Friday, June 30, 2017

What I Read In June

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty turns her unique, razor-sharp eye towards three seemingly happy families.

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

In Truly Madly Guilty, Liane Moriarty takes on the foundations of our lives: marriage, sex, parenthood, and friendship. She shows how guilt can expose the fault lines in the most seemingly strong relationships, how what we don’t say can be more powerful than what we do, and how sometimes it is the most innocent of moments that can do the greatest harm.

Y'all will never guess where I picked up this jewel.

The Library!  That's right.  For the first time in over 20 years I have a library card!

We've been in Waller County for ten years this August and I found the Waller library earlier this year.  Last week I had to pick up something from the post office, make a run by the pharmacy and the bank so I stopped in and got myself a library card!  I haven't checked out a library book since we lived on Corona Lane and were right by one of the Houston libraries.  Even then, we only used it a few times each summer. 

The lady who was filling in for the librarian had to show me how to use this new fancy check out system as I only remember the stamped and signed cards that were in the back of the books once upon a long time ago! 

Like other books by Liane Moriarty, it takes me from a few days to a week to think them through.  I can't tell you how I feel about it until I've had some time to ponder. This one deals with how guilt affects every part of our lives, whether it stems from something we have done (or not done) or even when we only perceive ourselves to be guilty in something that really had nothing to do with us. 

In this story guilt affects friendships, marriages, family dynamics, neighborhoods and even the perception of oneself.  It also deals with how guilt reveals itself in so many different forms...from the subtle to the outrageous.  I kept waiting for some big reveal, and though it never came, the twists and turns as the story was fully told kept me riveted to the very end. 

My favorite part of the novel was the subplot regarding a minor character who came to be the one whose story best illustrated my takeaway from the book.  Don't let guilt take away your life.  Or as a Pinterest quote so eloquently says:

When thinking about life remember this: no amount of guilt can solve the past and no amount of anxiety can change the future.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard by Kristin Schell

Are you consumed with a busy life but unsure how to slow down? Do you desire connection within your community and think, “Absolutely, but I don’t have time for that” or “I can’t create that”?

What if there was another way through it all, a way to find those moments of peace and to create a time for honest, comfortable connection? What if meeting neighbors and connecting with friends was as simple as showing up and being available?

Desperate for a way to slow down and connect, Kristin Schell put an ordinary picnic table in her front yard, painted it turquoise, and began inviting friends and neighbors to join her. Life changed in her community and it can change in yours, too. Alongside personal and heartwarming stories, Kristin gives you:

  • Stress-free ideas for kick-starting your own Turquoise Table
  • Simple recipes to take outside and share with others
  • Stories from people using Turquoise Tables in their neighborhoods
  • Encouragement to overcome barriers that keep you from connecting
  • New ways to view hospitality

Today, Turquoise Tables are inviting individuals to connect with each other in nearly all fifty states and seven countries. Ordinary people like you wanting to make a difference right where they live.

Community and friendship are waiting just outside your front door.

I first heard of this book on the podcast The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey.  It was their first book of the summer book club.  (Yes, I listen to a lot of podcasts!  I have an hour plus drive every morning and evening.  That's a lot of time to listen to the radio.)

Jim and I moved to our new neighborhood in November of 2014.  Though it is less than two miles from our last home, it is located on a private road and is pretty secluded.  We have spent the last two years trying to get to know some of our neighbors.  Everyone lives on acreage and most behind a gate.  So, even though we have met nice people, it is not easy to connect with each other. There are about 20 families on Strathmore Road. He and I keep talking about hosting some sort of get together at the barn and inviting the neighborhood...but talking is as far as we have ever gotten.

That was my motivation for reading this book.  Kristin writes from a faith perspective, but it is not so  overwhelming that a person from a different belief system couldn't pick up good ideas from this book.  It is a beautiful book (if you normally read on a device, splurge a little and pick up the real thing) and it was a short read.  (I think it took me two evenings.) 

I too am a person of faith trying to connect with my neighbors and to be a light in the place that God has planted me.  I mostly appreciated her encouragement to just do it.  Just put yourself out there.  Don't try to plan big Pinterest-perfect events.  Just invite your neighbor over for a cup of coffee and serve store bought cookies if that is what you have.  Again I heard the call to hospitality, not entertaining.  She has made it easier by putting the Turquoise Table in her front yard so that she doesn't even have to worry with cleaning the house before guests arrive.

While some of what has worked for her would not work for me because our neighborhoods and our seasons of life are so different, I was encouraged to seek the Lord's face on how He would use me in this place and at this time.

This was a perfectly timed read for me.

Rating: 4/5

The Dry: A Novel by Jane Harper

A small town hides big secrets in The Dry, an atmospheric, page-turning debut mystery by award-winning author Jane Harper.

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.

This was the first book in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Book Club.  And it had me from the very first paragraph!

It wasn't as though the farm hadn't seen death before, and the blowflies didn't discriminate.  To them there was little difference between a carcass and a corpse.
The setting is the Australian outback during a record drought.  And though their summer actually coincides with our winter (like South Africa), it made for a riveting summer read.  It brought back memories of our own drought in 2011, when we all prayed for rain and swore we would not complain about rainy EVER AGAIN. 

The small farming community of Kiewarra is suffering under the oppressive heat.  If the rains don't come soon, there will be nothing left of their herds or their crops.  From the pressure of this powder keg, three shots ring out and a family is found dead.  But was it really the murder/suicide that the whole town suspects...or is there something more sinister than El Nino in this sleepy little place?

If you like crime drama without all the graphic images, you will enjoy The Dry.  There are two intersecting story lines being sorted out:
  • The mysterious death of 17 year old Ellie Deacon 20 years earlier that was never proven to be a murder, as most townsfolk suspect, or a teenage suicide. 
  • The apparent murder/suicide of Luke Hadler, his wife and son that doesn't quite fit with either Falk or the local sheriff.
This really is a page turner with a satisfying conclusion that I think you will enjoy.

Rating: 4/5

Love Lives Here: Finding What You Need In A World Telling You What You Want by Maria Goff
(Non-Fiction/Christian Living)

This is a book about discovering what we really need.
There are a lot of second-best options, but we weren’t made to live a second-best life. Finding what we actually need is different than what we are often offered. There are many books full of opinions, steps and programs. This isn’t one of them. This is about craving the things that matter. Things that don’t just work, but last.
In a life that may seem to be all fun and games with an endless supply of balloons, author Maria Goff shows how this life is also lived with intentionality, passionate purpose, and a little planning—all of which make a life rich in legacy. But she had to figure out the help she needed first in order to live the beautiful life God wanted for her and wants for us.
Love Lives Here is a collection of stories that include the ways Maria and her husband, Bob, navigated family their way, without clear instructions or a road map. It’s about what they learned to make their lives meaningful and whimsical and how they created a space for their family to grow together while they reached outward.

This is going to be hard for me.  So, please bear with me.

First the positive.  I listened to a podcast that featured an interview with Maria Goff and I enjoyed it so much that I stopped THAT DAY and picked up a copy of this book.  I have yellow highlighter ALL throughout.  So many of the quotes got me to thinking or were recorded in my journal to revisit later.  I think Maria has a viewpoint that many of us can learn from and I love her casual style that is not filled with condemnation for those of us who have had to find our own footing in marriage and parenting.

I felt like this needed a bit more editing.  The reason I say this is, if I had not listened to that interview and gotten to know some of Maria's story through that podcast, I would not have finished this book.  I was frustrated that the first chapter jumps right into a story without really telling you the significance.  Thankfully I had background from the interview to know why it was important to her and what had happened to get her family to that point.  There were great nuggets of wisdom in EVERY chapter, but they didn't quite come full circle.  And then there was the introduction that talked about what Paul had to say to James about looking in a mirror.  Ummm? I think the book of James was written by James and had nothing to do with Paul.  I know that sounds really petty, and I don't mean for it to be, but it just makes me wonder how much attention was paid to the details when a Christian Living book begins that way. 

For these reasons, even though I had several 'aha' moments, I have to give this one:
Rating: 2/5

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House  by Alyssa Mastomonaco

If your funny older sister were the former deputy chief of staff to President Barack Obama, her behind-the-scenes political memoir would look something like this...Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for almost a decade, and long before his run for president. From the then-senator's early days in Congress to his years in the Oval Office, she made Hope and Change happen through blood, sweat, tears, and lots of briefing binders.

But for every historic occasion-meeting the queen at Buckingham Palace, bursting in on secret climate talks, or nailing a campaign speech in a hailstorm-there were dozens of less-than-perfect moments when it was up to Alyssa to save the day. Like the time she learned the hard way that there aren't nearly enough bathrooms at the Vatican.

Full of hilarious, never-before-told stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is an intimate portrait of a president, a book about how to get stuff done, and the story of how one woman challenged, again and again, what a "White House official" is supposed to look like. Here Alyssa shares the strategies that made her successful in politics and beyond, including the importance of confidence, the value of not being a jerk, and why ultimately everything comes down to hard work (and always carrying a spare tampon).

Told in a smart, original voice and topped off with a couple of really good cat stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is a promising debut from a savvy political star.

I listened to this on Audible. 

I laughed out loud, more than once.

I realized once again that working in the political sphere and the White House in particular is a difficult, difficult task for anyone.

I also think I will be buying hard copies of this for several young women who have recently graduated college.

I enjoyed listening to the Audible, which was recorded by the author.  But there were times when I thought she was a bit monotone.

Rating: 3.5/5

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