Sunday, June 16, 2024

Life: It Goes On - June 16

Happy Sunday and Happy Father's Day! Raise your hand if you sent the father in your life off with one or more of your kids so as that it feels as much like a treat for you as it does for them. ✋ The Big Guy and Mini-him headed downtown today with the goal of scoring some cheap College World Series tickets; if those couldn't be found, they would just hang out and soak up the atmosphere, which is a thing unto itself. They did manage to get great tickets for a good price so are busy watching the Virginia-Florida State game.  BG even swung by to see my dad earlier and dropped off (as in hung outside his bedroom window) his Father's Day present. 

Meanwhile, I have the house to myself. I'm waiting on banana bread to finish baking so I can take my dad a loaf, one of his faves. When I get home, I'm planning to whip up a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies with walnuts for BG. That's a cookie I don't care for so rarely make so it will be a great treat for him. Cooking/baking is my love language! 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished The Keeper of Hidden Books and am now about 2/3 of the way through Kerri Maher's All You Have To Do Is Call, which was recommended to me and is exceedingly timely. 

Watched: Once again, lots of college baseball.

Read: Kris Carr's I'm Not a Mourning Person: Braving Loss, Grief, and the Big Messy Emotions That Happen When Life Falls Apart. Next up, Tea Obreht's The Morningside. Still buried in Netgalley and library books so I need to find more time (and attention) to read books in print. 

Made: Some salads, some pasta, and the aforementioned baking. 

Enjoyed: Miss H was in town briefly Friday/Saturday so we got some time with her and then I had a long-call with Mini-me today. 


This Week I’m:  

Planning: I've been putzing around, reorganizing and picking up some things to make that work better for us and that will continue this week. 

Thinking About: Trips we'd like to take yet this summer. 

Feeling: Like weekends are much too short. I need another day! 

Looking forward to: Dinner with our Shep family tomorrow and book club Tuesday! 

Question of the week: Do you have travel plans for this summer? If so, where are you headed? 

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Table for Two by Amor Towles

Table for Two 
by Amor Towles
464 pages
Published April 2024 by Penguin Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
Millions of Amor Towles fans are in for a treat as he shares some of his shorter fiction: six stories based in New York City and a novella set in Golden Age Hollywood.

The New York stories, most of which take place around the year 2000, consider the fateful consequences that can spring from brief encounters and the delicate mechanics of compromise that operate at the heart of modern marriages.

In Towles’s novel Rules of Civility, the indomitable Evelyn Ross leaves New York City in September 1938 with the intention of returning home to Indiana. But as her train pulls into Chicago, where her parents are waiting, she instead extends her ticket to Los Angeles. Told from seven points of view, “Eve in Hollywood” describes how Eve crafts a new future for herself—and others—in a noirish tale that takes us through the movie sets, bungalows, and dive bars of Los Angeles.

Written with his signature wit, humor, and sophistication, Table for Two is another glittering addition to Towles’s canon of stylish and transporting fiction.

My Thoughts: 
You've long heard me say of short story collections that there are always some stories that are better than others, some that don't work for me. Not so with this collection and the novella that brings Towles back to where it all began. That last sentence of the publisher's summary? Spot on. 

I was enchanted with the characters and the circumstances of every story, from the first about a Russian man who finds his place in Bolshevik Russia as someone who will stand in line for others and eventually found himself doing the same thing in the United States:
"Though the peasant Pushkin did not share his namesake's facility with words, he was something of a poet in his sod - and when he witnessed the leaves sprouting on the birch trees, or the thunderstorms of summer, or the golden hues of autumn, he would feel in his heart that theirs was a satisfactory life."
To the woman who discovers the secret life of her stepfather only to have it cost her mother the marriage:
"But before she'd walked a hundred feet, the opening riff of The Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive," suddenly started playing from a boom box to Nell's left, and that's where she saw him. If it weren't for his silver hairs, she would have missed him altogether. For the minutes that her stepfather had been out of her sight, he had experienced something of a transformation. Gone were the tan pants, white Oxford, and blue blazer. In their place, John now wore silky red jogging shorts, a blue T-shirt emblazoned with the figure of Mr. Met, a white headband a la Bjorn Borg circa 1975, and on his feet a pair of roller skates."
Every story was unique with a touch of philosophy, morality, and humor. None of the endings was predictable. I would have happily read more short stories. But, of course, the reason I was most excited to get to this book was to pick back up with Eve Ross who disappeared from NYC in Rules of Civility but not from readers' memories. Clearly not from Towle's, either. Expectations were high and I was not disappointed. Eve was exactly as I remembered her and the story is filled with all the glitter and seediness of 1938 Hollywood. Eve befriends a former police detective on the train ride across the country who, along with a portly former movie star, assists her when her new friend, Olivia de Havilland, is blackmailed. It give off the noir air of the films of an era that absolutely comes alive in Towle's hands. 

I checked this one out from the library. I might find myself buying a copy so that I can reread it (as much as I want others to read it, I might even loan it out if I own it). 

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

James by Percival Everett

by Percival Everett
320 pages
Published March 2024 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: When the enslaved Jim overhears that he is about to be sold to a man in New Orleans, separated from his wife and daughter forever, he decides to hide on nearby Jackson Island until he can formulate a plan. Meanwhile, Huck Finn has faked his own death to escape his violent father, recently returned to town. As all readers of American literature know, thus begins the dangerous and transcendent journey by raft down the Mississippi River toward the elusive and too-often-unreliable promise of the Free States and beyond.

While many narrative set pieces of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remain in place (floods and storms, stumbling across both unexpected death and unexpected treasure in the myriad stopping points along the river’s banks, encountering the scam artists posing as the Duke and Dauphin…), Jim’s agency, intelligence and compassion are shown in a radically new light.

My Thoughts: 
In 1968 my family moved into the house my parents would live in for 54 years. In that house there was a bit of wall between the room my sister and I shared and our parents' room. After my siblings and I were bathed for the night and in our jammies, my dad would lean against that wall, with the three of us leaning into him, and read to us. We read the usual kid fare (Dr. Seuss' Yertle the Turtle was a particular favorite) and books my dad had grown up reading. But the real treat was when my dad pulled one of the red leather-bound classics off of the shelves and read a chapter of that to us each night. One of those books was Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I loved that book, in no small part, I'm sure, as much to the setting and my dad's wonderful reading as for the book itself. But that book pulled me into another world, where children were the center of the world and had marvelous adventures. It never occurred to me then, a girl growing up in the late 60's/early 70's and in a smallish city with very few persons of color, to question Twain's use of the "n" word or his depiction of Jim. 

For Percival Everett, Huckleberry Finn was a very different book. Fortunately for us, he decided there was another story to be told about Twain's characters, a story where the enslaved Jim is an intelligent, well-read family man who protects himself by code switching and playing ignorant. 

Having read Huckleberry Finn more than once, I couldn't help but track that book against the action in this one and I was pleased to see Everett follow that original story line; it allowed me to get an entirely different take on both novels (although reading Twain's work is not essential to enjoying this book). Here Huck is what he is, an largely uneducated, naive young man who relies almost entirely on Jim's ability to survive, even as Jim is forced to allow Huck to believe he is the one doing the thinking. With Jim as the central character in the events, though, slavery plays a much greater role - from Jim's usage of it to try to make the pair some money to the risk Jim is constantly in along the way to the way readers get a real impression of how enslaved people were used and abused to the abuse that James must watch others suffer in order for him to survive. 
“White people try to tell us that everything will be just fine when we go to heaven. My question is, Will they be there? If so, I might make other arrangements.”
Everett doesn't stick entirely to Twain's outline, though. Through all of the book, Everett finds room for humor, generally at the expense (justifiably) of the white characters. He also has some real surprises in store for readers and an ending that I couldn't help cheering for, even as I feared what would happen beyond the final pages of the book. This one is going on the best-of list for 2024 when it will likely end the year at the top of the list. It's a book I would reread, a book I want to discuss with other readers. 

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Life: It Goes On - June 9

Happy Sunday! As I type, I'm watching out the window for a truck to arrive with my new washing machine. Mine decided it would tumble long enough to fill with water and it was fine with draining and spinning. It was just all of that stuff in the middle that it didn't want to do any actually wash the clothes. I'd much rather be spending this money on a vacation! 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished Lynn Painter's The Love Wager and started Madeline Martin's The Keeper of Hidden Books. Quite the change in mood from one to the other!

Watched: Lots of college baseball (again), game one of the NBA finals, and Jerry Seinfeld's latest movie, Unfrosted (a little stupid, but also fun with a lot of sly things thrown in and Hugh Grant was hilarious). 

Read: I finished Julia Alvarez's latest, The Cemetery of Untold Stories and started Kris Carr's I'm Not A Mourning Person: Braving Loss, Grief, and the Big Messy Emotions That Happen When Life Falls Apart

Made: Ravioli - both a spinach/ricotta and a sweet corn/spinach/ricotta type, chicken nugget salads, and a chicken pasta dish. 

The way you dress for a matinee
when you're following it up with
a trip to an arts festival. 
Enjoyed: Yesterday BG, Mini-him, Miss C and I went to a matinee performance (matinee because I was more concerned about getting seats where I wanted them than to pay attention to the fact that it wasn't an evening performance!) of Moulin Rouge, which we all thought was excellent. We followed that up with a trip to the Omaha Summer Arts Festival where we ate African, Mexican, Southern, and Indian food and came home with some art purchases. 


This Week I’m:  

Planning: This week should be quieter so I'm hoping to get caught up on paperwork, do some work in the basement, and get some extra reading time in because I have so many books I need to get read. 

Thinking About: Father's Day and what to get for my dad and my hubby. 

Feeling: Like a different woman. Got my hair done on Thursday and we went lighter than I have been in years (gotta move that way to make the grays not so obvious quite so soon!). 

Looking forward to: Evenings on the patio since we'll finally have evenings that are free this week when it's not raining. 

Question of the week: Have you seen the theatrical production of Moulin Rouge

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Lucky by Jane Smiley

by Jane Smiley
384 pages
Published April 2024 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
Before Jodie Rattler became a star, she was a girl growing up in St. Louis. One day in 1955, when she was just six years old, her uncle Drew took her to the racetrack, where she got lucky—and that roll of two-dollar bills she won has never since left her side. Jodie thrived in the warmth of her extended family, and then—through a combination of hard work and serendipity—she started a singing career, which catapulted her from St. Louis to New York City, from the English countryside to the tropical beaches of St. Thomas, from Cleveland to Los Angeles, and back again. Jodie comes of age in recording studios, backstage, and on tour, and she tries to hold her own in the wake of Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Joni Mitchell. Yet it feels like something is missing. Could it be true love? Or is that not actually what Jodie is looking for?

Full of atmosphere, shot through with longing and exuberance, romance and rock 'n' roll, Lucky is a story of chance and grit and the glitter of real talent, a colorful portrait of one woman's journey in search of herself.

My Thoughts: 
Read that summary and tell me what you would be expecting in a book. Here's what I was expecting: a book about a young woman who grows up to be a rock 'n' roll star, with all that implies - song writing, recording, touring, concerts, relationships. I expected interactions with the famous names that Smiley throws about. Have you already guessed that that's not what I felt like I got? 

After my first experience with Smiley (in 2015, Some Luck), I was pretty sure that Smiley wasn't for me. But Smiley is a prolific, Pulitzer Prize-winning author. It's clear she's well respected and loved by many and I assumed that one day I would at least read the book that won the Pulitzer, A Thousand Acres. Knowing that I was planning on giving her another chance, I figured this one might as well be it. 

What I Liked:
  • Early on, I was drawn in to this one, to the details about Jodie's neighborhood and family and the vivid picture I was getting. I immediately texted a friend who'd moved here from St. Louis about it, certain that she would recognize the places Smiley was referencing. Honestly, if the story had never left St. Louis but focused instead on the family, I think I would have enjoyed this one more. It's truly what the book felt like it was meant to be. 
  • The characters of the Jodie's family and the friends she made through her mother. These characters felt really well developed and felt like people I might know. 
  • The ending, which was totally unexpected. Although you'll note that the ending also falls on the next list. 
What I Didn't Like:
  • When I reviewed Some Luck (and discussed it with my book club), the word minutiae came up. This book seems to make it clear that including the minutiae of life is one of Smiley's hallmarks. This would work for me in a novel that didn't span decades. Smiley includes so much about the food Jodie eats, the walks she takes (sooooo much about the walks!), the men she sleeps with (more as a look how many and less about the relationships). 
  • All of the song lyrics. To be honest, I didn't think any of them would ever have been made into a real song; and, for me, they added nothing to the story and took up room that could have been better spent in other ways. 
  • The ending. Yeah, I know I said that I liked it. There are kind of two parts of the ending. One I liked (clearly Smiley - or at least Jodie - and I are of a like mind politically). The other I felt was something of a cop out. 
Now the question is - do I give Smiley a third chance? There are things that I really like about Smiley's writing. In some ways, that minutiae provides lovely, intimate details that allow readers to be absorbed into the character's lives. But...I keep expecting more than what I feel like I'm getting. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

The Mystery Guest by Nita Prose

The Mystery Guest
by Nita Prose
Read by Lauren Ambrose
8 hours, 23 minutes
Published November 2023 by Random House Publishing

Publisher's Summary: 
Molly Gray is not like anyone else. With her flair for cleaning and proper etiquette, she has risen through the ranks of the glorious five-star Regency Grand Hotel to become the esteemed Head Maid. But just as her life reaches a pinnacle state of perfection, her world is turned upside down when J. D. Grimthorpe, the world-renowned mystery author, drops dead—very dead—on the hotel’s tearoom floor.
When Detective Stark, Molly’s old foe, investigates the author’s unexpected demise, it becomes clear that this death was murder most foul. Suspects abound, and everyone wants to know: Who killed J. D. Grimthorpe? Was it Lily, the new Maid-in-Training? Or was it Serena, the author’s secretary? Could Mr. Preston, the hotel’s beloved doorman, be hiding something? And is Molly really as innocent as she seems?
As the high-profile death threatens the hotel’s pristine reputation, Molly knows she alone holds the key to unlocking the killer’s identity. But that key is buried deep in her past, as long ago, she knew J. D. Grimthorpe. Molly begins to comb her memory for clues, revisiting her childhood and the mysterious Grimthorpe mansion where she and her dearly departed Gran once worked side by side. With the entire hotel under investigation, Molly must solve the mystery posthaste. Because if there’s one thing she knows for sure, it’s that secrets don’t stay buried forever.

My Thoughts: 
Once again there's been a murder in the Regency Grand Hotel; and, once again, Molly Gray has ties to the murder victim and becomes a suspect in the murder. But this time, Molly is not alone when the battle to clear her name begins. While Detective Stark may not be a fan, so many others who Molly works with are and they are more than happy to help Molly solve the mystery. 

Molly's ties to the murdered author aren't immediately known as her ties to him are in her past. Even as a young girl, Molly wasn't good at picking up on social clues, but she was very intuitive. It didn't take her long to figure out that she needed to get her Gran away from the Grimthorpes. When J. D. Grimthorpe is murdered at an event, all of that pain is brought back up for Molly and readers get another chance to learn more about Molly's past, including meeting her mother, and her relationship with her Gran, the woman who raised her. Gran has died before the book series begins but she looms large as a character as she remains so influential on Molly, who continues to her Gran's voice as she makes her way through life. It's a lovely relationship, a piece of the books that makes them so much more than merely cozy mysteries. 

Because we've already met Molly in the first book, this book lacks the joy of meeting her for the first time and, now that Molly has her allies, it lacks the tension of the first book. We know that Molly is going to be fine, with a little help from her friends. This time Molly actually plays a bigger role in solving the case, using her unique skills. While I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as the first book, it was still a delight as Molly is such an interesting character and Lauren Ambrose does such a great job of voicing her. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series. 

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Life: It Goes On - June 2

Happy Sunday! Here in Omaha we are stuck in a rainy cycle that's lasted more than six weeks now - we've already had thunderstorms move through this morning - so yesterday's beautiful weather was so appreciated. We got so much done outside - prep for a new patio area, transplanted perennials, trimmed shrubs. 

I'm hoping there will be some breaks in the weather today so that I can continue moving some plants. I generally transplant whenever the mood strikes and don't necessarily wait for the best time for the plant - if it survives, it survives; if not, at least the plant isn't where I didn't want it any more. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Patti Callahan Henry's The Secret Book of Flora Lea and started Lynn Painter's The Love Wager

Watched: Lots of college baseball. 

Read: Lian Dolan's latest, The Marriage Sabbatical

Made: I got a hankering for a wedge salad the other day, when The Big Guy was out of town, so I got the ingredients for that and ate wedge salad (albeit with chopped lettuce) for three meals while he was gone. 

Enjoyed: Went out to dinner with friends last night to a place we'd gone to for New Year's Eve and, once again, we all very much enjoyed our dinners. May become a go-to place! 


This Week I’m:  

Planning: I'm going to have the house to myself for a couple of days this week so I'll be shooting to get some spaces cleared out while I don't have anyone here second guessing my decisions. 

Thinking About: Miss H called and talked last night while she was meal prepping for the week which got me thinking about getting back to doing meal prepping again. I never did it to the extent she does (she has meals ready to grab and go, for the most part), but I do really miss having a plan and having as much cooked in advance as possible. 

Feeling: Lazy. Yeah, I know I said earlier that I wanted to get out and do more lawn work. But there's another part of me that just wants to curl up in a chair with a book and a cup of coffee and read for a few hours. 

Looking forward to: We're going to see Moulin Rouge on Saturday with Mini-him and Miss C. 

Question of the week: Have any of you tried lasagna gardening? (How I wish that meant you could actually grow lasagna in your garden!) 

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Take My Hand
by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Read by Lauren J. Dagger
10 hours, 57 minutes
Published April 2022 by Penguin Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
Montgomery, Alabama, 1973. Fresh out of nursing school, Civil Townsend intends to make a difference, especially in her African American community. At the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, she hopes to help women shape their destinies, to make their own choices for their lives and bodies.

But when her first week on the job takes her along a dusty country road to a worn-down one-room cabin, Civil is shocked to learn that her new patients, Erica and India, are children—just eleven and thirteen years old. Neither of the Williams sisters has even kissed a boy, but they are poor and Black, and for those handling the family’s welfare benefits, that’s reason enough to have the girls on birth control. As Civil grapples with her role, she takes India, Erica, and their family into her heart. Until one day she arrives at their door to learn the unthinkable has happened, and nothing will ever be the same for any of them.

Decades later, with her daughter grown and a long career in her wake, Dr. Civil Townsend is ready to retire, to find her peace, and to leave the past behind. But there are people and stories that refuse to be forgotten. That must not be forgotten.

Because history repeats what we don’t remember.

Inspired by true events and brimming with hope, Take My Hand is a stirring exploration of accountability and redemption.

My Thoughts: 
I first became aware of Dolen Perkins-Valdez in 2011, when I read and and enjoyed her debut, Wench. I was equally impressed with her sophomore effort, Balm, in 2015 and a short-story of hers that was included in the collection Suffragette City in 2020. So I was delighted to discovery recently that I had missed her third novel when it was released in 2022. 

Civil Townsend is the daughter of a doctor who would prefer that she become a doctor and join his practice. Instead, thinking that she will be more help to the people of her community, she becomes a nurse and begins working at a clinic, run by government, which purports to offer medical assistance to poor families. Civil's first community visit is to the Williams' home, to give Erica and India Depo-Provera shots. She's shocked to discover that the girls are only 11- and 13-years-old, neither of whom is sexually active. Why in the world would they need to have birth control shots? Civil becomes convinced that she needs to help these girls both medically and in their home life. She works to get the family better housing and helps the girls' father find a job. Moreover, she becomes emotionally attached to the family. When the woman who runs the clinic finds out all that Civil has done, she takes matters into her own hands and has the girls sterilized. Outraged, Civil and her parents determine to get justice for the girls, taking their case to court, as part of a class action suit. But the damage to the family, and to Civil, has already been done and none of them will ever be the same. 

Wench and Balm dealt with slavery and its aftermath. Here Perkins-Valdez has skipped forward a century to deal with another great injustice done to black women, the forced sterilization of women receiving government aid. I wasn't unaware that this had been done, but I knew very little about it. Here Perkins-Valdez has taken the real life story of the Relf sisters, who plight reached a Senate subcommittee led by Senator Teddy Kennedy, as the Williams girls do in this book. 

Once again Perkins-Valdez has taken a little known part of the history of black women and opened readers' eyes through a work of fiction that is both heartbreaking and uplifting. And, once again, I'm reading a work of historical fiction, based on reality, which seems to tie into events that readers are facing today. While this time it's not about forced birth control, we are once again facing politicians who seem to believe the government should be involved in women's reproductive rights. This book not only educated me but grabbed me emotionally, just as her previous books did. I can't wait to see what she's working on next. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The Fraud by Zadie Smith

The Fraud
by Zadie Smith
Read by Zadie Smith
12 hours, 26 minutes
Published September 2023 by Penguin Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
It is 1873. Mrs. Eliza Touchet is the Scottish housekeeper-and cousin by marriage-of a once-famous novelist, now in decline, William Ainsworth, with whom she has lived for thirty years.

Mrs. Touchet is a woman of many interests: literature, justice, abolitionism, class, her cousin, his wives, this life and the next. But she is also sceptical. She suspects her cousin of having no talent; his successful friend, Mr. Charles Dickens, of being a bully and a moralist; and England of being a land of facades, in which nothing is quite what it seems.

Andrew Bogle, meanwhile, grew up enslaved on the Hope Plantation, Jamaica. He knows every lump of sugar comes at a human cost. That the rich deceive the poor. And that people are more easily manipulated than they realize. When Bogle finds himself in London, star witness in a celebrated case of imposture, he knows his future depends on telling the right story.

The “Tichborne Trial”-wherein a lower-class butcher from Australia claimed he was in fact the rightful heir of a sizable estate and title-captivates Mrs. Touchet and all of England. Is Sir Roger Tichborne really who he says he is? Or is he a fraud? Mrs. Touchet is a woman of the world. Mr. Bogle is no fool. But in a world of hypocrisy and self-deception, deciding what is real proves a complicated task. . . .

My Thoughts: 
From an article in The Millions: 
"In 2009, first edition of Charles Dickens’s The Christmas Carol was sold at auction for $290,500. The book had been inscribed by Dickens himself to one “Mrs Touchet.” This Eliza Touchet was cousin by marriage to a novelist named William Harrison Ainsworth, and served as his housekeeper and as a witty hostess for literary parties at his home in Kensal Green, many of which Dickens attended. "

You know how much I love when an author, especially one of Smith's skills, manages to create a novel that ties real life people and events together in a way that really makes me think and that makes those people and events relevant to the world today. 

But that's not what drew me to this book. In fact, I had no idea what this book was about when I requested it from the library. I requested it because it was Smith's latest. This is the fourth book I've read by Smith and she always challenges me. Twice I've commented that I should have read the book in print but had listened to it. Didn't learn my lesson. While this one was easier to follow while listening than were the other books I've listened to by Smith, it does bounce around quite a bit and I think it would have been easier to track with it if I had looked at the book instead of listened to it. 

Still...I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I loved the history, I loved the references to the authors I'm familiar with and the story of the one I wasn't. I found the hoopla surrounding the trial fascinating and how timely it felt. Truly, a man who some people so passionately believed in while so many others could clearly see that he was a fraud? Can you get any more tied in to current events? Eliza was such an interesting character, as was her relationship with the Bogles. 

I've always found plenty to like about Smith's books but this one might be my favorite yet. 

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Life: It Goes On - May 26

Happy Sunday! I'm back on track, although I'm also confused, what with having taken Friday off and having tomorrow off as well. I had a very productive Friday, what with having my brother and sister-in-law pass through on their way to her class reunion Friday night. It's amazing how much you can get done when company is coming!

We've had a couple more waves of severe weather move through this week - I'm so over it and we haven't even suffered any damage. On the plus side, the lawn looks great and I have hardly had to water the new plants at all. This week the temps are forecast to be only in the 70's so I'm hoping that we can get the flower pots moved out from shelter and set things up so we can enjoy patio time. Starting with a cookout tomorrow when Mini-him and Miss C come for dinner - it is the kickoff weekend to the summer, after all. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished Nita Prose's second Maid book, The Mystery Guest and started Patti Callahan Henry's The Secret Book of Flora Lea. 

Watched: Lots of Big Ten tournament baseball, culminating with our Cornhuskers winning the championship today. Also today, Purlie Victorious on PBS's Great Performances. 

Read: About to finally finish Jane Smiley's Lucky. If I hadn't gotten it from the publisher to review, I would probably have dnf'd it. 

Made: Lasagna cups and an orzo/sundried tomato/spinach dish, both of which feed us for a couple days each and both of which I'll make again. 

Enjoyed: Book club Tuesday. We had a good turnout, a good book discussion, and a good time catching up with each other. I love the way this group has grown, having time to really get to know each person as they join us. Every time I think I'm ready to give it up, I remember what good mental therapy it is for me every month. 


This Week I’m:  

Planning: This week is going to be about getting some things into storage, others to the Goodwill, and still other things off to the dump (as much as I hate to do that, somethings just have exhausted their usefulness). 

Thinking About: Painting know, the ones I keep saying I'm going to get to but that I haven't even started yet. I miss the days when I used to have a lot more energy! 

Feeling: Relaxed. A few days off to putz around and get things down that I've been wanting to get to has been just what I needed. 

Looking forward to: A quiet week which, hopefully, also means a productive week. 

Question of the week: What's the last book you finished that you loved?

Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon

The Frozen River
by Ariel Lawhon
448 pages; 15 hours
Read by Jane Oppenheimer
Published December 2023 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group 

Publisher's Summary: Maine, 1789: When the Kennebec River freezes, entombing a man in the ice, Martha Ballard is summoned to examine the body and determine cause of death. As a midwife and healer, she is privy to much of what goes on behind closed doors in Hallowell. Her diary is a record of every birth and death, crime and debacle that unfolds in the close-knit community. Months earlier, Martha documented the details of an alleged rape committed by two of the town's most respected gentlemen-one of whom has now been found dead in the ice. But when a local physician undermines her conclusion, declaring the death to be an accident, Martha is forced to investigate the shocking murder on her own.

Over the course of one winter, as the trial nears, and whispers and prejudices mount, Martha doggedly pursues the truth. Her diary soon lands at the center of the scandal, implicating those she loves, and compelling Martha to decide where her own loyalties lie.

Clever, layered, and subversive, Ariel Lawhon's newest offering introduces an unsung heroine who refused to accept anything less than justice at a time when women were considered best seen and not heard. 

My Thoughts: 
This is my fourth novel by Lawhon, so clearly I'm a fan. Why? Because Lawhon always finds obscure real women who lived in interesting time to craft her novels around; I always learn something about an historical period, as seen through the lens of a woman's life. This novel is no exception. 

The real Martha Ballard lived from February 1735 through June 1812, married Ephraim Ballard in 1754, and had nine children, losing three of them to diphtheria. The family lived in Kennebec Valley, Maine where Martha worked as a midwife and healer and frequently testified in court. All of that would have been lost to time but for the fact that, at age 50, she began keeping a daily diary.

Lawhon took that and ran with it, pulling in many of the facts of Martha's life and the realities of the time and place, then filling that in with the details that Martha left out and a storyline that ties the late 18th century with the present day. 

What I Liked: 
  • Martha. Lawhon took what was known about the woman and created a warm, strong, fierce woman who loves her husband, is devoted to her children even as she sees their flaws, and battles men to provide the care the women in the area need and to see that justice is done. 
  • The way Lawhon paints such a clear picture of the setting of the novel. If I were making a movie adaptation of this book, it would be easy to create the set as it is so clear to me. 
  • The way Lawhon uses the story to also look at live for women in 2024. While women have absolutely come a long, long way since Martha lived, we still have a very long way to go. Were this to be set in present time, Rebecca would still struggle to be believed when she charges rape against the two men, Martha would still struggle, as a midwife, to be respected for the work she does. 
What Didn't Work As Well For Me: 
  • While I appreciate that Lawhon chose a believable court outcome, I wasn't thrilled with the way she saw justice (of a sort) served. It just all seemed a little too theatrical for me. 
  • I occasionally felt like Lawhon was being a little repetitive. For example, I didn't need to be told/shown so many times how hot for each other Martha and Ephraim still were after so many years or marriage. 
Would I recommend it? Absolutely. Would I recommend the audiobook version. For sure? Would it make a good book club selection? Definitely.