedians. So they were a lot raunchier than I would usually enjoy but it was fun to do something different. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: When we're not busy with family, I need to get the house cleaned and ready for house sitters. 

Thinking About: The sale of my parents' house closed on Thursday. It would have been my parents' 65th wedding anniversary. I can't help but feel it was a sign from my mom that she is at peace with it. But it's strange to think that we don't have that home anymore. 

Feeling: Tired, sore, but happily so. 

Looking forward to: An evening with BG's brother and sister-in-law, dinner with Mini-him, a visit from Miss H this coming weekend. 

Question of the week: