Today Will be Different – Maria Semple

 

 

This is the story otodaydifferentf one day in the life of Eleanor Flood: cartoon artist, mother of young son, wife of prominent hand surgeon, and victim of scatter-brained, desperate personality.

At the onset of her morning, Eleanor declares:

“Today will be different. Today I will be present. Today, anyone I speak to, I will look them in the eye and listen deeply. Today I’ll play a board game with Timby. I’ll initiate sex with Joe. Today I will take pride in my appearance. I’ll shower, get dressed in proper clothes, and change into yoga clothes only for yoga, which today I will actually attend. Today I won’t swear. I won’t talk about money. Today there will be an ease about me. My face will be relaxed, its resting place a smile. Today I will radiate calm. Kindness and self-control will abound. Today I will buy local. Today I will be my best self, the person I’m capable of being. Today will be different.” 

Eleanor is just scrambling to keep it together. Today, her son Timby calls from school with yet another stomach ache, she’s afraid she’s offended her poetry mentor with flippant comments, she accidentally/ on purpose stole another mother’s keys, and she’s running late to meet a former hapless employee for lunch only to discover he’s become a huge success. Not to mention, everyone she talks with is asking about her sister, and she insists she doesn’t have one (*no spoilers here). When she drops by her husband’s office, the receptionist says he’s on vacation . . . except Joe isn’t on vacation. So what’s going on? Eleanor is going to blow like a hurricane through this day to right wrongs and discover truths, and you’re her sidekick, riding this mess with her.

One aspect I especially appreciated was her relationship with her husband, Joe. Semple nailed it, in that Joe is the perfect counter-balance to Eleanor’s anxiety. When she’s freaking out, he is the calming influence; when she loses her way, he shows her that it’s okay to feel lost. She analogizes this yin-yang as a “competent traveler” and “helpless traveler.” The difference with Eleanor, however, is that she’s beginning to realize that she’s been the helpless traveler for far too long.

I actually enjoyed the frenetic, quirky, frazzled tale of Eleanor Flood and her constant worry. The only unrelatable part, however, was that Eleanor’s life is full of Rich People Problems. Not many of us can spend our time worrying about if we’re going to make our lunch date at the upscale boutique restaurant on time after dropping off our only child at his private school in our luxury car. But, this story is also deeper than most reviewers give it credit for: there’s sibling jealousy, marital discord, and self-doubt, and all through it is humor, and that makes it all okay.

The story is insightful, comforting, and sometimes over-the-top. I enjoyed it, and the audio narration was delightful. Recommended for anyone who has forgotten Teacher Appreciation Day, or had a falling out with a friend, or who has ever questioned their career choices. In other words, everyone. All of us are part Eleanor.

 

 

 

 

 

Cinnamon and Gunpowder – Eli Brown

I loved this book because it was SO MUCH FUN.

cinandgunCrazy pirate Mad Hannah Mabbott captures and kidnaps chef Owen Wedgwood. “Wedge” is now a prisoner aboard The Flying Rose, and if he wants to remain aboard and not become fish food, he must prepare an exquisite meal for the red-haired pirate captain every Sunday.

The conflicts abound:  Captain Mabbott’s quixotic hunt for her nemesis, The Brass Fox;  Wedge’s panicked scrounging for decent provisions, which imagination leads him to use scraped barnacles, stolen pineapples, and a sourdough starter made from feeble yeast and coconut water; and countless encounters with other pirates where Wedge must dodge cutlasses while trying to keep his pans on the stove. There are escape attempts, underwater excursions, pirate raids, and haute cuisine.

Other swashbucklers aboard include: Mr. Apples, Mabbott’s first mate, a swarthy pirate with a predilection for knitting; twin Chinese bodyguards; and Joshua, a deaf cabin boy who proves to be a competent sous-chef.

What I loved about this book is not only is it adventurous fun, but it has an underlying current of heartbreak:  the mother’s loss of her child, a man overcoming the death of his wife, a boy intent to return home, and the fight for triumph of good over evil. Above all, love trumps greed, and loyalty is more precious than gold.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder appeals to all five senses. Wedge’s cuisine patched together from rancid ingredients and seasoned with spices purloined from bowls of potpourri crushed with a cannon ball are nothing short of genius. The characters are multi-faceted, and no one can be taken at face value. Adventure on the high seas, indeed, replete with danger and a tender love story. What more could a reader ask for?

 

 

 

 

Alabama Book Festival!

Last weekend was the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery!

Rachel Rozet was there promoting her teen fiction book, Kinda, Sort Of, and doing a signing (see my book review here). She sold a lot of copies!

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Buy Kinda, Sort Of here!

We also got to meet Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why. He was happy to receive a signed copy of Kinda, Sort Of, and he signed our boojayasherks too!

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Tayari Jones gave a talk and also signed copies of her book, Silver Sparrow, which was a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read.

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Tayari Jones signing my copy of Silver Sparrow

 

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Rachel with author Michael Lackey, who was at the festival signing copies of his medieval fantasy novel, The Bad Seed

So proud of Rachel for being such a success with her debut novel. Rumor has it there’s another book on the way . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the Eclipse – Sarah Perry

Wow. This is a powerful book.

In 1994, Sarah Perry’s mother, Crystal, was murdered in their home while Sarah was only a room away. It was a brutality I can’t even fathom. 12-year-old Sarah was thrust into a world of fear, abandonment, and unspeakable grief.

More than a recountaftertheeclipseing of events, Sarah gives the reader the complete atmosphere of growing up in rural Maine, and the people of the small town of Bridgton that made up her world.  She delves into the person her mother was, and what made her who she was. This memoir is an attempt to know her mother, from the perspective of a grown woman cognizant of her mother’s life choices, her anguish over on-again, off-again relationships, and her love for her daughter.  This story is also Sarah’s journey to discover herself, as she was as a 12-year-old girl enduring unbelievable tragedy, and now as an adult understanding the whole picture of Crystal Perry as a person.

So many adults in Sarah’s life tried to help her cope with this horrible “thing that happened,” but many were misguided in their kindness, or too blind with grief to offer anything of value. The fear that still resides in Sarah is palpable. It’s easy, as a reader, to think “this is an event that happened, once, a long time ago,” but for Sarah, it’s every day of her life, and she brings that idea to the forefront. Her memoir is courageous, it’s honest, and never indulges in self-pity.

I appreciated Sarah’s candor. She acknowledges her faults, the mistakes all of us make as adolescents. She allows herself room to ask questions, to wonder about her mother’s motivations, the relationships she maintained with men and with her friends. She wonders about the fallacy of memory and about the unreliability of what you think you know about those close to you. The research is impeccable. Sarah refers to police transcripts, interviews, and personal remembrances, but this never reads like a sterile report; it’s like sitting with your best friend and listening to her tell you her story.

I dropped everything else I was reading when I started reading After the Eclipse. It was compelling and at the same time humbling. Sarah’s foray into her past took unbelievable courage, and this memoir is a testament to her strength. The kind of strength, I’m sure, she got from her mother.

After the Eclipse is available for pre-order and will be released on September 26, 2017.

Many thanks to Sarah Perry for the advance copy.

 

Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders

I’ve been waiting for almost a year to get my hands on this book. Ever since Liberty Hardy reviewed it on Litsy, I’ve been excited about it. It was finally released on February 14th. I saw it at the library while I was checking out other books and screamed, “Waitlincoln!” while I dove to the “current releases” shelf to grab my copy.

The premise is fascinating: Abraham Lincoln grieving for his son, Willy, who died from typhoid during the same night as a lavish party at the White House. Saunders explores Lincoln’s unbearable grief and his suffering knowing so many other fathers were also mourning their sons killed in the war he was responsible for.

It seems many readers either love or hate this book. I’m of the first camp, but I can see why it wouldn’t appeal to everyone. The format is unusual, but if you’re willing to surrender to Saunders’ delivery, it’s rewarding beyond measure. Lincoln in the Bardo is presented at first as excerpts from historical sources. Saunders lists various eyewitness accounts of the extravagant party at the White House, Lincoln’s reaction to Willy’s death, even the appearance of the moon on that fateful evening, showing the reader the fallibility of memory and how one event can merit several interpretations.

Saunders then introduces our main characters, the ghosts who inhabit the cemetery in Georgetown where little Willy is laid in a borrowed crypt. These souls have not passed on, not realizing, in fact, that they have died. Their adventures and catharses while rescuing Willy from purgatory are remarkable. Lincoln’s grief is palpable, as is Willy’s confusion and reluctance to leave his father. The ghosts themselves have difficulties of their own, with their passing on and with their inability to accept their faults during their mortal lives.

The book mostly reads like a stage play with multiple characters speaking brief lines of dialogue. Saunders’ approach helped me absorb the relationships among the characters through their conversations. It was an unusual and enlightening way to tell this story. This book is sad, at times hilarious, complex, and illuminating. If you find it confusing at first, don’t give up. You’ll grow to love the denizens of the bardo.

This book is a masterpiece. I highly recommend it. It was definitely worth waiting for.

 

Practical Jean – Trevor Cole

When middle-aged Jean was a little girl, her mother told her she didn’t have a practical gene in her body. Jean took this to mean a “practical Jean,” and now that she’s grown and has found her purpose, she’ll show her mom just how practical she really is.

Jean has jjeanust endured a few months caring for her mom during her illness and eventual death, and is reeling at just how unfair old age can be. No one should suffer as her mom did, and everyone should go out with joy, before the indignities of age and the suffering of disease ruins them. Ever practical, Jean decides to give the best gift she can give to all those whom she loves: one final happy moment and a quick death.

Jean has many different types of friends: the blunt, forthright one who always tells her like it is; the old reliable college friend; the fun, wild friend whose circumstances have tamed her . . . and don’t we all have friends like this? Jean has all types of relationships that she’s collected during her life, some that have fallen by the wayside and others that have fallen completely apart.

I took comfort in how the author addressed how difficult it is for women to find and keep friends in middle age. The author concedes a point that men don’t usually form close friendships at this age, and don’t need them or seek them out (is this true?). There are so many things that hinder older women from forming friendships: different socioeconomic statuses, different stages of life, different relationships with spouses. When you’re in elementary school, all it takes is “hey, we’re on the playground at the same time, now we’re best friends,” but as women age, the baggage, the insecurities, and the life demands smother many potential friendships.

Practical Jean is an unusual book. Even though she bumped off her friends, it was done out of love, and I found myself still pulling for Jean in the end. (What does that say about me?) The women in this book are hilarious, but at the same time very sad. It’s a dark comedy, a relationship study, a heartwarming tale of love . . . and murder.

 

 

 

Kinda, Sort Of – Rachel Rozet

My niece wrote a book, y’all!

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Buy it here on Amazon!

My niece, Rachel Rozet, and her co-author, Kate Luke, have published their first novel through The Polyethnic. It’s available on Amazon and through the publisher’s Web site, thepolyethnic.com.

 

Kinda, Sort Of is the story of Camryn and Jason, best friends since kindergarten, who face a romantic challenge now that they are in high school and their peers can’t accept that their relationship is strictly platonic. In order to stop the incessant teasing, Camryn and Jason decide to fake a romance so that they can break it off in front of everyone and end the badgering.

Alternating between the perspectives of the two main characters, the story is well-organized with steady pacing. The characters are charming, but not without their faults, which affords a more in-depth story. I was gobsmacked that this novel was written by two teenagers. The quality of the plotting, dialogue, and character development speaks volumes for their talent and is of the caliber I’ve seen in accomplished, professional writers. This is the type of story to appeal to a young audience, as well as an older audience who remembers the idealism of young love.

 

I really enjoyed reading about Camry and Jason. If you like an engaging story, I encourage you to check out Kinda, Sort Of. This one will make you smile.