Monday, October 25, 2021

Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson


Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson is the tale of Marnie, a newly divorced woman who unexpectedly inherits a building in Brooklyn from one of her ex-husband's aunts.  Meanwhile, her own family and new fiancé in Florida are really unhappy with the contingency that Marnie lives in Brooklyn for three months before the title to the building becomes hers.  

Interesting characters: Ugh.  Marnie is terrible and boring. She's sleeping with her ex because he's just so attractive and sexy, stringing along her fiancé in Florida because he's boring and safe, and then there's this other guy that the crazy dead aunt thought she should be with.  She's juggling all of this, but Dawson doesn't give us any ideas as to what Marnie is actually thinking about these relationships. Does she feel guilty? Why doesn't she just tell her ex to buzz off? Why doesn't she tell her fiancé that she thinks they used to have better chemistry ten years ago?  We see all the action in this book, but we don't have any glimpses into Marnie's real thoughts to make her less a villain.  

Believable conflict: I mean, this book is off the charts nuts. The aunt somehow sees when people are meant to be together and leaves the house to Marnie so she'll be with one of the tenants. Meanwhile, Marnie's got the other two guys in her life. If you believe the insane setup, you'll find the conflict believable. If you think the magical elements are too woo, you'll find the whole book to be a mess.  

Emotional tension: I just can't with this book.  HOW DARE YOU CALL YOURSELF A ROMANCE NOVEL WHEN THE MAIN COUPLE ISN'T A COUPLE UNTIL THE LAST FIVE PAGES OF THE BOOK? Ahem. I was angry. There's no tension between the couple because there is no couple!  My ire is raised. This book just sort of adds to the lore that people of opposite sexes can't be friends and I am not here for it.

Happily ever after: Eh. How would I know? It's impossible to know how this couple will survive because all we know is that Marnie is flighty about men and the other guy is a hermit.  ARGH.

This book made me really mad. Don't read it unless you want to be mad, too.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich


Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich is a near-future dystopia in which pregnant women are sent to concentration camps, biological evolution seems to be reversing itself, news is scarce, governments are failing, and pretty soon martial law isn't even enough to control the streets.  In the midst of this, Cedar Hawk Songmaker, the adopted daughter of a pair of Minneapolis liberals, finds herself pregnant and running from those who would seek to place her in a detention facility.

I was not ready for this.

First, I still have vivid images of police officers taking over public transit in Minneapolis during the George Floyd riots and the idea of martial law in Minneapolis doesn't seem as far from reality as it used to.  Second, the scene in which Cedar is traveling around, eating a diner, knowing that *something* is very wrong, but noticing that everything is still normal, was also very reminiscent of events in 2020, early pandemic when we somehow thought we were going to be just home for a couple of weeks.  And then when Cedar was hiding cigarettes, alcohol, and ammunition in her home, I just sort of felt sick to my stomach.

Also, I'm still not really sure what happened in this book.  The actual logistics of the evolutionary reversism are puzzling, as is the plot. Characters appear and disappear and I'm sure they're doing things off-page, but it's never really clear what those things are.  Cedar is a writer herself and I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to be getting something out of the excerpts of her writing, but all I'm getting is that Cedar is fond of ambiguity. 

Ah.  In general, I didn't like this book. I don't know if I would have liked this book pre-2020. I enjoyed the Minneapolis references and the jokes about Wayzata, but I'm not sure if that would have been enough to keep me invested.  I've read that Erdrich is an amazing author, but I'm not sure if I'll be seeking more of her books out after reading this.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

 The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver is a tale of love, grief, and a cat.  

Lydia Bird's life takes an unfortunate turn when her fiancé Freddie is killed in a car accident. She struggles through life in a haze of grief, but when she takes sleeping pills, she's plunged into her life as it would have been if Freddie had lived. She's trying to balance her awake life and her sleep life and nothing is going as Lydia had planned.

Interesting characters: I think Silver has developed the characters of Lydia, Lydia's sister, Freddie, and Freddie's friend Jonah into full-fledged people.  Are they interesting, though? I think not, actually.  Let's stick with Lydia, shall we?  I know a lot about Lydia, but she seems quite boring, to be completely honest. What does she do with her time except for grieve?  Does she have hobbies?  Strong opinions about the order of the themes on the Great British Bake Off?  A secret addiction to purchasing camisoles even though she wears the same three over and over again?  A habit of listening to the band Oasis at top volume? Silver has created absolutely real people who I think would be boring in person to hang out with. 

Believable conflict: I wrote recently about how there was a trend in 2020 to write romance novels with a central topic that was NOT the main romance and that's what we have here. There's a romance of sorts, but it's not the main topic of the book.  It's a hard book to read because Silver does a great job of representing the grief Lydia feels after losing Freddie, but all of that conflict is internal to Lydia and that conflict is not in the relationship that I think is supposed to be the romance in the "romance novel" name. 

Lydia makes some bad decisions in the book and those bad decisions lead to tension between her and her sister and mother. I thought the conflict in the relationships among the women was well-executed and I really think that Silver should have focused more attention on this conflict.  It would have made for a more riveting read.

Emotional tension: There's lots of emotion in this book. If you're grieving someone, this might be a book that comforts you (or not, of course, if you want to avoid reading about other people's grief).  But the emotional tension from the romantic "leads" is non-existent. 

Happily ever after: There's an abrupt ending. I found it puzzling more than happy making.

Silver can write books, but I felt meh about One Day in December and I feel meh about this one. I turn the pages and Silver makes it go down easy, but Silver's true talent is writing about female relationships. It's something I noted in One Day in December and something I noted here. The romance isn't what I want, but the true representation of how hard it is to maintain female friendship is spot on.  

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Tuesday Randomocity: OCD Dog, Golfing, and Gifting

This post is brought to you by Tuesday randomocity, as inspired by Suzanne.

1. We've had a month to review our benefits, so, of course, we waited until the last minute to do so.  I got a super romantic text from my husband yesterday morning that said "benefits after work" as if we were planning a hot, sexy date.  Unfortunately, we instead just sat at the dining room table running numbers, looking up retirement accounts, and quizzing each other on the state of our respective health savings accounts.  If you want to know what it's like to be an adult, come check out our household in mid-October. (We actually both get the "single" plan for health and dental because it's cheaper than if we did a "family" plan. Couples without children really get screwed, but I guess that's the way of it. We're forever subsidizing children, which is as it should be, I suppose.)

2. Normally when I take Hannah the Dog for a walk in the afternoon, it's an easy process. The dog and cat hang out in the mudroom all morning together because there's lots of sun there and it's easy to forget we even have pets, but between 1-3pm, the dog will come and put her head on my knee and that's my cue that we have got to leave for a walk. Because the cat is typically still in the mudroom somewhere, the dog puts her snout in the cat's belly (which, as you can imagine, Zelda adores), we put on the dog's harness and my shoes, and we're off.

Yesterday, this sort of happened. Mid-afternoon, the dog put her head on my knee.  I wandered out to the mudroom, got the dog dressed, but then Hannah started wandering around the house, somewhat agitatedly.  You see, Zelda the Cat was NOT in the mudroom and Hannah had to complete the ritual belly nuzzling.  I called Hannah to my side and we searched the house until we found Zelda in the rocking chair.  Zelda's belly was properly slobbered on, Hannah was no longer freaking out, and we went on our walk.

How neurotic must I be that we now have created an absolutely OCD dog?  What have I done to her? She can't even enjoy a walk without completing all the necessary steps beforehand.  (I will not tell you about our bedtime routine, but it is similarly filled with steps that MUST BE DONE or bed will not happen.)

3. My husband has, in the course of the last five months, become a stereotypical middle-aged man. He recently bought a robe. It's made of sweatshirt material and it's flannel lined and it's super warm and I'm not going to lie, I'm super envious of the thing, but it's as if he's turned into Paul Sinha from Taskmaster. Decidedly nerdy. (After I sent him the text about how we were going to be really romantic after work yesterday doing the benefits crap, he sent me a text that he would wear his robe for the full effect.)

If you haven't watched Taskmaster, this means nothing to you. Paul Sinha is hilarious, the show is hilarious, and you should go watch it right now.

Dr. BB has also taken up golfing.  Yes. Two or three times a week, he puts on real pants and a collared shirt and goes to do a round of golf or he goes to a driving range to "hit a bucket of balls," which sounds filthy, but I'm pretty sure is not. I don't know how this happened.  He has always had a bag of hand-me-down clubs from his dad and he would golf for family events, but suddenly he was buying new putters (?), foam golf balls, and a golf towel. I didn't even know a golf towel was a thing. I guess, as far as mid-life crises goes, this is an acceptable one, but where did it even come from? 

4. I have decided that I would like to be mostly done with holiday shopping by the end of October. I'm worried about supply chain issues and shipping delays and so, without further ado, let me tell you about gift giving.

A. Things I've recently added to my Amazon wishlist to make my own life easier. All of these are things that would really make my life easier, but that I will never spend my own money on.

Shampoo brush that is both economical and I have been convinced will rid me of oily hair.

two-sided jigsaw puzzle. Imagine the hours of frustrating fun this could bring.

 New mittens for the dogwalking. Look, I got a very  nice pair of gloves last Christmas and promptly lost one of the gloves within two weeks, so I'm not sure I'm responsible enough for this gift, but I do really think it could make walking the dog more bearable.

Harney and Sons pumpkin spice tea because not being allowed caffeine sucks and I want a PSL just like everyone else, but must deny myself. I've heard this is a pretty good substitute.

This wobble cushion that apparently helps you do better at sitting at your desk - it improves posture and balance.  

New can opener. I've struggled with our can opener since I broke my thumb and it hasn't healed right. Wirecutter says this is the best one, so that's what's on my list. 

Cookie scoop. Does it even need to be said why I want this?

Folding travel yoga mat. I've decided that I'm going to leave my house in 2022 and I'd like to have a convenient way of doing yoga on the road.

Infinity earrings. On my wedding night, I somehow lost my favorite pair of earrings ever. I have been searching for a replacement pair ever since. More than a decade later, people. 

Rechargeable hand warmer. Look, I'm not going to lie to you. I already have one. I've had this second one on my list for more than one year, but I'd like a second one so that I can have one for each hand.  It gets cold walking the dog, yo.

Towel warmer because our downstairs bathroom is not insulated and it's super cold in there in the winter. There is NO WAY I'd pay this price, but I do think it would increase my quality of life greatly if someone else wanted to buy it for me.

The 99% Invisible City book because I am a Roman Mars fan.

B. Things I'm considering for other folks on my list. I try to avoid food and drink since those types of gifts are not appreciated in our house (so FRAUGHT when Dr. BB's co-workers give us homemade granola, you know what I mean?). Without a bottle of wine or homemade treats as an option, things get tough with gift giving sometimes.  Here are my preliminary thoughts.

Bombas socks.  I have traditionally been a fan of SmartWool and Darn Tough, but for boring reasons, I think I'm going to get lots of people Bombas socks this year.  I love socks and I don't care if these are stereotypical lame gifts.

Ceramic dog ring dish. I just think it's cute.

Hand cream set because who here isn't washing their hands a million times a day?

Washi tape set for my crafty friends. I don't actually know what one does with washi tape, but it seems really popular, doesn't it? 

Fineliner pens. I love school supplies, so I'm always up for a set of great pens. 

Colored mechanical pencils. They come in colors!  

Thermopop digital thermometer for the home cooks in your life. 

Heated apparel. This base layer would be nice for dog walks, winter outdoor sporting events, and cool evenings when you're holding book club outside.  Man, maybe this should be on MY list.

Nice journal for the writerly types in your life. This one comes in a lot of colors and types of paper, so it's pretty customizable. 

Neck and back massager. Now that I'm getting older, this is exactly the kind of thing I want.

Double oven glove. Do you ever watch the Great British Bake-Off and lust after their oven gloves? No more. You can have your own. Throw in some kitchen towels and you're all set. 

Customizable self-care kit.  A lot of these self-care kits are all about long, luxurious baths, but I think that presupposes a lot about the habits of your loved ones. I like that this kit can be customized for the receiver.

Monday, October 18, 2021

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

At some point, I stumbled upon a list of the best romance novels in the last few years and I've been slowly working my way through those books. That is why I was reading In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren in the middle of October when I should be reading Frankenstein and Salem's Lot

We find Mae going through a challenging time. She's living with her parents, working at an unfulfilling job, and her family's Christmas vacation ended badly with the announcement that the cabin they've always celebrated Christmas at is going to have to be sold.  She wishes for someone or something to show her what would make her happy and before we know it, she's reliving the day over again. And over again.  

Interesting characters: Sure. I think Lauren's development of Mae and Benny, her eccentric uncle figure, were interesting enough. Andrew, our hero, is a bit of a perfect guy who can do no wrong, but I actually don't think the story is much about the romance between Mae and Andrew, except for a few steamy scenes. 

Believable conflict: Well, I guess this depends on your tolerance for *magic.* If someone told me that they were reliving each day of their lives, I would not believe them and you had better believe it would lead to some conflict, so if you'll accept the premise, the conflict that happens makes sense.  If you are not on board with the magic element, this whole book is going to make you insane.

Emotional tension: I think this is where the book falls down. The main story was not about romance. I didn't really much care about Andrew.  The story is about Mae attempting to find her own happiness.  As someone who was pretty rootless and unsure for a great deal of my 20s, this did resonate with me.  But as someone who wanted to get lost in a romantic story, this did not work.  

Happily ever after: Eh. It was a happy for now and I do think they're happy for now.  These two kids are never going to last, though.  

There was apparently a trend in 2020 of books being labeled as "romance novels" when they really were mediations on other large topics like navigating your twenties with grace, grief, and challenging familial relationships, rather than centralizing the romantic relationship at the core. Maybe that's okay, but it's not what I'm looking for when I'm in the mood for a romance novel and this book was just caught up in that trend. Eh.  You will probably enjoy reading this book, but nothing about it will stick with you once you close the book.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Castle (The Seventh Tower #2) by Garth Nix

 The Fall

The Castle is the second (of six) books in The Seventh Tower series.  When we last left off, our hero Tal was trying to get back to the castle with Icecarl maiden/would be warrior Milla.  Both of them need sunstones, but Milla has been injured on their journey, so we start with the two of them recuperating on an Icecarl ship, but soon enough we find ourselves in the bowels of the castle with Tal's Uncle Ebbitt, an eccentric old man who seems to know more about the inner workings of the castle than he should.

The Good: Nix has developed a fascinating world.  The book is action-packed and it's so short that an adult can finish it in one sitting.  Tal and Milla's relationship is developing and while I'm not sure theirs is a true friendship, both of them have proven their loyalty to one another in interesting ways. 

The Bad: Okay, I understand the titles now. Each title is the setting where the book takes place and Nix ends the books as soon as we're moving away from the setting. But the endings are incredibly abrupt and it's quite off-putting. Neither The Fall nor Castle would be a satisfying book on its own - each is clearly part of a larger story. I'm also not super crazy that at the end of each book Tal is given a new item to find, but I guess that is the hero's journey. Find the MacGuffin!

My Overall Impressions: It's a good kid's book. I think it would be a fabulous read along book for a certain child at a certain age. I'm definitely going to get the next book in the series from the library and the next time I have an afternoon with not a ton on the agenda, I'll be happy to curl up with it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Seven Days in June by Tia Williams

Seven Days in June by Tia Williams is the story of Eva, a best-selling romance novelist who lives in Brooklyn with her oh so precocious child Audre, and Shane, a reclusive author. It turns out that Eva and Shane once had a burgeoning high school relationship and they are suddenly thrust into each other's orbits again as older adults and sparks rekindle

Interesting characters: Absolutely. I thought Eva was interesting. She's an author suffering from a chronic pain illness AND writer's block with an intriguing backstory. Shane is a recovering addict, which may be my least type of character after an actual addict, but I think Williams handles it well (in a way in which I believe may be unrealistic based on the fact that I didn't find it absolutely off-putting).  I liked how Williams spent time in the past with the two characters and we learned about their past together. We saw how they were and then when they meet as adults, their relationships and interactions make complete sense.

My caveat about the interesting characters is Audre, Eva's daughter. She is too twee, too precocious, and every scene with her in it was never-ending.  

Believable conflict: Again, absolutely.  I thought that the misunderstanding they had as kids was actually something that would happen and I thought that Shane's actions that caused the misunderstanding as adults was something a recovering addict would do.  

Emotional tension: Williams is an excellent writer and I thought she handled all of the heightened emotions quite well. I thought some of the teenage angst was over the top, but aren't all teens over the top?  I also quite enjoyed Eva's conflicting emotions about her writing and liked to hear about the issues associated with her profession.  There was tension in the relationship, sure, and it was perfectly acceptable, but I almost would have liked a contemporary fiction book about Eva dealing with a high stress career, single motherhood, and managing a chronic illness.  That's high stakes tension.

Happily ever after: The book falls apart at the end.  Shane makes a huge mistake and Eva forgives too easily. I'm not satisfied with her choice and I'm once again left with the idea that this couple is not going to last. I just had this feeling in The Heart Principle and here I am thinking these folks are going to break up and it's going to ruin their lives an the lives of that precocious teenager and I was left feeling sad rather than uplifted.  It's a shame, really, because the book was so good until the last 10%.

I would recommend folks read this book, but I don't think I'd strongly recommend it.  It's not Indigo or Romancing Mister Bridgerton or anything by Talia Hibbert, but if you are a romance fan, it's probably worth a read.  

Also, I looked up Tia Williams after reading the book and she's very admirable. She's an editor with Estee Lauder and has written several best-selling books. On one hand, what a very accomplished person.  On the other hand, what am I even doing with my life?  Ha.