Saturday, October 31, 2015

R.I.P. X Closeout for Fall 2015!

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril X
Remember this from my introductory posting September 2nd?
It is RIP X and ends today, October 31, 2015!
Thank you to The Estella Society for hosting!
You should know by now that I do NOT read horror 
and do NOT like to be scared!
However, I DO love mysteries!
You could select books from any of the following categories.

The books must be from any 
of these categories:




Dark Fantasy




Although this was my goal:
to read at least 4 of the 5 books
I had listed....

This was my result:
I read 3 of those 5 books
and am only "Peril the Second"!

However, given the fact that you only had to read 2 books to earn "Peril the Second," I feel certain my category should be "Peril the First and One Half"! :)

If you've been following along on my R.I.P. X page, you would know I read and reviewed the following 3 books:

The October 2015 Literary Wives read was a perfect fit for this!

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison
Though I initially feared this might be too scary and/or creepy for me...since I'm such a wuss...I was pleasantly surprised that it didn't scare me all that much! I found it fascinating!

Second was a book I have wanted to read ever since discovering it at a library sale. 
a mystery written by none other than 
A.A. Milne! 
Yes, that's correct, the creator and author of the Winnie-the-Pooh series
also wrote a mystery!

It was enjoyable. Written in the same tradition of  Agatha Christie or Ngaio Marsh.
A nice little English countryside murder
and resulting investigation! 

And last, but by no means least...X by Sue Grafton!
This 24th installment in the Kinsey Millhone series
was one of the best, in my humble opinion!
I love Grafton's writing and her protagonist, Kinsey.
Upon reading the publisher's blurb, I initially feared that Grafton had veered into territory I would not like, being inside a sociopath's mind for most of the book. Fortunately, however, my fears were not realized!
Grafton hits one out of the ball park yet once again!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and After Her by Joyce Maynard
are still on my TBR list and I'm confident that, provided I live long enough,
I will have read and reviewed them both. The sooner the better! :)
Did you participate in this scary challenge?
If so, what did you read?
Any you would recommend?

October Library Checkout

October 2015
A great monthly check-in about Library reading by Shannon of River City Reading!
This has not been a good month for my reading goals! Very poor as a matter of fact, but that's okay. Life sometimes has a way of preventing you from doing as you would like every moment of the day! I feel as if I will now be able to get back into the swing of things and I'm grateful for that feeling and hope it comes to pass. :)

Books Read: 
I love listening to this so much that I'm on my 3rd time! I'm truly considering purchasing the audiobook to have in my car at all times! I would issue one warning, just in case (like me) you rarely do much research prior to 'reading' or 'listening'... Language! "Bad" words bother me not at all! They're some of my favorites, actually! However, if you are bothered by them, you probably will not appreciate this one at all. I laugh and laugh!! It really helps lighten my mood! I am dictating notes into my phone to compose a review in the near future. 

2) Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Another audiobook, as with Yes Please, Woodson is the narrator. Though this is not humorous, but rather a simply told and genuinely stated autobiography that made me feel very glad for the author. She has managed to find her creative spirit in life. I plan to listen again and then will post a review.

3) Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
Although this was not a library book that I checked out, it was a newly released book that I purchased, read, and have now donated to my local library. (Trust me--no more room in our house for books! lol) I loved it!

4) Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin 
 Read in September, but review posted in October...does that count? ;)

Currently Reading: 
1) Jam on the Vine by LaShonda K. Barnett
Reading this for a campus book club meeting in November
Checked Out, TBR:

1) Open and Shut by David Rosenfelt
A mystery and first in a series!

2) Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
Man Booker Prize winner in 1987.

3) Andrea Martin's Lady Parts by Andrea Martin
Looked like it might be humorous and enjoyable--a break from some more intense reads.

4) Last Wool and Testament (A Haunted Yarn Shop Mystery) by Molly MacRae
I'm certain this is what most would call a "cosy." I cannot remember how I got onto this author/series/book, but I hope it will be enjoyable!
Three books I'm reviewing in preparation for the Little House Series Read-Along, cohosted by myself and Bex of An Armchair By The Sea, beginning this next January! :) I have NEVER read a Wilder book and after participating in Reeder Reads' Green Gables Read-Along last year, I decided reading one of the Wilder books per month would be a great way to read them all during 2016! Then both Bex and I posted on the Classics Club site that we planned to host the same read-along, a cohosting team was born! Stay tuned for awesome introductory posts from both of us in November! :)
5) West from Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder to Almanzo Wilder, San Francisco 1915 by Laura Ingalls Wilder, edited by Roger Lea MacBride.
6) On the Way Home: The Diary of a Trip from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894 by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
7) A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert.
Returned Unread:

None. One huge perk to serving on the Board of Trustees is that I never accumulate or owe fines! So I can keep books as long as no one else places a hold on them, with no penalty. :) However, in all fairness I have only taken advantage of this a few times over the past few years! :)

On Hold: 

NONE!! Did you see that mountainous "Checked Out, TBR" list?!? 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Who is your "family"?

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
The Socratic Salon discussed this one!
Other reviews: 
Catherine of The Gilmore Guide to Books
Lauren of Malcolm Avenue Review

I loved this book! The cover image is so deceptive--so simple...and yet, much like each of us, so very complex as we navigate the layers of our life and being. The who of who we are. I noticed that the jacket and the paper covering the inside of the front and back are made to look worn and even water damaged. And perhaps that is the purpose? To denote that each of us is damaged, as is the book itself. And we all are, just in different ways and to varying degrees. 

This book demonstrates the many layers of existence each of us portrays. Much like our skin. There is the surface layer, mainly known by those who truly do NOT know us at a personal level at all, only basically know 'of' us. Under that is a layer known by those who know us very little, but at least have some direct contact with us in one way or another: as a professional, within our scope of employment, as a volunteer, as a blogger, etc. And then there are those who really know us! These are the people who must endure us day in and day out, those with whom we connect. There are varying levels of connection within and among these groups. Clegg does an excellent job of depicting just those dimensions of 'knowing' and forming/maintaining relationships with one another. He compares and contrasts them to demonstrate that we are all connected to some degree, whether we realize it or not. 

When a tragedy strikes, there are always those who feel they might have been able to avoid it...if only...they had... In this case, there were several people feeling as if they could have prevented what happened, none more so than June and Silas, I feel certain. And the resulting losses were so very they always are for those people 'closest' to the victims. Though, how do we judge our 'closeness' to others? I believe one of the reasons each character seemed so real is that each revealed something about themselves, often something from their past they could or did regret...and that, after all, is something we all share--we all have regrets.                                                             

Merriam-Webster's definition of FAMILY: 
1) a group of people who are related to each other
2) a person's children
3) a group of related people including people who lived in the past
There are so many people I consider to be 'family'--more than just those with whom I share a biological link! One of my friends introduced me to the phrase, "Friends are family you choose!" And the older I get, the more I believe that and realize it is so true in my own life. Don't get me wrong--I love my children, their partners, and their children/my grandchildren. Always have and always will. However, I have much closer interpersonal relationships with others than I have with them. I honestly don't know how much of that is a function of who I am, who they are, or just simply our personalities and attraction to each other. In adulthood, I believe compatibility is key to forming and maintaining relationships that are long-term and truly meaningful and rewarding. 

June had "crossed a line" by "starting up" with Luke, whose 
looks came from the fact that he didn't look like anyone else around here. He was like a wild orchid growing in a hayfield. No one ever knew who his father was, but they sure knew he was black. I hate to say what it suggests about this town that there is virtually no one who could have been the father. (24) 
Definitely not an area where someone who appears to be "racially different" from the mainstream would necessarily feel comfortable. [June] was, she sensed sharply as she reached the far side of the parking lot, an untouchable. Not from scorn or fear, but from the obscenity of loss. It was inconsolable, and the daunting completeness of it--everyone, gone--silenced even those most used to calamity. (11) 
It is often true that others tend to avoid those who are left...the survivors of extreme tragedies. June does run away. Really, I didn't blame her at all. How ironic that she ends up finding the letter and staying where her daughter had been, and there she makes a "friend" of Cissy.                                                                  

Edith, the florist, had cut the daisies for Lolly and Will's wedding herself, to place in the 50 or so jelly jars the couple had collected since they first became engaged. Although she disapproved, since daisies are not truly acceptable wedding flowers, she was going to do it for them. After all, she was getting paid... As she describes the exhausting lives of those living in a 'resort town,' noting they were also
...too busy performing their roles as jolly country folk on the weekends for the pampered and demanding New Yorkers, spending every last drop of civility and patience on these strangers with none left over for their wives and husbands. The weekenders from the city not only take the best houses, views, food and, yes, flowers, our little town has to offer, but they take the best of us, too. (22-23)
I can imagine that to be true. When I was teaching, there were more days than not that I had to have just 15-20 minutes or so of 'veg' time in front of the TV, or outside doing something once I reached home, to regain sufficient emotional energy to deal with my own children! We do tend to 'give' much of ourselves to our work. 
...we no longer live in a town, not a real one anyway. We live in a pricey museum, one that's only open on weekends, and we are its janitors. (25) 
I think Edith spoke for many others in her local area--the population overall felt subservient to the New York upper echelon who invaded their community on weekends and vacations. 
No one ever accused me of being a soft touch, but when something like what happened at June Reid's that morning happens, you feel right away like the smallest, weakest person in the world. That nothing you do could possibly matter. That nothing matters. Which is why, when you stumble upon something you can do, you do it. So that's what I did. (29) 
She used all those daisies in funeral arrangements, or whatever was ordered--she made them work! 

Ah...and Luke. How could you not love Luke? He was hard-working and conscientious, even as a teenager when many of us are irresponsible to a fault! Not Luke! And he had a scholarship and was off to college. Until...well, I won't spoil it, but there are times when we allow "outsiders" to manipulate us to the woe of those we love most. As Rick states,
One thing about Luke is that he never talked shit about other people He could be moody and sometimes lose his temper, but he didn't talk trash. (51) 
He was too big, too handsome, too something for the likes of us. No one around here looked like he did, and I don't just mean because he was black. I caught Sandy looking at him more than a few times, and I thought what the heck, who can blame her? (52) 
...facts never got in anyone's way when it came to Luke, so I guess it should be no surprise that the story of what happened that night would be no different. (58) 
Lydia (Luke's mother), six months after the accident
takes a long, late-day look at the town where she has lived her whole life, where there are no friends, no family, but where her feet are famous to the sidewalks. (46)

The relationships! I have a Goodreads shelf: Relationships-relationships-relationships. Relationships between and among characters is one of the things I love most about books! And this one is extraordinary! George and Lydia. How bittersweet, especially with regard to Luke. I can relate to a lack of connection to your biological father, having never met my own and learning he died some 18 years ago. Rebecca and Kelly. Kelly and Penny. Cissy and Ben. Will and Cissy. June and Cissy. Dale and Mimi. Dale and Will. Perhaps most unlikely, June and Lydia... The resulting interconnectedness of our lives is undeniable. For me, the theme of being kind, respectful, and genuine was uppermost...for you never know just how you or someone you love may be connected with that person or another who is important to him or her. And besides, that should be our overall motivation--to put kindness and goodness into the Universal energy flow. It does matter. 

As Dale describes Lolly and Will:
I think Will sensed that despite her girlish manner, something was broken in her. Mimi says wounds can sing a beguiling song, and for Will--who from boyhood felt compelled to fix and help and take care of nearly everything and anyone in his path--Lolly's song was irresistible. (210)
Of Lolly and Will June believes: 
This is the pivot between youth and age, the thrilling place where everything seems visible, feels possible, where plans are made. On the one side you have childhood and adolescence, which are the murky ascent, and, on the other, you have the decline that is adulthood, old age, the inch-by-inch reckoning of that grand, brief vision with earthbound reality. (163) 

My final take-away: do not delay. Communicate with those you Now. You may well never have another opportunity in this lifetime. Don't leave your love, respect, or appreciation of others unstated. The next time you communicate with them? That could be the last time. 

Keep writing, Mr. Clegg. I am definitely hooked! If you've read this one, what did you take away from the experience? 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Alphabet series continues...with X!

I admit that I was curious as to how Grafton would entitle the 24th installment of her Kinsey Millhone series. I first discovered this series about 20 years ago and read them all once I had read A is for Alibi, which, as you might expect was the first in this series... ;) I loved them all and ever since then have read the newest release in the series as soon as I can once it is released! (I read this one a bit later, since I have over-committed myself with a large list of books to read and review per a self-imposed happens with some bloggers!) But no matter how long I waited to read it, it was still one of the best mysteries ever! And not just the 'mystery' portion, but Grafton is, in my opinion, one of the best writers I have ever read. Her characterization is thorough and well-defined, and that is the one thing I most appreciate and hope for with each book I read! to the title, Ms. Grafton wisely allows X to stand on it's own...
X: The number ten. An unknown quantity. A mistake. A cross. A kiss. (Book jacket/summary blurb) 
X truly is a symbolic letter. As with R.I.P. Xfor which this is my third book! (Appropriate, huh? X...and...X!) 

And, as we learn, 
The boat itself...was known as a xebec, a small three-masted ship having an overhanging bow and stern and both square and lateen sails. (5) 
I was thrilled with this bit of information since I had just learned a great new word to use in scrabble and scrabble-like games! Which I play quite often! A new word with 'X' as the first letter! Yes! This ship was the main subject in a painting that Hallie was trying to have declared an original by a famous artist so it's true value could be determined. Her initial motivation was to determine whether it was worth stealing from her ex-husband! 

Grafton inserts philosophy every once in awhile in her books, and yet not intrusively, simply as a matter of daily life. I believe this is one of my favorite aspects of her writing. Her characters 'think,' they don't just 'do'! As Kinsey is remembering about a former co-worker:
While I disliked him, I was then twenty-seven years old and newly employed and didn't feel it was my place to make my thoughts known. Besides which, no one asked and I doubt they'd have listened if I'd volunteered my views. (10)
How many times have I felt the same way about a job or work place? me...many! :)
  Pete's name was never mentioned, and neither of us made reference to our little chat the night before. This is not a bad strategy. The practice of baring all, analyzing every nuance embedded in a quarrel, is a surefire way to keep an argument alive. Better to establish a temporary peace and revisit the conflict later. Often, by then, both parties have decided the issue isn't worth the relationship. (139)
I would definitely agree with Kinsey on this! Better to let it rest a bit, if at all possible...
As Kinsey considers her former co-worker:
I did take note that even as I was exonerating him, I continued to condemn him in equal measure, proof positive that our prejudices are nearly impossible to scotch. 
  The best I could manage for the moment was to concede he could be guilty of bad deeds and still retain a basic goodness at the core. (208)
Isn't it true? Once we have formed an opinion it is extremely difficult to alter it much. As a person said to me at the Storytelling Festival about 10 days ago, "Well, I guess none of us is totally good or totally bad, we're all a mixture of both." Well stated and oh, so very true. 

After meeting with a client, Kinsey is home, eating soup and a sandwich and reading, 
In hindsight, I marvel at how clueless I was at the shit storm to come. What I ask myself even now is whether I should have picked up the truth any faster than I did, which was not nearly fast enough. (15)
But Kinsey was not the only one who was unsuspecting. Poor Ruthie...she was so very naÏve! While I would like to think that I might have put two and two together much more quickly than she did, I'm sure there is a good chance I might have been just as easily fooled as she was! I could appreciate the fact that she did not enter her house when she arrived home and the door was standing wide open. Again, I'm not sure I would be that smart, especially given the fact that I have five kitties in residence! I would be concerned about them first of all and that would probably motivate me to enter the house immediately. I can't imagine how creepy it would be to discover that someone had purposefully misplaced virtually all items in your home or office (any of your personal spaces), just to freak you out, like leaving a note stating "I was here and obviously, I can return at any time!" Now that is just mean and so scary! And yet, changing locks and installing security systems doesn't necessarily guarantee your safety either, as Kinsey learns.  

Humor is always included in a Kinsey tale--not too much, but just enough. Henry, Kinsey's landlord and an octagenarian "hunk," has acquired Ed, a cat. Ed keeps escaping from the house and Henry has been frustrated in his search for the escape route:
  "I made a discovery today. You know how Ed's been getting out?"
  "No clue." 
  "Dryer vent. The tubing came loose and I spotted the hole when I was crawling through the bushes checking water lines."
  "You close it up?" 
  "I did. He'll probably find another way out, but for now, he's housebound." 
  Apparently, Henry hadn't noticed the cat at his feet, and I made no mention of him. (56-57)
Ha! This made me laugh out loud! Poor Henry! Fooled by a feline! But we all know kitties can be tricky! :)
Of the receptionist Kinsey thinks...
...I was so irritated with the way she'd treated me, I might have bitten her on the arm. I'd been a biter as a kid, and I can still remember the feel of flesh between my teeth. It's like biting a rubber bathing cap, in case you're curious. (106)
All-righty then! My oldest son went through about 6 months of biting, then suddenly stopped...thank goodness! :) Though he seemed to only do this in public, selecting strangers as victims! <shakin' my head>

While on a stakeout, Kinsey ponders...
...I knew my bladder would be right there living in the moment with me and clamoring for relief. To distract myself, I thought about all the cusswords I knew and arranged them in alphabetical order. (178) 
Maybe that's why I love Kinsey; at times I'm sure she and I are twins! I can easily imagine creating that same task for myself as a distraction! 
I drove back to the hotel motor plaza, where I left my car for the night. My clean underwear was still damp, so I set up the ironing board and iron and sizzled them dry. (191)
Now that, I have never done, nor do I believe I would have ever been smart enough to think of it. Besides...I'm not sure I know how to wield an iron any more! :) Nor do I think I want to find out! 
As one of his former high school classmates describes the perp:
"I'm not sure anybody knew him well. He was one of those guys you see on the street and you can't remember his name to save your soul. There's only so much room at the top of the heap. The rest of us are fill dirt." (246)
That definitely had me laughing aloud, right along with Kinsey! 

I love the fact that Henry could contribute by using his puzzle-solving skills to create the main piece of evidence for Kinsey to follow. He may not be great at keeping Ed in the house, but he is a master puzzler! :) After all, he has even been known to create crossword puzzles! Using this list of women's names, and some personal artifacts, Kinsey tries to piece it all together to identify not only a villain, but also determine just what crimes he has committed! At the same time she becomes more and more leery about her newly installed next-door neighbors. They appear to be well-practiced 'users,' sucking well-meaning Henry into 'helping' them all the time. Kinsey was determined not to get involved, though quite naturally, she does, if only in the guise of helping Henry initially! In doing so, she discovers some valuable information that motivates her to initiate her own 'pro bono' investigation, with some interesting and rather scary results! 

And finally, when April is discussing her father and stepmother:
  "[They're] very compatible. He's a bully and she's a mouse.They act like everything's fine, but it's not." (296) 
When Kinsey asks if April thinks the birth of their grandchild will change anything...
  "Like we'd see them more often? I'm sure he's hoping so, but I don't."
  "I never know what to make of conversations like this,...I sometimes have this fantasy that life would be wonderful if only my mother and my father were alive. Then I hear stories like yours and I want to get down on my hands and knees and rejoice." (297)
Even as this conversation transpired, neither April nor Kinsey had an inkling of the truth--what kind of person her father truly was... And I could so relate to Kinsey. Having never met my own father and then learning that he died 17 years ago, I believe I have such fantasies myself every once in awhile...

If you've never read Grafton and you enjoy mysteries with more than just "action," I can highly recommend this series! I always advise starting at the beginning, because I don't think any of the later books introduce Kinsey to the reader nearly as well as the first one go read A is for Alibi and give Kinsey and Grafton a try! 

If you've read this one, how would you feel about Ned if you were April? Yikes!! I doubt there will be a way to track him, since he abandoned his own easily-identifiable vehicle. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

A venture beyond Pooh Bear...

The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne
I will admit that until I discovered this book at a library sale, I was unaware Milne had ever written anything other than the Pooh Bear books. Since I love mysteries and I was very curious to see what kind of mystery the creator of Winne-the-Pooh might write, I brought it home! I was very pleasantly surprised! To me, this book was comparable to a mystery written by Agatha Christie, the first mysteries I ever read beginning at age 12, or Ngaio Marsh, another mystery writer I discovered several years ago through a library book sale! I have now read this as a Classic and also a book for R.I.P. X.  

As one might expect, Mr. Albrecht's murder occurred in a Red House! Robert, Mark Albrecht's estranged brother, no more than arrives for a visit with his brother than a gunshot is heard and he is found dead! The reader learns that Robert had been living in Australia for the past 15 years. Rumor has it he was the 'bad seed' or 'black sheep' of the Albrecht family and left under questionable circumstances. Meanwhile, most of Mark's adult life has been made quite easy financially due to his patron's death. This man bequeathed his entire fortune to Mark and died As Mark entered only his third year working as a "writer." Though no one seemed to know what he had ever "written" other than letters and other such personal compositions. 
Call him a snob if you like, but not the worst kind of snob; a hanger-on, but to the skirts of Art, not Society... (19)
We learn that Mark was not only a patron and supporter of the arts, but also self-published a slim volume every now and then (all at his own expense), and he even 
took a theatrical company on tour, playing host and "lead" with equal lavishness. (19)

Mark's generosity also extended to Matthew Cayley, the cousin he took in at age 13, having realized the boy's circumstances were just as limited as his had been. He educated and provided for Matthew until he reached age 23, at which time the boy "looked after" his cousin's affairs for him.
By this time Mark had bought the Red House and the considerable amount of land that went with it. [Matthew] Cayley superintended the necessary staff. His duties, indeed, were many. He was not quite secretary, not quite land-agent, not quite business-adviser, not quite companion, but something of all four. Mark leant upon him and called him "Cay," objecting quite rightly in the circumstances to the name of Matthew. Cay, he felt, was, above all, dependable; a big, heavy-jawed, solid fellow, who didn't bother you with unnecessary talk--a boon to a man who liked to do most of the talking himself. (20) 
Ha! I appreciate the sarcastic humor Milne inserts. 

We are then introduced to each of Mark's guests: Major Rumbold, Bill Beverly, Ruth Norris, and Betty Calladine. As typical, we also learn something about the servants: Mrs. Stevens, Audrey, and Elsie. Enter Antony Gillingham, a friend of Bill Beverly's who had been invited to visit him at the Red House while Bill was a guest there. Antony is self-sufficient financially and occasionally works in different jobs as the mood strikes him. It is Antony and Bill who actually investigate the murder, in tandem with the local police. Antony decides to become a "private sleuthhound" and assumes the position of 'Holmes,' to Bill's 'Watson.' Through the course of the investigation, we learn the details of the topography of the land directly surrounding the house as well as the floor plan of the house itself--all of which helps the reader follow pertinent and/or misleading discoveries as they are made. This is much as one would expect when reading Christie or Marsh. Milne does an excellent job of depicting the bits and pieces of memories and observations that aide Antony and Bill in their progress to identify the murderer. Inspector Birch follows all leads and even drags the 'lake' (perhaps over-sized pond might be a more accurate term), and interviews everyone with any connection to the Red House and/or Robert Ablett. 

There are secret passages, ghostly appearances, suspicious shadows in the hallways/rooms, new underwear (?!?), mysterious boat trips in the middle of the night, as well as night-time underwater searches performed by 'Watson' (Bill) per 'Holmes' (Antony's) insistence! In addition, there are love triangles, revenge, and resentment to be considered and factored into the final equation that will solve this murder. In the end of it all, Antony is quite gracious and even a bit understanding of the murderer's motivation. 

This was such a quick read and really enjoyable with tinges of humor here and there and a solid murder mystery with many twists and surprises along the way. I would recommend it. Have you read this or any other of Milne's works outside of Pooh Bear? 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

So many times, people are not as they appear...

Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin
In honor of Banned Books Week 2015: September 27-October 3, I offer my review of this very informative and masterful work! (Yes, I realize that was last week! A bit late...but just as heartfelt!) I don't feel anyone has the right to deny any of us access to reading materials. While there are certain publications I don't choose to read, we should all have the right to select from everythng published! I admit to being glad I had read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides two years ago since it had given me an introduction to some of the issues associated with 'intersex' physical features, especially medical considerations, and the extreme social isolation due to lack of acceptance for all...regardless of 'gender'/sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, SES, whatever... The Socratic Salon posted a book breakdown September 21st. (Though it looks as if there weren't many others who had read it, since there were few comments posted...) I loved this book in so many ways, but honestly, by page 50 I was wondering if I really wanted to continue reading. The initial event was so horrific to me, I was afraid the whole book would be nothing more than one such event after another, but I had nothing to fear, for it was from that initial trauma that the rest of the story played out... I like the cover image, two bicycles representing the two main genders considered 'normal'/definitive by society.

So, my husband and I were at A Music Festival the last weekend in September (as I was about 3/4 through this book) and being the extremely shy and reticent person I am (hmmmm...okay, maybe NOT!) I struck up a conversation with a couple and their two daughters in line directly ahead of me. My motivation? Mom had multiple tattoos, facial piercings, creatively multi-colored hair, and her oldest (14-year-old) daughter was READING a book!!! Right there, standing in line!! I love this girl!! She's an even harder-core book nerd than I am!! YAY!! It was Paper Towns by John Green, so she and I started discussing his books, the movie adaptation of The Fault In Our Stars as well as the book, and then to her favorite book ever, and the one she has reread most, The Diary of Anne Frank. Then her parents got in on the conversation and asked what I was reading...oh, my, was that ever an interesting conversation that transpired as I explained about Golden Boy and its various themes related to intersex, etc., and these parents were so very cool--rather than squelching any talk of such issues around their children, they openly involved them in the conversation--and that, my friends, in my humble opinion, is exactly how it should be! Why is it that so many parents are petrified to openly discuss sexuality/gender with their own children?!? Who the f&%# do you think will do that, if you don't? Besides, if you never work to get outside your own comfort zone, it's a sure bet your children won't! At least not until they're older and hopefully realize for themselves... Ah...but I digress. End of rant. (At least for now...) 
I don't know who couldn't help but love Max! I was immediately struck by his seemingly androgynous personality and emotional outlook. Max's brother Daniel (almost 10 years old) wants to be a robotic engineer with plans to create robotic parts to make humans 'perfect.'
  I told my brother what I wanted to be, and he said that it was cool but unfortunately, he wouldn't let me add extensions to him, because he wanted to be who he was and see how that played out. I said that was stupid. Who wouldn't want to be perfect? Or a robot?
  And this is why I have chosen to write my class essay about my brother. Sincerely, Daniel Alexander Walker, age nine and four-fifths. (5)
I had to chuckle at the "nine and four-fifths"! Definitely a scientist in the making, eh? :) No rough estimates for this child! 

Steve and Karen, Max and Daniel's parents, are best friends with Hunter's parents. In fact, Hunter's mom Leah and Karen are closer than Karen is to her own sister, Cheryl. Karen relies on Leah and vice versa. At one point Karen thinks to herself:
I know if anything happened to me, Leah would be there for my children, and I would be there, if anything happened to Leah, for her son, Hunter, who, like many children without siblings, can be moody and controlling. I don't share that thought with Leah obviously, because we all like to believe that our children are perfect, and personally, I wouldn't want to be disabused of that notion. (7)
Little did Karen or Leah realize what was in their future, especially regarding their children's relationships. And, being an 'only child' myself, I must take offense at the idea we're all "moody and controlling"! Hmph! ;)

And I can't remember when I have despised a character as much as I do Hunter! I was happy that he did not escape unscathed, though I did feel for his oblivious parents. (I hope he was prosecuted and successfully rehabbed.) Although the physical act was heinous, I believe it was the emotional betrayal and lack of interpersonal loyalty and, most of all, the exploitation that most hurt Max. 
...and it's just me, lying, legs apart, like a dead bug, flattened to the mattress by pain and blinking rapidly with my mouth open. Like I can't believe what just happened happened. Like I don't know where I am. Like I am in some alternate reality where there is a possibility that Hunter is a bad person, my average little bedroom is the scene of a crime, I could be quietly forced into something so abhorrent I can't even think the word in my mind and that it could all be over in five minutes. (21)
Such confusion and inability to take it all in for what it was felt very real to me. 
This is much as I pictured Max...
Max is so brave to get help for himself, without telling anyone else, not even his parents. And...that is when he meets Sylvie, and that was a blessing for him in his life! Without her would the truth have ever been revealed? I seriously doubt it. 

Another person who truly helped make Max's life better is Archie. Every doctor should be like Archie! She thinks to herself:
...medical approaches to trans, intersex and asexual people can vary greatly between jurisdictions.
  I know that our practice is ahead of most in our approach to these teenagers, but there are some areas where I know I do not know enough and we need improvement. Like most clinics, like the curriculum, like the policy makers, we are struggling to keep up with scientific advancements, and also with our patients. (46)
I venture to say that paragraph is much more than the majority of medical providers would ever think about such issues...ever! Unfortunately, most people, including the majority of healthcare professionals, only consider the possibility of two genders/sexes, when the reality is so much more diverse, with many variations between these two seemingly absolute opposites. 
  He's oddly despondent, actually. I study him carefully. Something just doesn't fit in this scene, an uncaring mood, a lack of eye contact, blankness. As I watch him avoid my eyes, shuffling in his chair uncomfortably and worriedly chewing a nail, I remember seeing him before. (55)
She had seen him at the local movie theater holding hands with and kissing a girl. If not for Archie noticing Max's nonverbal communication, she would have never caught on to the idea of this sexual act not having been consensual for him. And without her hint about this to Karen much later and Sylvie's intervention, this predator would have probably never been identifed. No one might have even believed Max had he made accusations without anyone else to support him. 

Tarttelin's prose is succinct and yet poetic at Max writes...
I prefer summer to the other seasons, for the heat. You can be out all day playing football and not even have to worry about bringing a T-shirt. But autumn is loveable. It's summer's dying cousin. It's somehow vulnerable, for the world to die so publicly. You feel tender about autumn. (40)
I love this passage for the symbolism and the poignancy and emotional content that Max depicts! He is empathetic, kind, and caring. He is so very sensitive to and communicative with his little brother, Daniel! I love that about Max so much! Is 'he' a typical 16-year-old male who is the beloved football player, 'pretty boy' etc., in his school? 

Again, Max is so very courageous as to purchase a pregnancy test kit himself without involving anyone else. Unfortunately, one of the girls who sometimes deigns to speak to Sylvie is the person working at the register when he pays for it. Of course, she spreads the word that Max got a girl pregnant and everyone begins guessing who it might be. His father, Steven, is running for political office, forcing both Max and Daniel to attend many events, and Karen to worry about anyone discovering Max's secret after they've worked hard to allow Max to grow up without any more attention to the matter of his mixed genitalia than he already endured as a child for the sake of medical professionals' curiosity. 
I might envision this as a younger
Max/Maxine--many times infants and
toddlers appear very androgynous!
As a parent and grandparent I was a bit bothered by Max's parents' lack of follow-up/communication with and attention to his sexuality/gender as he matured into the teen years. I understand the reticence to do so, and it was disheartening (though not unbelievable) to learn that they disagreed on how best to handle the matter and Max's future, even as a newborn infant! Most of the doctors Karen and Steve dealt with believed they should decide upon and complete "infant genital reconfiguration surgery" on Max, making him biologically/physically a boy or girl as an infant. His father wanted nothing to do with this, allowing Max to decide as he grew and developed, especially if s/he could have children, he didn't want to deny his child that opportunity. They chose a gender-neutral name, Max/Maxine to allow for flexibility and gender choice. Though Karen disagreed to a great degree, she acquiesced to Steve's wishes and they allowed Max to develop 'naturally' with only a bit of surgery to remove some testicular tissue and some hormone therapy at age 14--the hormones altered Max's personality to a great degree and he finally refused to continue... For the past two years neither parent has evidently really talked to Max, nor has he been seeing a therapist or psychiatrist. (Wouldn't therapy just make sense?) And, unfortunately, our society basically demands that each individual be strictly classified as male OR female. I couldn't help thinking so many times as I read this book--it is difficult enough to raise children, especially throughout the teen years, but to have these additional issues would make it so much more challenging, particularly since his mother and father disagreed on how to handle the various intersex issues and, in my opinion, did not adequately follow-up or provide him/her with healthy emotional outlets. 

It was heartrending to watch Karen deal with her belief that Max has been having unprotected sex with males, and is therefore, gay. I was rather amazed at her inability to accept this. The decisions regarding medical procedures virtually drove this family apart in so many ways. And then Sylvie must digest this knowledge as well and it is...well, at the very least difficult for her, as his 'friend':
  How is this even possible? He always looked totally boyish before, but now I'm looking him over and thinking, This is a girl, and trying it on for size, and I'm noticing, yes, there are some major similarities between being seductive in a pretty-boy way and in a girl way, I knew the guys I had dated before were more...guyish, but I thought that was because they were in uni and older and more mature. Max has no facial hair at all. Didn't I think that was weird? Why didn't I? What does this say about me? 
  Well, I just thought he was blond and blond people don't have much excess hair, and he was younger than all my other boyfriends. I just thought he was sexy, supersexy, and I didn't stop to think, like I am now, that if you brushed his hair over to one side, and those amazing green eyes with their Bambi-long lashes, and those pouty lips, and that big, sweet smile, and the soft, soft, skin, and the kind of thin-ish neck and not-massive chest and delicate, long fingers and cute, round arse... (244)
Really, this isn't all that unusual. There are many 'females' who have many 'male' features, and vice-versa if you openly consider individuals prior to classifying them as strictly male/female. I have wondered about people I've met and dealt with before...but truly it is none of my business and it is immaterial to me. I evaluate/judge people based upon their personalities once I get to know them, not upon their looks, gender, etc. It really is a much easier and nicer way to approach life overall. :)

Have you read this one or Middlesex? I'm sure there are others... What are your reactions? I would heartily recommend this one! 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Literary Wives #17

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison
Check out this book review group!
I had to chuckle to myself as I posted a comment on a recent discussion at The Socratic Salon regarding separation of books and authors--how much does your knowledge about an author influence your enjoyment or reading or even selection of his/her books? It is rather obvious I do little to no 'research' prior to reading a book, since I asked the other co-hosting Literary Wives bloggers if we were going to complete and post an interview with the author of this book. Oops. She died. In 2013. Yep, not much to very little research...well, usually, NO research before reading a book. author interview this time either. And what a shame that she will not be publishing any other novels. This was her debut and I found it to be fascinating. It was such a psychological study on so many levels and in so many ways. 

Click here for more information on Literary Wives, including the bloggers currently on hiatus from the "club"! :)

Be sure to check out the other co-hosting bloggers' reviews: 
Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J
Naomi of Consumed by Ink
Kay of whatmeread
We inevitably represent a variety of reactions to each read, which makes it fun! I would like to thank the publisher for a free review copy in exchange for an honest review! 

I love psychology/sociology and have a distinct appreciation of the way Harrison depicted the underlying rationale and justifications used by both Todd and Jodi as they made choices/decisions in their respective individual lives and their life together as a couple. Part of the sense of isolation I felt for Jodi was depicted by the description on page 1 of their apartment on the 27th floor with only "a vista of lake and sky." This was definitely an 'exclusive' building and my first thought was that anything could happen to anyone in this setting with no one discovering it for quite some time... Talk about sinister foreshadowing:
...she is deeply unaware that her life is now peaking, that her youthful resilience--which her twenty-year marriage to Todd Gilbert has been slowly eroding--is approaching a final stage of disintegration, that her notions about who she is and how she ought to conduct herself are far less stable then she supposes, given that a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of her.
  If you told her this she would not believe you. Murder is barely a word in her vocabulary, a concept without meaning, the subject of stories in the news having to do with people she doesn't know and will never meet. (4)
What a courageous start to a suspenseful book! Harrison has basically summarized this whole story in these few lines...and yet, there is so much more to learn about both Jodi and Todd. My best friend and I (also named Lynn) have always said we all create our own reality, and this book is a well-constructed clear depiction of just that. Each of us use various rationalizations and theoretical foundations to create our lives, just as they have done. 

Of all the ironies, Jodi is a psychologist who is financially able to limit her practice to only two appointments per day, and she meets with them in her own apartment, therefore she is very isolated from casual, purely social interactions overall, except with Todd. She is a very routine-driven person for whom the daily schedule is all-important. However, she met Todd in a very non-routine way--they quite literally ran into each other--well, their vehicles did, and talk about 'road rage':
  You crazy bitch. what in God's name do you thing you're doing? Are you some kind of maniac? Where did you learn to drive? People like you should stay off the road. Are you going to get out of your car or are you just going to sit there like an imbecile?"
  His tirade that day in the rain did not give a favourable impression, but a man who's been in a car crash is going to be irate even if it's his own fault, which in this instance it was not, so when he called a few days later to ask her to dinner, she graciously accepted. (6)
I'm sorry, but right here, on page 6, I am (in my head) yelling loudly at her to pay attention to this red flag--this guy has an anger problem and he is, at the very least, verbally abusive in his anger. And talk about rationalization, no, not every man is going to act like this! Exactly why was it 'gracious' for her to accept his invitation? I thought it was just plain stupid. I would have avoided this guy like the plague! But...I have had experience with this type of behavior in a long-term relationship, so when I was her age, I might have done the same... (Hindsight is always 20-20, eh?) :) So for those reasons, I can somewhat understand her reaction...maybe! :)

Todd gives the impression he has money and he is quite solicitous, kind, and gentle, on that first date. Of him Jodi states
He's a man whose touch is always warm, a matter of animal significance for someone who is nearly always cold. (10)
Uhm...okay, but really, a good blanket might serve virtually the same purpose, mightn't it? This just struck me as a bit strange, she definitely seems cold and aloof...but then we learn that Jodi, as well as her younger brother Ryan, has endured trauma at the hands of Darrell, her older brother as a six-year-old, and although no details are directly written about this trauma imposed upon the two younger siblings, one can only assume the worst:
The memory had borne its burial well, had returned to her intact, untarnished, fully dimensional, part of her living history, complete with visceral analogues--tastes, smells, sensations--actual voltage....Initially, the explosion within had been all pain and alarm, but later on she learned the trick of surrender, came to understand that capitulation was her means of disengaging, her ticket out.(254)
Sounds like physical/sexual abuse at the hands of her older brother, and her only coping mechanism was to disconnect from the reality and accept it...that would definitely warp your expectations and ability to connect with others later as an adult. 

His impatience with domestic work stems from the fact that his expansive energy overshoots the scale of the tasks to be done. You can see it in the way he fills a room, looming and towering in the limited space, his voice loud, his gestures sweeping. He's a man who belongs outside or on a building site, where his magnitude makes sense. At home, he's often at his best asleep beside her, his bulk in repose and his energy dormant in a kind of comforting absence. (16)
This totally felt like making excuses for the man, rationalizing his lack of attention to domestic tasks of any kind. Although to his credit, he is ambitious and a hardworking entrepreneur who has made his own money. I felt as if these two people weren't truly connected to each other emotionally, but rather theirs was a marriage of convenience (simply routine?) more than anything else, perhaps? 

Then we learn from Jodi,
She is grateful for the stability and security of her life, has come to treasure the everyday freedoms, the absence of demands and complications. By forgoing marriage and children she has kept a clean slate, allowed for a sense of spaciousness. (17)
Wait! Wait! What?!? Yep! She's not even really married to this man! Not that I have a problem with unmarried people cohabiting, but...
There are no regrets. Her friends of course know her as Jodi Brett, but to most people she is Mrs. Gilbert. She likes the name and title; they give her a pedigree of sorts and act as an all-around shorthand, eliminating the need to correct people or make explanations, dispensing with awkward terminology like life partner and significant other. (17)
I do understand this idea of not disabusing others in their assumption that you are 'married' to your significant other, as an "older female" in a relationship with an "older man" to whom I was not married, then after marrying him, it is amazing just how much more comfortable most people are when you claim to be 'husband and wife' rather than anything else... Unfortunately, however, this can leave you very vulnerable legally (and especially financially) if you haven't signed the legal paperwork to be 'married'. 

We learn that Jodi thoroughly vets and greatly limits the clients she will work with since one of her young clients committed suicide early in her practice. Now that would be heartrending, and leave you with quite a sense of guilt/responsibility with which to deal. 

1. What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

Although this relationship resembles a marriage in virtually every way to onlookers, Jodi and Todd are NOT legally married. However, that doesn't make a difference to the people in the relationship unless they want it to, in my opinion. Ironically, the partner who cheats is the one who wanted to be legally married... I'm not sure why, really. It is just pure confusion and disbelief for me to imagine supposedly 'loving' someone and then having sex with other people. <shaking my head> That just does not compute for me. Jodi knew Todd cheated:
  Cheaters prosper; many of them do. And even if they don't they are not going to change, because, as a rule, people don't change--not without strong motivation and sustained effort. (24) 
Other people are not here to fulfill our needs or meet our expectations, nor will they always treat us well. Failure to accept this will generate feelings of anger and resentment. Peace of mind comes with taking people as they are and emphasizing the positive. (24) 
I agree with this statement to a degree, though I think most of us have limits beyond which we refuse to accept a partner's specific behaviors--infidelity is one for me! And I believe such limits are healthy and help prevent individuals (especially females) from being totally exploited.
Jodi seemingly provided all the things a 'good wife' should: a clean nicely decorated home, home-cooked gourmet meals for supper, and constancy in being home when he arrived home, etc. She seemed to rarely go out with friends or do anything for her own enjoyment without Todd. She believed that if she did all this and overlooked his affairs with other women, all would continue as it had been for 20 years... Her life was built upon and dependent upon routine and as long as that was uninterrupted, she was okay with his transgressions, though she did exhibit passive/aggressive behaviors by frustrating him in little ways as a form of revenge, occasionally misplacing his belongings, and other trivial irritating acts. So she did care on some level, though she claimed not to.

Then the other extreme is represented by Natasha, whom Todd thought 
had made him young again, but now he understands. The women who start to think they own you and the obligations that can break a man. You have to keep moving in life. You have to move fast so they can't pin you down. (268)
Just as Todd has this realization and can better appreciate Jodi's forbearance of his indiscretions and lack of controlling behaviors, he dies.  

  She feels that in killing him off she killed off parts of herself as well. But at heart she knows that those parts perished long ago--the parts that were guileless and trusting, whole-hearted and devout. Places where life once flowed, having lost their blood supply, became dead spots in her psychic tissue, succumbed to a form of necrosis that also invaded the thing that was neither her nor him but the ground between them, the relationship itself. (300)

2. In what way does this woman define "wife"--or in what way is she defined by "wife"?

While Jodi enjoyed the fact that others believe her to be Todd's wife, she was supposedy relieved that she was 'untethered.' However, it was the routine that she most valued, so as long as he continued in the expected routine, she was satisfied with her role as "wife," though she was not his wife in the legal sense. Although Jodi defined her own role as 'partner'/pretend 'wife,' she soon learned that without that legally binding agreement as an official wife, she was financially at risk since Todd legally owned the apartment where she/they lived, etc. And, of course, the problem with a 'philanderer' (I love that word...don't you?) is the risk that he will decide to attach himself to one of these other women and ditch you! Personally, I don't understand why marriage was ever setup in our laws as such a powerful legal relationship. As far as I'm concerned marriage is a religious construct. I think all resulting legal matters should be attended to between/among individuals with no "marriage" laws involved. Each individual should have a will and update it as life changes occur, and "couples" should work out their own legal agreements regarding property, etc. But I digress. Perhaps one of the most commonly known similar situations is that of Stieg Larsson and his long-term partner, Eva Gabrielsson, leaving us with the lesson that if you eschew the legalities of "marriage," you must create the legal documentation to protect each other financially, or else...the long-term partner may be left with no legal claim to your estate. To defend her home, Jodi does the unthinkable, plotting and planning for Todd's death, though if we know her at all, we realize her routine is definitely the MOST important part of her life, and losing her home would, she believes, irreparably disrupt that routine... In this regard, Jodi displays a very common reaction to childhood abuse--to create a life based strictly upon routine, within which to protect yourself. 

In the end, Jodi's definition of "wife" or 'long-term committed partner' includes little to no emotional attachment to another person, but her adult life is committed to very loose attachments due to childhood trauma, in my opinion.

I was pleasantly surprised that this book wasn't 'scary' to me as I feared it might be, except for the fact that we all select and rationalize our life's choices, and that can be a very dangerous proposition, not only for each of us, but for those within our immediate surroundings. Have you read it? I fear it might not be as enjoyable for those who don't like to examine characters' underlying psychological motivations, but perhaps it is... I considered it an amazing examination of "marriage." What are your thoughts?