3 stars · beach read · Book Review · Bust · Secret Hideout · spoilers · Summer Read · thoughts

Unpopular Opinion: Where the Crawdads Sing is a beautifully written book with a stupid plot.

Thank goodness it’s a snow day because I stayed up late last night finishing up “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens and I need a nap.  This book is crazy popular right now and I was actually lucky enough to snag a copy from the library’s “Lucky Day” shelf last week.

So first things first, Where the Crawdads Sing has over 37,000 reviews on Amazon right now, with about 87% of those being 5 stars.  I’ve honestly never seen a book have so many reviews.  It’s just incredible.

*I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but with 37,000 reviews and a full Wikipedia synopsis of this book, I’m not sure what’s spoiler and what isn’t for this book.*

Set somewhere in the marshes of the North Carolina coast, the novel weaves together the story of the young beautiful feral marsh girl, Kya, with the suspected murder of the town’s golden boy, Chase.   As Owens takes readers through history and into the marsh, the chapters flash back and forth across the years of 1952-1969, eventually catching up to each other in 1969-1970.  The use of short chapters and flashing back and forth in time was well done.  Unlike Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, Owens was able to maintain her momentum and storytelling with ease throughout the entire novel.

The book is full of rich descriptions of the natural world and it’s no surprise that Owens is actually a zoologist.  While I enjoyed reading about the mashes’s flora and fauna and the incredibly world Owens creates in the marsh, it eventually burned me out and I wish there had been more editing to cull down the descriptions a bit.

The entire plot of Where the Crawdads Sing is set upon Kya’s abandonment, first by her mother who leaves six year old Kya and her four older siblings in the marsh shack with an abusive drunken father.  Her mother’s departure is followed by a slow trickling of abandonment by the four older siblings who vanish down the road without a trace until seven year old Kya is left alone with a man she fears and can’t count on to provide food or stability.  After a truce of sorts in which her father teachers her to fish and boat, he too disappears, leaving Kya to fend for herself in a shack in the middle of nowhere with no food and no money.

Depending on the skills taught by an older brother and her father, Kya survives alone for almost 17 years, a feral child living in the marsh surfacing only for meager supplies and gas for her boat.  Kya’s vulnerability draws readers in, the rich natural descriptions of the coast blending with the loneliness and heartbreak of a little girl left completely alone in the world.  Flashes of racism and prejudice flicker heavily across the pages and I couldn’t help but think that everyone in Barkley Cove comes across as a coward, an asshole or both.

In the midst of Kya’s desperate bid to survive, two local boys find Chase Andrews, the town’s hero, dead in the marsh.  The town searches desperately for a cause of death and eventually lands on a suspected murder.

Without spoilers, I found Where the Crawdads Sing to be a quick and easy read.  The story drew me in but left me wanting more rooted in reality.  I couldn’t get past an entire town knowingly and willingly leaving a little girl to survive out in the marsh alone for years.  I couldn’t get past older siblings knowingly and willingly leaving a little sister alone with a drunk abusive father.  I couldn’t get past the long list of skills that a six or seven year old would need to survive alone without food, running water or electricity in a North Carolina marsh.

I couldn’t get past Kya’s prodigal art talent or her seemingly instantaneous ability to read after 14 years of illiteracy once someone finally taught her the basics.  I couldn’t get past a child not only surviving but thriving on grits, mussels and a few random vegetables for years.

I couldn’t get past the middle-of-nowhere marsh shack being fitted out with plumbing and electricity without any details of how exactly that happened.  I couldn’t get past the terrible inconsistent accents.  I also hated all of the random poems and over technical explanations tossed into the book to make Kya appear much smarter and more cultured than the town folks.

I couldn’t get past the characters suddenly and shockingly changing character in ways that just did not make sense.

For all of my wanting to accept the story, I could not get past the absurdity of the trial or the eventual revelation of who killed Chase Andrews.

Overall, most of this book just felt too implausible.  Where the Crawdads Sing started out beautifully but left me reaching too far from reality to feel grounded in the story and too far removed from characters that seemed to flip personalities seemingly instantaneously.  This one rings somewhere around 3 stars.  Beautiful written.  Stupid plot.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers- R

0 stars · Book Review · Bust · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · Psychology

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen

51ZM2Qv8x5L._SY346_It’s not often I give up on a book.  And I don’t think I’ve ever given up a book in the first two chapters.  But goodness gracious, y’all.   The Light of the Fireflies is a book that I just don’t have the stomach for.  While the book excerpt leads one to believe this book is some sort of post-apocalyptic drama, it’s more of a suspenseful thriller.  Typically, I love me some good dystopia or thrillers.  However, in the first two chapters, The Light of the Fireflies jumped right into forced imprisonment, emotional abuse, and implied rape and incest.  That’s a whole lot for the first two chapters.

In addition to the emotional crap this book shoots right out the gates, there are a lot of disjointed realities presented in the first two chapters.  The world is supposedly destroyed and inhabitable.   Yet, the family has water, electricity, fresh food, crayons, colors, and even a cactus.  Where does that stuff come from?

No one has a name in this book and each person is referred to by their station in the family.  Father, Mother, Sister, Brother, Grandma, The Baby.  It’s hard to empathize and connect with a bunch of nameless characters.  It’s also odd to imagine seven people existing in such close quarters without ever using one another’s names.

Every family member was supposedly disfigured by a fire before the move to the basement.  The narrator and the baby were born in the basement, so they do not have any scars and know no other way of life.  I had a hard time picturing an event in which every family member was burned and disfigured without any details or explanation from the author.

The final straw for me was the fact that the entire plot centered around one character not knowing anything and everyone else knowing everything.  Even after two chapters, it was obvious this was a book of waiting it out and following crumbs throughout each chapter to piece together the story.  I absolutely hate when entire plots are written around a single character (or in this case a group of characters) who knows everything and the reader and/or main character are left to fit the pieces together.

Yes, I know many mysteries and dystopian books utilize this method.  However, in The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game and The Maze Runner, someone else knowing what is going on is part of the surprise of those books.  The same is true for most mysteries.  Gone Girl definitely utilized this method, but that book was VERY well done and the reader watched the story unfold from the knowing person’s point of view, which is what made it such a fantastic read.

0 stars for this book.

Until next time, happy reading and cheers!

 

2.5 Stars · Biography · Book Review · Bust · Summer Read

Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff by Chip Gaines

819dCenkuML._AC_UL436_Y’all, I love me some Chip and Joanna Gaines.  But I may have overdone it by reading The Magnolia Story, the Magnolia Journal magazine, We are the Gardeners AND Capital Gaines all in about six months.

Capital Gaines is essentially The Magnolia Story written from Chip’s point of view.  There are a few new stories tossed in, more about Chip’s life pre-Joanna as well as more about his roles and goals for Magnolia, but essentially the same story told by another person.

While Joanna Gaines tends to be a gentle humble narrator, although a little boring at times, Chip Gaines is bold, loud and kind of annoying.  It took me almost two months to get through this book.  His jokes felt super immature and he came across as the kind of guy that tries really hard to be cool but ends up annoying everyone.

The hard part of this read is that while he is annoying, Chip comes across as someone who genuinely loves and cares about his family, his company, the folks who work for him, the city of Waco and about a million other things.  You want to like him!  It’s obvious he is passionate about life and holds nothing back when it comes to chasing down an idea and following through.  I can respect that and definitely admire his fearless all-in attitude.  I didn’t like the “I believe in you” and “I’m in your corner” bits.  Those portions of the book felt very forced and fake.

Capital Gaines also includes excerpts written by people who work for Chip.  It was fun to read about Chip and Joanna from their perspective as well as read about some of the crazy stuff that goes on that neither Chip or Joanna mentioned.

All in all, this books gets 2.5 stars.  While it was fun, there was nothing new or ground breaking and it felt more like a book deal cash grab contract that needed to be fulfilled.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

-R

 

2 Stars · Book Review · Bust · Grandparents · Self Help

The Storm: How Young Men Become Good Men by Dan Blanchard

51dpXd9m+UL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Holy freezing in May, Batman!  The weather this month has been nuts.  I didn’t even realize it until now, but The Storm was a great title pick for the last few weeks.  We’ve gone from upper 70’s to snow and back again.  Anyway, on to The Storm: How Young Men Become Good Men by Dan Blanchard.  This was another free Amazon kindle pick and I’m undecided on whether I liked it or not.

The Storm is essentially one very long conversation between a grandfather, Granddaddy, and his teenage grandson, Dakota.  During a walk, the two take shelter in a park picnic pavilion to avoid the rain storming around them.  As they talk, Granddaddy shares his life secrets for success with Dakota, who has started learning his own lessons through trial and error.  While the premise of the book is sweet, the conversation tends to read as a giant checklist of motivational quotes and practices from every great thinker and self-help guru since the dawn of time.

The character development in The Storm is incredibly weak.  We learn that Granddaddy fought in WWII, is still married to Dakota’s grandmother and is estranged from his son, who is Dakota’s father, but we never learn much more about him than that.  We don’t know why he isn’t actively involved in Dakota’s life.  It also bothered me that despite not being around, Granddaddy and Dakota seem to have a strong and open relationship.  It also bothered me that Grandma and Mom remained vague mysterious characters who weren’t mentioned, Dad was stereotypical and Big Brother was the martyr hero type.  Not even Dakota was fleshed out.  We learn he is a high school wrestler dealing with an abusive father and has a pretty girlfriend who tends to be a positive influence.  Aside from his wrestling training and occasional references to the difficulties with his dad, Dakota remained very one dimensional and just wasn’t believable as a teenage character.

My biggest pet peeve with the entire book was how unnatural and forced the conversational style between Granddaddy and Dakota felt.  Granddaddy would ask Dakota if he knew who Michael Phelps was and instead of answering “yeah” like a normal teenager, Dakota would answer like a Wikipedia entry, “Michael Phelps is US Olympic Swimmer who won 28 medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics”.  Multiply that by about a hundred other anecdotes and it got old, quick.

I did enjoy a lot of the quotes in The Storm and I liked the idea of a grandparent sharing so lovingly and openly with their grandchildren.  I just wish there would have been some more personality infused into Granddady and Dakota and that their entire history and family line had been really fleshed out.

Overall, the book was a quick read, it just wasn’t very deep or life changing.  Going to rate this one somewhere around 2.5 stars.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers-

R

 

 

Book Review · Bust · Historical Fiction

Take 2 on Caroline: Little House Revisited

51SDPJ0Ft4L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_It’s the end of May and I’m still wondering where the heck April blew off to.  I didn’t do much reading (or posting) in April, but I did watch a whole lot of Netflix.  It was super cold and wet here, so most of my time was spent crafting and watching The Umbrella Academy, Supergirl, The Flash, Empire Games, and probably a few more.

I did finish Caroline: Little House Revisited and felt like my original post could use some updating.  There is a section in Caroline, where the prairie starts on fire.  Ma is so focused on the fire that she can’t think and Miller is forced to write outside of Ma’s head.  This is where Miller really hits her stride.  Her descriptions of the prairie, the fire, the actions of the animals, the people, and the overall fire experience were excellent and very well done.  I was completely immersed in this chapter and was heavily disappointed when Miller returned to the first person narrative (which she obviously had to do in order to keep with the rest of the book.)

Caroline, in my opinion, would have been an excellent book if Miller had written exclusively in this third person style and focused more on Ma’s perspective of the Little House stories and less on creating a first person narrative which turned Ma into a boring whiny insecure Puritan.

I’m in between activities and writing on the go, so short and sweet today!

Until next time, Happy Reading!

-R

 

 

2 Stars · Autobiography · Book Review · Bust · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · thoughts

Rock Needs River by Vanessa McGrady

91TRgrrdKtL._AC_UL436_There’s nothing worse than being home sick with the flu on a beautiful day.  I did get in about a million naps and was able to finish Rock Needs River by Vanessa McGrady which had been in my list for a few weeks.

Adoption is something that has always interested me and I was hoping to learn more about the entire process, especially open adoption, which seems to be gaining more popularity as adoption becomes less stigmatized.  Unfortunately, Rock Needs River didn’t really answer any of my questions about adoption or teach the reader anything about the adoption process.  Instead, this book was a hot mess of the author oversharing other people’s lives and it was depressing to read.

McGrady spends the first part of Rock Needs River detailing her love life, failed relationships and desperation for a baby.  This portion felt a bit too personal and unfocused in the broader scope of the book.  The sections about McGrady’s family were also a bit cringe worthy and there was a bit more personal family business shared than really needed to be.

Rock Needs River switches gears about halfway with McGrady’s marriage to Peter, and the eventual birth and adoption of her daughter, Grace.  McGrady and her husband accept a last minute adoption after the birth parents pulled out of an arrangement with another potential adoptive mother, leaving them with just a few weeks to get ready for the baby.  The process of working with the adoption agency, how they found them and how they prepared mentally and emotionally for the adoption was not addressed, leaving a gaping hole in the story from “let’s adopt” to “the baby is here!”.   McGrady also glosses over the first few months to first year of Grace’s life, leaving another hole in the story for how she experienced new motherhood as an adoptive mother.  I was interested to know how this experience of having a baby two weeks after notification differed from a birth mother’s experience of mentally and emotionally preparing for nine months.  I also wanted to know how McGrady’s experience compared with maternity leave, hormones, lactation, pain, and all of the leftover physical symptoms of giving birth.

The McGrady’s and the birth parents, Bill and Bridget, choose an open adoption but never outline or define roles for how the birth parents will interact with Grace, leaving Bill and Bridget moving in and out of Grace’s life rather haphazardly.  When Bill and Bridget end up homeless, the now divorced McGrady asks them to live with her and Grace for a while.  This creates an entire situation of boundary issues, with McGrady essentially taking on a nagging disappointed mother role for two adults who can’t get themselves up to her standards.  McGrady essentially laundry lists the ways Bill and Bridget fall short of her expectations and “the real world”.  A similar approach is taken to her husband’s drinking and their subsequent divorce.

Honestly, I was so uncomfortable reading this book and couldn’t imagine how the birth parents or her ex-husband felt with all of their life history, mistakes and painful decisions laid out for strangers this way.

Despite her attempts to help them with a place to live and the occasional cash, clothes and food gifts after they leave, McGrady treats Bill and Bridget with utter disdain and disappointment.  Her expectations of a couple who knew they were not capable of the stability required to raise a child, are just astounding.  Rather than accepting the gift of her daughter and moving on with her life, McGrady inserts herself over and over again in the birth parent’s business.  Eventually, she follows them to Texas to hear their side of the story, which is disappointingly NEVER shared in this book.  Of all the things I wanted to know about this couple, their decision to give up their child and their experience of the open adoption process, was number one.  McGrady glosses over this section with a quick statement of how they felt used by the adoption agency and then runs away to take a walk.  So disappointing!

The book ends rather abruptly, without any real resolution or conclusion and utilizes an epilogue to update readers on Peter, Bridget and Bill.

After reading this book, I was so upset with how McGrady treated Bridget and Bill that I did a quick google search to see if either of them had given any interviews about the book or the adoption process.  While there wasn’t anything from either of them, I did come across McGrady’s blog.  Several of the stories in Rock Needs River were taken directly from her blog, however the tone in which they were written on the blog was beautiful and loving and a little bit confused on how she could help and what she should do, and most importantly empathetic with their struggles.  In the blog, McGrady comes across as a woman who genuinely cares about Bill and Bridget.  Unfortunately, this love and genuineness was edited out of the book.  Whoever edited Rock Needs River, did a great disservice to McGrady, Bill, Bridget, Grace and the reader.

All in all, 2 stars.

Until next time, Cheers and happy reading!

-R

Book Review · Bust · Self Help · thoughts

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

518iXO-fmcL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Hey Y’all!

I’m back from the best summer vacation ever, a 5 day summer camp in Michigan!  It was uh-mazing.  Camp fires, sing-alongs, yoga, morning runs, dance parties, lake swimming, adventure races, great food and bunking with 9 total strangers who became your best friends by the end of the trip.  I literally can’t stop talking about it.

The only (and I do mean ONLY) disappointment from this trip was my book choice.  Girl, Wash Your Face was highly recommended and discussed profusely over Facebook by one of my nearest and dearest.  Her opinion paired with a 92% 5 star rating on Amazon was enough to get me to purchase this book.  I want my $12 back.

Rachel Hollis is not a life coach or a mentor, she is a life-style blog guru and event planner, so Girl, Wash Your Face is not written in your normal self-help style.  This is refreshing but also a little bit annoying.  The chapters and story telling felt insanely disjointed and often repeated across different chapters but with new or different information.  Even after reading the entire book, I had no idea who Rachel Hollis was.  I didn’t know the name of her blog or why it was so famous.  I didn’t know how many kids she actually had.  2 boys?  4 boys?  A daughter?  Where they all adopted?  Some natural, some adopted?  I had no idea where she actually lived or came from.  Based on her voice, she came across as a girl from the deep south with lots of Southern colloquialisms and uber Christian values/sayings.  Surprise!  She’s from a small town in California.  WHAT?  Didn’t see that coming.  Was she a recovering alcoholic?  Someone who realized they were about to drop off that cliff?  Still don’t know.  Granted, none of these are things I know about Jen Sincero, Liz Gilbert or Mark Manson, however none of these authors talked so profusely about themselves in their books.  Hollis’ books is essentially a memoir with a few self-help-isms tossed in.  I love a good memoir, but prefer to read them about people I am interested in and would not have picked up Hollis’ book if it had been billed as a memoir and not a self-help.

Speaking of self-help, let’s get to that.  Hollis essentially starts each chapter with a “lie” she has told herself about herself, something negative and ugly.  This has the power to be profound, but it ends up feeling forced.  Something about Hollis’ writing comes across as insincere and flippant.  The entire book, in my opinion, comes across as immature, vapid and thrown together.  I think most of this comes from her choice to write in a very casual trendy manner, using words and cultural references that will in no way stand the test of time.  I am the same age as Hollis and couldn’t stand the blippy slang she used CONSTANTLY.  (And yes, I just made up a word because I can’t find any other words to describe what would otherwise be bubble-headed basic bitch slang.)

As mentioned before, there were a lot of stories that were repeated within chapters and many of those stories weren’t well fleshed out.  The most powerful story in the book, about her brother’s suicide and how it completely changed her life, wasn’t really given any more emotion or space than any other topic.

Hollis has a lot to talk about and a lot of experiences that really resonate with her readers; her brother’s suicide and subsequent melt down of her family, an abusive relationship, struggles with adoption and foster care, flirting with alcoholism, being a successful working mom, creating her own empire, becoming an author.  But she lets her readers down with her bubble-headed approach to everything.  Yes, be positive, be light, be fun.  But Girl, be smart, be mature, be profound.

All in all, 2 stars.  0 from me, 2 because my bestie loved this book and our discussion about it was very deep and brought up a lot of great topics for us to flesh out around motherhood, career and the need for validation.

Until next time, happy reading!

-R

OOOOHHH and before I forget..Michigan is apparently “The Beer State”.  While there, I was able to try some amazing beer from Founders Brewing Company.  Dirty Bastard, a Scotch, style ale was fantastic.  It was a very strong beer and tasted a little smokey, but good.  Backwoods Bastard, a bourbon barrel-aged scotch ale, was insanely strong.  At 11% this beer went down more like whiskey and was not a great choice for breakfast at the airport!

Book Review · Bust · WWII

Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin

51poiQYTPrL._AC_US218_Morning Y’all!

You know I just love a good historical fiction, with WWII and ancient history at the top of the list.  Between Jeff Wheeler obsessions, I was able to mix in Last Train to Istanbul by Turkish author Ayse Kulin.

Set in Turkey at the onset of WWII, this novel provides a very interesting and rare look into life for Turkish citizens during WWII.  While most of us know WWII was a “world war”, in the US, we tend to learn about the major players in the war as they pertain to us:  Germany, the United States, Japan and England.  We also learn about a very few crucial events:  Hitler’s rise to power, the concentration camps, German occupation of France, the bombing of Pearl Harbour, and the bombing of Hiroshima.  The actual scope and breadth of WWII is rarely touched on.  I’ve been astounded to read so many books lately that touch on the impact of WWII and what it really meant on a global scale and just how many countries and peoples were actually impacted by this war.

Last Train reads almost like two different books.  The first half of the novel follows the lives of two Turkish Muslim sisters, Sabiha and Selva.  What starts as a tale of sibling rivalry between two high school girls soon morphs into a tale of forbidden love as younger sister Selva, falls in love and marries Rafo, a Turkish Jew.  The two escape their families disapproval in France, but soon find themselves caught up in the German occupation of France.  While Selva and Rafo contend with the Gestapo in France, Sabiha who has married a Turkish diplomat, maintains her traditional life in Turkey.  Despite her husband’s position and their station, Sabiha grapples with depression, explores marital unhappiness, and battles excessive guilt over her sister’s situation, as she was the one who introduced and promoted her sister’s romance with Rafo.

In the midst of the sister’s complex relationship, WWII looms.  The second half of the novel breaks from the sisters and follows Selva through France.  She becomes highly involved in protecting her neighborhood from Gestapo and eventually joins the Turkish diplomats as they attempt to rescue and remove all of Turkey’s citizens from occupied France.  To accomplish this, the Turkish diplomats work tirelessly to arrange a special train to transport their people back to Turkey.  The second half of the book discusses the stress and strain as the Turkish diplomats track down citizens who have been caught by the Gestapo.  The last third of the book deals primarily with the train ride from France to Istanbul.

Because this novel was translated, I think a lot of the flow of the story was lost.  Right around halfway, there were 2 entire chapters dedicated to David Russo, who up until that point had not existed.  I had to reread the chapter before those, trying to figure out who and how David belonged in this story.   It wasn’t until a bit later that he fit into the book, so that was a bit confusing.  Once the book starts following Selva in France, the number of characters goes through the roof and it was difficult to keep track of who they all were and why they belonged in the story.  With that many characters, it was difficult for Kulin to flesh them all out, and there were a good many characters that could have been removed and not missed.

While the story of the Turkish diplomats rescuing their citizens was incredible, it didn’t get the attention or power it deserved.  It played almost as a back story to getting these folks on the train.  Unfortunately, the train ride itself was incredibly boring and didn’t express fully the anxiety, fear, and courage required of a group traveling with Jewish Turks through Nazi occupied territories.  They get on and off the train at a few stops, share some stories over food and wine, have their papers checked a few times, deal with cranky children and stinky bathrooms.  This section was God-awful boring.  In a bid to break up the monotony, Kulin threw in a rape scene, which felt incredibly forced and in no way related to the story overall.

 

Because Last Train was written by a Turkish author, it is very authentic in it’s cultural references and language.  However, as someone totally unfamiliar with Turkey and Turkish culture, I had a very hard time with many of the cultural references and words.  A small dictionary or section that helps explain these references and words would have been awesome.

All in all, Last Train providing some amazingly interesting Turkish WWII history but was not engaging on an emotional level.  The original may have been incredible, but the translation felt too technical and almost like it was translated verbatim rather than translated with the goal of communicating the flow and heart of the story.

Until next time, happy reading my friends.

Cheers,

-R

Book Review · Bust · finance · Grandparents · minimalism · thoughts

Flat Broke With Two Goats

61AhZ9U7qaL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Hey y’all.  I can’t remember how I came across Flat Broke with Two Goats, but the title sold me and I had to read this book.  I didn’t even read the back cover or book description, just jumped right in based on the title.  The power of marketing, right?

Anyway, Flat Broke is a memoir by Jennifer McGaha detailing her family’s rapid descent from being The Jones’ to living in a run down Appalachian mountain shack shared with chickens, goats, spiders, and the occasional poisonous snake.  McGaha is a writer by degree and by trade, so Flat Broke, while well written, can be a little long winded sometimes on unusual homesteading topics that add nothing to the overall story.

Rather than a tell-all gossipy type memoir, or a messy-crazy-funny memoir a la Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, McGaha was very honest without making the reader uncomfortable with too much detail or unsatisfied by not giving enough detail.  The pieces of her life story were revealed as they came up, rather than in sequential order and the recipes at the end of each chapter were a fun personal touch.  I appreciated that she tended to keep her human children “safe” from the memoir by sticking mainly with stories about herself, her husband, their financial issues and their animals.  While this wouldn’t have been possible with little children who would be involved in nearly every one of Mom’s activities, McGaha’s children were all 18 and older, leaving her room to incorporate the children as they fit into the story.

While I appreciated McGaha’s honesty in her dealings with her first husband, as well as her honesty with their financial troubles and her own role in their progression, her tra-la-la attitude and overall head-in-the-sand approach to finances and life in general were incredibly frustrating.  As someone who worked three jobs to get through college, and once took a job during a layoff that left me with $100 leftover each month, it was almost infuriating to see McGaha never hit the true reality of her situation or try to dig herself out of the hole.  Somehow, her husband took the brunt of all of their decisions as well as the lion’s share of the work for getting them out of their situation.  McGaha herself, never did anything that positively affected her family’s financial crisis, nor did she ever really face the reality of their situation.

When your car is being repoed, lights, power, and water being turned off, house being foreclosed, you have a serious problem.  The first time this happens is the time to start digging deep into your finances, double checking those account balances, credit card statements, assessing your life style and trimming the fat.  But when this happens, two, three, four, dozens of times?  I couldn’t help but wonder how much money the family had spent on late fees, reactivation fees, and credit deposits, which would have made all of their bills much higher.

Rather than trim the fat and have the hard discussions, selling excess possessions, and downsizing their home before it is too late, McGaha and her husband proceed with their current lifestyle by keeping their 5 dogs, attending hair appointments, sending their child to private school and drinking craft beer.  Anyone who’s ever been super broke knows how hard it can be to feed their family..not to mention five pets!  And when you’re broke, craft beer is for the birds…the rich birds.  From experience, poor folk drink whatever’ll get you drunk the cheapest.

While I can appreciate the devastation of having to foreclose on a home and move into a rundown shack rented from a distant family member, it was hard to shake the feeling that this entire situation was somewhat preventable or at least mitigable with some planning and a little less head-in-the clouds approach to life.  I also couldn’t shake the feeling that “this is what happens when you don’t raise women to take care of themselves”.  I know that sounds super super judgemental, but I have had quite a few girl friends whose parents taught them absolutely zero life skills.  Those girls, who had every need attended to by their parents, became young women whose only real option was to find a husband who would take care of their every need.  When those men failed to do so, as we see in McGaha’s case, the women are left damsels in distress, a victim of their partner’s poor decisions.

Financial frustration aside, I did enjoy McGaha’s adventures with homesteading and raising chickens and goats.  The stories she shared about her grandparents were heartwarming and reminded me of the old fashioned things my own grandparents did, from waking up at dawn to greet the day, to hand washing dishes and hanging clothes on a line to dry, hand sewing quilts and washing Ziplock bags and foil to be used again.  I’ve often found myself wondering at the simplicity and complication of my Grandmother’s lives compared to my own, and McGaha was able to capture that perfectly.

All in all, Flat Broke is best taken as a cautionary tale as well as some insight into The Jones’.  They may have everything, but they may also be so far in debt they can’t afford the gas and electricity to power those new cars and electronics.

Until next time,

R-

 

Book Review · Bust · Favorite Authors · Gonna Need a Stiff Drink For This One · thoughts

In The Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

in the midst of winterI can still remember reading Eva Luna in high school, buried deep under the covers and reading through the night.  Amazed that a single book could create a world so enchanting and enthralling that it literally wrapped around you in the night, I threw myself into the depths of Isabel Allende’s works; The House of the Spirits, The Stories of Eva Luna, Daughter of Fortune, Portrait in Sepia, Zorro, Ines of My Soul, Island Beneath the Sea.  For years my gypsy life consisted of moving every 6 months, and lugging around a heavy box of books filled with Allende’s works.  For me, Allende is the epitome of an author- she is the Shakespeare to my soul.  It had been several years since I’d lost myself in her world, so when In The Midst of Winter was plopped right into my hands at the library, it was like coming home.

Unfortunately, In the Midst of Winter was probably one of the worst books I’ve read in a while.  All of Allende’s trademark beautiful writing was present.  The wild women, the unlikely pairings, the incredible character development.  Missing, however, was the depth and breadth of the characters relationships with each other, the passion for life and love, and a story so hauntingly beautiful it sticks to your brain like a spiderweb.

While Allende explored the oft ignored middle ages of life and love, the effortless weaving of plausibility and magic that is key in her previous novels was missing from this story.  Richard, Lucia and Evelyn are all written with passion and a deep back story but the circumstances that bring them together are incredibly lackluster and strange.

The story uniting them left me irritated in its lack of reality, lack of depth and the lack of personal relationships developing between the characters.  At no point did I feel like Richard and Lucia were a likely or even possible romantic couple.  At no point could I feel the love or compassion Lucia had for Evelyn.  And while I enjoyed reading the individual chapters narrated by each character and thoroughly interested in the political history of Brazil, I found myself skimming the chapters devoted to the mishaps of this unlikely trio.

For a career spanning over 30 years, Allende was bound to publish a flop at some point.  It’s just hard to imagine In The Midst of Winter being written by a veteran author who penned something as magical as The House of the Spirits as her first novel.

In my devotion to Allende, I immediately checked out “The Japanese Lover” from the library, hoping to ease the disappointment of In the Midst of Winter with what I hope is a novel more aligned with Allende’s previous works.

Until next time my friends.

Happy Reading!

-R