Thursday, August 7, 2014

Book Review - The Vacationers by Emma Straub


The Vacationers is no vacation at all. Unless your idea of vacation is waiting for the cheater to get decked, the annoying mother to get her due, or the sulking virgin to find her Romeo. I usually don't review a book before my book club has talked about it but our gathering is 2 weeks out and I want to get this book behind me.

I just can't do books where I don't like the characters. This family was believable, their predicaments realistic and their faults quite human. But they aren't fun to be around. And they are NOT fun to be on vacation with, especially on my summer vacation. I was rooting for no one. (Actually I was rooting for the virgin to get her sandy, beach romp.)

I hated the relationship between Mama Post and her longtime friend Charles. Gay or not, the way she hung on and kissed on Charles disturbed me and showed big disrespect to her husband. Can you tell I forgot most of their names? Time to forget them altogether. Next book please.

Two stars.

Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Read January - March 2014. Review written prior to her Pulitzer win.

The Goldfinch
A reluctant 4 stars. You won't find a summary here. The plot is too expansive, the themes too many and that's partly the joy and frustration with this book.

Goldfinch, I couldn't quit you. I tried. I put you down many times and picked up other books when you got too wordy and stuck. But like the tiny bird on your cover, tranquil on her perch tied up by a dainty chain, I felt chained to you. I wondered what traumas Theo was facing, what pranks Boris was pulling, and how old Hobie was holding up. I couldn't break free of your clutches, so after hours and hours and hours of dedication I finished you. 784 pages. 

The torments. Mrs Tartt likes her words too much. A sentence or two would have sufficed but she often dedicated a paragraph or an entire page to an object or a thought. It slowed things down. I found myself skipping over large sections to get to the meat. The ending felt out of step with the rest of the book. The author went on a philosophical diatribe - here, there, everywhere, what if, how about that, can it be, does it have to be this way - over and over. Get me out of here.

But the dainty chain was there and I will give Mrs. Tartt her due. These characters were real for me. Dense, complicated, unique and well crafted. Each one of them was viewed solely from Theo's perspective, as was the entire book, and I was down in his self possessed hole with him. He had every right to be one messed up dude. But I was right there with him on his foggy walk home from the blasted museum, on the pool deck retching, on the bus ride hiding Popchik, and in Amsterdam, everywhere. Boris cracked me up. He had a strong, criminal voice that I loved. He was so loyal and dedicated to Theo (while still being a drug fiend shyster.)

This story had so many twists and turns - deliciously complicated and completely implausible but I still liked the overall arc of the story. I felt I was wallowing in a world wrecked with PTSD, grief, and abandonment yet elevated by art and beauty.

I give Donna Tartt kudos for many of her obvious gifts. But I think an editor should have reeled her in. 784 pages. Only a certain type of person is going to happily get through that much heft. I can't say I was happy out it.

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Why are dystopian stories so popular? Veronica Roth has an explanation. Readers are intrigued with asking "what if" and dystopian novels allow readers to explore those big questions while the characters and the world still function according to some level of expectations (compared to paranormal or fantasy where everything is up for grabs.) I thought that was quite an interesting take on it. I believe it too! Here I am going diving into Divergent and her sister novels when I wouldn't expect this genre to capture me.

This book was almost too much like Hunger Games for me to approach it with completely open arms (and mind) - young female rebel who's decisions and willingness to fight could save or destroy her new world order. And there's a hot guy who may or my not be drawn to her. Been there. But I liked Divergent. The factions were a very compelling storyline - what do you value most. The initiation rituals were fascinating - how do you fight through what you fear the most. I love the visual of jumping off moving trains (go Dauntless.)

I am naive and a bit of prude, but the sexual energy between Beatrice/Tris and Tobias/Four and their exploration of that attraction isn't something I am ready for my preteen to read about. (But I sure liked it! Yummo.) Sorry kiddo, this might be considered Young Adult fiction, but I don't consider you a young adult yet.

While Hunger Games had a more original plot, Divergent had more emotional appeal and a level of authenticity I didn't expect. I felt more in-the moment and connected with these characters and this overall plot. 

Three stars!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The kids headed off this morning for the last day of school. Bright backpacks will soon be shelved in favor of neon bathing suits.  School buses will soon disappear from our neighborhood streets to be replaced by zippy scooters and mountain bikes.  I've always been a big fan of this time of year. Heat. Downtime. The Pool!   

Many years ago though I abandoned the dreams of a "perfect summer."  I've grown more comfortable with not planning much and just seeing what might happen.  I do have a few hopes for the next long stretch of hot, humid months.  For me and the kids. Lots of reading (as always). A reemergence of healthy habits like tons of water, vegetables and dare I say exercise. 

We do have a few exciting plans on the horizon. T-Bone will take his first solo airplane trip. The Bug will play in her first statewide softball tournament. We are recreating the road trip of my youth when we drive my mom across West Texas to her hometown of Carlsbad. Great plans for sure.

In between those events, there will be lots popsicles, lemonade, and hopefully sleeping in.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

My cousin Richard and his wife have been a great example to McDreamy and I. They have 3 kids, the oldest was about 10 when T-Bone was born.  Richard lives in my hometown and we have tried to visit with his family as often as we can when we are in town which sometimes means just a quick coffee or a 30 minute visit to their house.

Richard and his family are remarkable in 10,000 different ways but one has always been a beacon for me.  I am in awe of their kids.

When McDreamy and I were young parents I was mesmerized by Richard's kids.  (Their parenting is what I should say.)  The two older boys and youngest daughter have always been polite, interesting and fun to be around. At all different ages. Richard didn't have to goad them into being civil.  His wife didn't have to bribe them to sit and visit with us.  It took me a while to put my finger on what was so meaningful to me and the way I ended up seeing it in my mind was that I wanted to raise kids that adults would enjoy being around. If we achieved raising kids that moms, dad, aunts, uncles, teacher, other adults would enjoy being the company of, it would be a good measure of a decent kid.

I think we've done it!  T-Bone and The Bug are still young but our friends really like them (so do we.) I am figuring this out because our friends with little kids have started asking if one (or both) of our babes can come with them on outings (to help with the younger kids, to be a positive influence, to enjoy.) WOW!  When they return they always complement us on how well mannered and easy to talk to our kids are. WOW! Several of the dads have commented how fun it is to watch football with T-Bone because he is so knowledgeable about the game and knows interesting stats.  We go over to friends for football Sunday or they are over here, and T-Bone is quite the hit. WOW!

When you invite us to dinner, you are going to get the whole package - adults who will LOVE your cooking and kids who will make you smile and laugh.  This feel pretty good.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

An Intolerable Feast

I cook dinner and make my family eat it at a table, together, most nights.   I am starting to rethink this system.

Dinner has once again descended into bickering and bad manners. Is it summertime blues?  Is it too much repetition? T-Bone slumps in his chair and eats with his hands.  Bug complains about the food and her friends in the alley and her brother and my singing. McDreamy sits there quiet and bruised from his stressful day (and irritating kids.)  And I white-knuckle my utensils, steam rising in my cheeks.

"T-Bone, use your fork."  "Bug, no comments on the food."  I can't sit there and tolerate their antics.  Be quiet and let the rudeness reign or correct them and add to the noise. Am I am making it worse or better?  This is what I call a no-eat situation.

It isn't always this bad.  Maybe the food gods are on vacation at the beach.

The kids should know my dinner rules by now.  Do they need to be tattooed on their forearms?

Rule 1.
I menu plan, drive to the grocery store, buy the food there, unpack it from the car, and cook that food every day. Until you do all those things too, you don't get to express displeasure about the food. 

Rule 2. 
If I want your opinion about the food, I will ask for it. And it will rarely be while we are eating it.  Guess what...I have eyes. Which means I can tell what you think about the food by watching you.  I know what you think of your food by how much you eat of it, how fast, and in what order.  And I subtly adapt our menu based on your likes and dislikes.

Rule 3
We live in a beautiful Cape Cod-style home with shutters and shingles. It's not a barn. So leave the burping, hand wiping on your clothes, and eating with your fingers for the occasion you actually have dinner with someone who lives in a barn. 

Rule 4
If you don't have anything nice to stay, stuff the cauliflower in your mouth and wash it down with milk.  My darling, bright eyed, athletic daughter, this one is for you.  Dinner is not the time to unleash your day's frustrations.  I know you it's grating when someone borrows your scooter without asking.  It's a hard life when the kid next door gets to drink two sodas and day and you get none.  And believe me, your brother's belching bugs me too.  But let's leave it for later, okay. I beg you.  Or at least share some good things about your day before you dive into the abyss.

I want our dinner time to be a cherished time in the day when McDreamy and I have our family all together, in one place, at one time, face to face.  Is it too much to hope that time will be pleasant?

Dinner is done and so am I.  I am taking a mealtime time out.

My new strategy is to revert to what we did when our first child was an only and he went to bed at 7:00pm. He got his dinner of strained peas and went to bed, then husband and wife enjoyed our nourishment in peace.  The new version of this is going to be to serve dinner for McDreamy and I with a glass of wine and some adult time.  No kids allowed. They can eat on the deck, on the garage floor, while they are zipping down the sidewalk on their rollerblades.  I think there is a barn down the road.  If they can't be civil at the table, I am not inviting them.

Until school starts again. Then I will revert back to the family feast.  Maybe.  For now I am going to enjoy this mealtime time out.  Just me and McDreamy.  Please pass the wine.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

What's next, a knee replacement?

I am equally situated between being a 40 year-old woman of distinction and a 50 year-old woman of character. But I still see myself as a spunky, funny, bright girl. Yes girl.  One you'd like to invite to your impromptu cocktail party at a rooftop bar or sneak away with for brunch and mimosas in the sad or hire for a creative job you want done well.  I feel young at heart. In the mirror I image myself as someone who's got it going on.

But I might be the only one.  And these days even I am starting to reconsider my youthful vigor.

There have been a few chinks in my self-esteem armor in the last handful of years.  And they are racking up quickly.

The minivan 8 years ago was a big hot dent.  Goodbye cherry red Audi.  See ya later 4Runner. I gave in to the minivan.  It felt like a jumbo jet liner (and looked like one too) compared to my sporty rides in my younger days.  There is nothing intriguing or distinguished about a minivan.  It's a white flag surrender to pure practicality.  Who wants to be practical?  A mother, I guess.  The needs of my two little kids and one big dog won out.  My husband drives a blue Corvette now, I still drive the blue wart.

The tweezers snuck up on me.  I was on vacation and felt a thick black hair sprout on my chin like an invasive weed after a spring downpour.  New growth kept happening when I went out of town. I had to plegde to never be without access to a good set of tweezers.  Otherwise my chin runneth over.

Next came the girdles...I mean Spanx.  Sure, woman of all ages wear smoothers and lifters now.  But the girdle's reemergence on the market a couple years ago coincided with the flourishing of my middle age muffin top and back fat.  Four years ago I bought several styles and colors.  And now they are too tight.

Because then came plump Margo.  It's so easy to put on weight these days and so hard to take it off. It keeps stacking up calorie by calorie, pound by pound.   My discipline has dwindled in inverse proportion to my waistline.

And this week, I am hugely offended by my new reading glasses.  Apparently multifocal contacts don't work well "when you are my age."   The doctor told me I had to sacrifice either clarity near or clarity far, you can't have great vision for both. Dang it!  I chose to have strong distance vision which might help me remain ambivalent to my fine lines and age spot.  I didn't realize that would mean I'd need reading glasses to read the cereal box.

Am I on the verge of being the lady in bulky sweater hunting her reading glasses around the house? Will I wear a brightly bedazzled chain to keep a pair within arms reach?  Will I forget them on the top of my frizzy head?

All of this aging business is natural. Yes, I get it.  I am older and wiser.  I appreciate the trade off. Kind of.  It's just complicated aging with style, because I married a man 6 years younger than me, with perfect eyes and no cavities. He's not even 40 yet!!!!! He is aging gracefully.  He really needed those extra 30 pounds he's now carrying (not me.)  His silver hair is distinguished.  We call him McDreamy for a reason.  And did I mention the Corvette?

Reading glasses, this isn't going to sit well with me!

What's next a knee replacement?


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