Sunday, May 29, 2011

Book #69: Hell at the Breech

Hell at the Breech: A NovelTitle: Hell at the Breech
Author: Tom Franklin

I enjoyed Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter so much that I came home from vacation and ordered Hell at the Breech right away. I knew from the book jacket of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter that it was a departure from Franklin's earlier work, but I was surprised by how dark and twisty Hell at the Breech was (it makes the dark and twisty of Grey's Anatomy look like a ride on "It's a Small World").

So what's the story about? I'm still trying to figure it out, I guess. It starts out with two dumb brothers playing bandits on a road in Alabama in 1897, hoping to get a buck off some guy to visit the town whore. When they stop a man, they accidentally shoot him. Then all hell breaks loose. His cousin assembles a group of poor sharecroppers to avenge the death, and what happens is that lots and lots (and lots and lots) of people get killed. The every character in the book is morally complicated (even the ones who don't appear to be at first), and the prose is beautiful (Franklin thanks his poet wife in the credits for working on the prose with him, and their attention to detail shows on every page). While readers have compared the book to works of Faulkner (probably because of the setting and the fact that the characters are all so difficult), but the book reminded me more of The Road, since so much of the book takes place on the backcountry roads at night, and the characters never know if they'll come across someone who wants to kill them (they usually do). It was a well-written book, but a tough book to read. I feel like I need to go watch a romantic comedy or read something by Sophie Kinsella to regain my equilibrium.

Book #68: Baby We Were Made for Each Other

Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other: In Praise of AdoptionTitle: Baby We Were Made for Each Other: In Praise of Adoption
Author: Scott Simon

I've read enough of these adoption memoirs by know to know that they seem to follow a format: family doesn't feel complete (in Simon's case, like in most of the adoption memoirs, he and his wife are unable to conceive), they don't really know what they're getting themselves into when they go to China, they pick up a baby who cries a lot until she's introduced to the buffet at the White Swan in Guangzhou where she eats herself silly, family returns home changed forever for the better. All in all, it sounds like a pretty good story, doesn't it? It sounds good enough, in fact, that I've now read half a dozen of these memoirs, trying to prepare myself to have a similarly happy and life-altering experience.

Simon is the host of NPR's Weekend Edition, and I've admired his voice for a long time, so I was excited to hear that he had adopted girls from China and had written about the experience. Simon's story veers off the traditional memoir path just a little bit in the way that it intersperses the stories of other adoptive families in with his own story. We get the story of Frank DeFord's daughter, of the lead singer of a band, and a bunch of other people. It's a nice touch, and it makes adoption feel more universal, more normal, than it first did when I got this crazy idea in my head and couldn't shake it. Like many adoption memoirs, this one is a fast, easy read. It's in the Mitch Albom small hardcover book format (which you know I usually hate) and I read it in about two hours. I like tossing these adoption books in the mix every fourth or fifth book to make the wait go by a little quicker, and this one was a nice, happy pick-me-up in the long months of waiting for our baby girl.

Book #67: Leaving Van Gogh

Leaving Van Gogh: A NovelTitle: Leaving Van Gogh
Author: Carol Wallace

I've always been intrigued by Vincent Van Gogh. I love his paintings, and I've always found the story of his life to be incredibly tragic. I wonder if he would have been able to balance his genius and live in peace if he lived today. In Leaving Van Gogh, Carol Wallace tells the story of the last year of Van Gogh's life, when he lived in Auvers, outside of Paris, in the care of Dr. Gachet.

I wanted to love this book-- in addition to liking Van Gogh, I've learned a lot about mental health and health care by being married to a doctor, and I thought it was fantastic that Wallace was able to turn her MA thesis into a novel picked up by a major publisher (my own personal pipe dream). I did like the book-- I appreciated the characterization of Gachet as one of the few doctors at the time sympathetic to people with mental illness, but the book was more about Gachet than Van Gogh, which made it a little less interesting. Since the action of the book takes place in the final year of Vincent's life, after the early suicide attempts, after the ear, after the asylum, during the time when his brother Theo is also dying, the reading felt fatalistic. We all knew, even Vincent apparently, that we were marching toward his death, and that it made it hard to read. And when I thought of all of those Van Gogh paintings piled up in sheds and attics and hallways, it made me want to time travel back a hundred years and sneak one for myself.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ogden Marathon report

After hating the last three marathons I've run, I decided that this was going to be a decisive race for me: I was either going to love it or I was going to quit running marathons. I did everything right-- I trained hard, I tapered, I got plenty of sleep and drank all my water the days before the race. I also decided to run with a pace group and have fun and not kill myself in an effort for a PR at this race (I've tried hard for a PR at the last three races and failed each time).

The day could not have been more perfect. It wasn't too cold up at the race start, and the sun showed herself for the first time in a week just before the race gun went off. I was also surrounded by great friends from my running group, which made the hour waiting up in a muddy field pass much faster.

Traci and I started with the 3:30 pace group. We kept them in our sights for the first 10 miles, not too worried if we were slightly ahead or slightly behind. I don't think I even registered a mile marker until we'd gone a dozen miles. We just chatted and enjoyed the scenery and breathed deeply and didn't run too fast. There were a bunch of little hills between 7-11 and we trudged up them without any difficulty (I guess the Hill Run Mondays paid off). We passed lots of people on the one "big" hill on 14 (which wasn't even very big). Traci dropped back a little around 17, and I picked up the pace once I hit the canyon at 18. I turned on my tunes around mile 20, and still felt great when I hit the park around mile 22. Shortly after I entered the park a guy came up behind me and challenged me to keep up with him, which I did for a few miles, but eventually he had more energy than I did. I was feeling great until the last mile when I turned onto the streets of Ogden. Then I had no gas left. I'd run a block and walk through the intersection, but I still managed to finish ahead of the pacer (he was on my heels) and with a time of 3:28.

It wasn't my fastest marathon-- in fact, it was the fifth fastest of the nine I've run, but I felt great at the end. I was happy-- and I loved racing again. I know I have the endurance to finish a marathon. I know that 3:30 is a fast marathon for most people. I know that I could probably run faster. But it felt great to finish and feel satisfied and be happy with a 3:28 rather than finishing in 3:18 and feeling miserable, or running too fast early and completely self-destructing and finishing slower. I can be fast, but I'm not sure I can be that fast for that long. Running a little slower and finishing happy makes me feel like I could run ultras, or even run more than a few marathons a year without completely dreading the experience.

Book #66: Be Different

Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian with Practical Advice for Aspergians, Misfits, Families & TeachersTitle: Be Different: Adventures of a Free-Range Aspergian
Author: John Elder Robison

So many of the books I've read lately about Asperger's talk about it as a disability to be endured, and with luck, overcome, at least in part. Few people seem to see it as a strength. I liked Be Different because John Elder Robison presents his life with Asperger's as a success because of his Asperger's, not in spite of it. He does recognize that he's not a social being, and that he sometimes makes mistakes because he doesn't interpret social situations the way neurotypicals (nypicals, in Robison-speak) does, but he also sees that he's had a lot of success in life because of his interests and his ability to hyperfocus on those interests.

For that reason, I loved Be Different. I spend so much of my time in fear for my kid-- will he be able to pass the school year, will he graduate from high school, will he serve a mission, live on his own, get married? Be Different shows that people with Asperger's can live very successful, fulfilling, attached, social, normal lives if they work at it and have people who care about them to guide them. I hope that I can be one of those people.

Book #65: Silent Tears

Silent Tears: A Journey Of Hope In A Chinese OrphanageTitle: Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage
Author: Kay Bratt

We're sending off another big bunch of paperwork (and a heck of a lot of money) for our adoption dossier tomorrow. I've been pacing myself through the adoption books and the books about China so I maintain my excitement throughout the process (it's long, and reading the books keeps me focused, especially when I have to do boring things like fill out paperwork). Anyway, I read Silent Tears earlier this week and it made me anxious. Until now I'd say I was eager to adopt. I wasn't oblivious to the fact that our child will come with a health problem and some of the effects of living in institutional care, but I didn't really understand what institutional care meant. When our adoption case manager said that babies in Chinese orphanages often live with a 5:1 baby to caregiver ratio, I quipped that that was what the baby will get once she gets here, but reading Silent Tears really opened my eyes about how our daughter may be suffering before she gets adopted. I used to worry that she'd be developmentally delayed or suffer the effects of malnutrition, and now I'm a little worried about getting her here alive, and not so much worried about how quickly she hits her developmental milestones. The book shows a really eye-opening picture of Chinese orphanages, and although I know it's a picture of just one orphanage, I don't think I can discount Bratt's experience as an orphanage volunteer and say with complete confidence that our daughter's experience will be better than what Bratt presents in Silent Tears. If she's waiting and suffering in China right now, I'm eager to forge ahead with the paperwork and not twiddle our thumbs anymore and not make our daughter wait any longer than we have to. 

Book #64: Parenting a Child with Asperger's Syndrome

Parenting a Child With Asperger Syndrome: 200 Tips and StrategiesTitle: Parenting a Child with Asperger's Syndrome: 200 Tips and Strategies
Author: Brenda Boyd

Although I read this book cover to cover, one of the greatest strengths of this book is that it's possible to read only the sections that apply to particular situations. For that reason, I think it's a book that I'll come back to when we're struggling. I also like that it's written from a parent's perspective. It's easy to read and shows sort of a "boots on the ground" point of view of what it's like to help someone through the day-to-day challenges of living with Asperger's.

Book #63: The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's Wife: A NovelTitle: The Tiger's Wife
Author: Tea Obreht

I noticed today that I've read a lot of books lately with the word "wife" in the title. Weird. I listened to this book on audiobook, and I don't know if it was the reader's voice or the story itself, but I was absolutely entranced. I dug a zillion flower beds last week, pulled out all the old sod, lined them with rocks, and filled them up with new dirt, and this book made the hours fly by (I do not like yard work).

Natalia is a twentysomething doctor living in Central Europe (from what I could glean it sounded sort of like the book took place in what used to be Yugoslavia, maybe in Croatia) in the late 1990s. At the opening of the book, we learn that Natalia's grandfather (also a doctor) has died in a city across the border. What ensues is a bunch of stories: what is happening to Natalia in the present day, what happened to her family while she was growing up, and her grandfather's encounters with "the deathless man" and the story of the tiger's wife who lived in her grandfather's village when he was a child. I'm taking a folklore class right now, and reading this book was interesting from a folklorist's perspective-- I got a better understanding of how myth and legend can persist in modern society. Overall, this was an interesting, challenging read. It's not too long, and the audiobook is gorgeous.

Book #62: The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels-- A Love Story

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels--A Love StoryTitle: The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels-- A Love Story
Author: Ree Drummond

I got this book for Mother's Day and dug right in. There was a time, back in around 2008, when I read Ree Drummond's blog regularly. I even made her Texas Sheet Cake and her Butternut Squash Puree a few times (both a pretty good, I think). A few weeks ago, I read the New Yorker article about her blog and her empire. I've talked to my old college roommate Heather Armstrong (of Dooce fame) about how she and Ree are similar and how they're different. So I knew a fair amount about Ree Drummond and her Marlboro Man before I started reading their love story.

If I were an avid reader of The Pioneer Woman, I can imagine waiting eagerly for the next installment of her love story on the blog. Drummond writes casually and engagingly on the blog, and the book reads just like a bunch of blog posts all jammed together. It was fun to read about Drummond's transformation from city girl to rancher's wife, and since she got married at about the same time I did, I was able to reminisce about my own love story. It was a fun, quick read. Great literature it's not, but as fun escapism it works. It makes me think that with a little enthusiasm, we can all make our own love stories sound fantastic, romantic and dramatic.

Book #61: A Reliable Wife

A Reliable WifeTitle: A Reliable Wife
Author: Robert Goolrick

A Reliable Wife is billed as a "gripping page turner" and since I'd read that all-caps endorsement on the back cover before plunging into the book, I probably should have been smart and waited to read the last page until I actually got there. Instead, I read it about 1/3 of the way through (I've been persuaded by all the non-linear narratives I've read lately that it doesn't really matter if I read the end last, I guess). Anyway, since this is a straightforward beginning-to-end kind of story, I should have waited. Because once I knew what was going to happen, all I had left to read for was how it happens. And now that I think of it, Catherine Land, the "reliable wife" uses a similar analogy when she starts her journey to marry Ralph Truitt-- she knows the beginning, she knows how she wants the story, to end, she just doesn't know how she'll get from one point to the other.

What Catherine doesn't expect, when she sets off on her journey to marry and murder rich Ralph, is that both she and he will be changed irrevocably. She doesn't expect to find grace or love or humanity up in the frozen woods of northern Wisconsin. For that reason, I really liked the book. I liked seeing the changes that take place in Catherine and in Ralph, I liked reading about a story where people who have done bad things, and contemplated doing worse, can change. And now I've probably given too much away. Just don't read the last page first.

Book #60: The God of Small Things

The God of Small Things: A NovelTitle: The God of Small Things
Author: Arundhati Roy

I thought I had read this book a long time ago. I'm pretty sure I had it out of the library at least twice. I've even recommended it as an excellent choice to friends in my MFA program (shows how full of hot air I am). I'm pretty sure I started it a couple times, got confused by all the names, and gave up. When friends in my program raved about it and talked about the plot, I realized that I hadn't, in fact, read the book, so I decided to fill that gap in my literary education.

The God of Small Things is one of those pretty books. Roy writes beautifully (the book took her more than four years to write, and it shows-- every word is chosen carefully), and her narrative starts at the end (sort of) and ends in the middle (sort of). So it takes a little bit of work on the part of the reader. In this case, I think it's fine because the writing is so evocative and the characters are so interesting. I know that will remember certain scenes (like the one in the movie theater) for years to come, and that doesn't often happen to me when I read just because I read so dang much.

The only thing about The God of Small Things that didn't win me over completely was the story. The scene at Sophie Mol's funeral at the beginning of the book, sets almost everything up, and by the car trip a few chapters later, I was able to piece together the remaining details (I was reading closely this time) and therefore what seemed intended to be at least somewhat of a mystery just felt like the inevitable conclusion based on what we knew about the family and the situation. So the story itself was a little bit of a disappointment, but the way in which it was told made reading it more than worth the time I invested.

Finally, Arundhati Roy faced obscenity charges for the final scene in the book, a fairly straightforward sex scene between two characters. It was a little racy, but nothing much in terms of other stuff I've read. However, the previous scene, where the brother and sister twins are reunited after spending years apart-- what I got from that scene made me squirm a lot more than a little cross-caste hanky panky. Was I reading a little too much in between the lines or did that part of the book remind anyone else of Flowers in the Attic?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book #59: A Moveable Feast

A Moveable Feast: The Restored EditionTitle: A Moveable Feast
Author: Ernest Hemingway

When I was reading The Paris Wife, Ernest Hemingway's character starts out writing a novel about his Michigan boyhood. Although he's in Paris, he says he can't write about Paris, because he hasn't had time to digest the place yet (interesting, because his first "big" novel takes place in Spain, and was written just after a trip there ended). In fact, it took Hemingway several decades to come back to writing about Paris. He wrote A Moveable Feast in the last few months and years before his suicide. In the book he looks back at his time in Paris, his friends (his relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald is particularly illuminating). 

A Moveable Feast is much more essayistic than The Paris Wife, which makes it less illuminating in many ways. With several decades of remove, it's interesting to see Hemingway's remorse for the events that took place with Hadley in Paris. I probably enjoyed The Paris Wife more, but I recognize that A Moveable Feast will likely be considered the more important book, and I was happy to read them both together.

Book #58: The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife: A NovelTitle: The Paris Wife
Author: Paula McLain

I'd heard lots of buzz about Paula McLain's book The Paris Wife around the same time that people in my MFA program were reading A Moveable Feast, so I decided to read the two simultaneously. Sometimes I like to do this-- read Ahab's Wife and Moby Dick one after the other, for example (although I never did finish Moby Dick) or a biography of Julia Child and her cookbooks. Both The Paris Wife and A Moveable Feast deal with the years that Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson lived in Paris. Hadley was Hemingway's first wife, and while McLain does go into her interior story in greater depth than we get in A Moveable Feast, it's easy to see that A Moveable Feast is the inspiration for The Paris Wife.

As a book, I enjoyed it well enough. I knew enough about Hemingway's disastrous romantic relationships to know that the book would not end well (it reminded me quite a bit of Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, and because of that I made sure to read the wikipedia article on Hadley before getting too engrossed in the novel, because if she was going to be chopped up by some crazed servant, I wanted to know before I let myself get too into the story). She didn't get chopped up, but the end was tragic in the short run and ultimately redeeming.

I found myself empathizing a lot with Hadley. Despite seeing myself as a strong modern feminist, I've put off a lot of my own ambitions in favor of being a wife and a mother. It's worked out well for me for the last decade and a half, but it didn't work out so well for Hadley, and she seemed utterly lost for a certain period in the novel, unable to leave Ernest because she had no life apart from him, but also unable to stay in a relationship that had become untenable. Nearly a century later, I think we as women have it better than Hadley did, but I'm not sure how much better.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Homestudy Approved

If you're following the story of our adoption, we passed a significant hurdle last night when we got word that our homestudy (home study? I'm never sure. I just know that my spellchecker rebels when I make it one word) was approved. Yay! The next step is assembling an official dossier to be presented to the Chinese government in order to be matched with a child. Basically, it's just another big bunch of paperwork. The good news is that with a few small exceptions, we just have to set aside some of the papers from our homestudy, visit the notary (again, sigh, I do not love the notary), and then pay the adoption agency to do all the paper chasing and collecting. After that, there will be some waiting, a referral of a child, some more waiting, some more paperwork (I'm taking this one step at a time here), and then, at the end, a baby!

Falling in love again

It's been a long winter. Don't get me wrong, I like winter. We had delightful friends and a lovely house in Houston, but when we got the chance to move back to the temperate zone, I jumped at it, and I think a lot of it had to do with wanting four seasons again. There's something about year after year of warm temperatures that didn't work with my raised-in-New England self. I'd probably even get sick of living in Hawaii after a while.

As much as I like sweaters and slippers and taking a long, hot shower after running through the snow (and being the first person to lay track through that snow, gliding down the street in the darkness with snowflakes in my hair is completely magical), I'm also glad when winter comes to an end. By my estimation, winter should have ended about six weeks ago, but he's been hanging around here in these parts like a party guest who doesn't know that his hostess is eager to go to bed. The front page of yesterday's paper showed a picture of Alta, completely snowed under and looking like January. It's the middle of May.

I usually run with friends early on Thursday mornings. It's part of my routine, just like my Monday speedwork, my Friday tempo run, and my Saturday long run. You could even call it a rut, if you want to. But ever since Eddie helped the ward team win the championship for the Salt Lake Valley, he's been eager to maintain his basketball skills, and he wanted to go play with the guys at church this morning. So I sacrificed and decided to run after I took Maren to school. I haven't been excited about running lately. I'm doing the Odgen Marathon in a week and a half, and I've run so many crappy marathons in the last two years that I'm not excited about it. It's not nerves-- this will be my ninth marathon-- I know I can finish, but I put lots of pressure on myself to run hard, and I've fallen out of love with the racing part of running. The parts that involve talking to friends in the quiet hours of the morning, feeling strong as we trudge up the ice, or sensing the wonder of watching a moose on a mountain trail, I still love that. I also love ice cream and having a cute butt, but the racing part of running has been so miserable that it's made me question the whole endeavor.

So this morning, I took to the hills. I hadn't been up on the trail since last October, when my mom fell and we had to carry her off the mountain. I was a little nervous the first few miles. Would there be anyone out there to rescue me if I biffed it? It grew warm. There was snow on the ground, but I peeled off my long-sleeved t-shirt and ran in my bra (no one out here to look at my Mommy tummy) and felt the sun on my back. The grass was that impossibly new spring green, and the creek rushed past me. Instead of feeling frustrated by running, frustrated with my self and my body for putting the pressure on and then not meeting my goals, I just felt grateful to be out there, pale-skinned and squinting, like an animal shaking off a winter's hibernation.

I don't know if this summer will hold half marathon PRs or if I'll ever manage to fall in love with running a marathon again. But I do know that I'll be up on the trail with my legs feeling strong. And it will be worth it, even if they have to carry me down.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Book #57: China (Eyewitness Travel Guides)

China (Eyewitness Travel Guides)Title: China (Eyewitness Travel Guides)

I know, it will be months before we travel to China, but I feel like I know so little about China, I wanted a good jumping off point to see where the gaps in my knowledge are (answer: everywhere) so I can do more reading and research. I think the Eyewitness Travel Guides, in addition to being beautiful, do a nice job providing both historical and cultural background on a place. I haven't read the entire book, but I have read the whole front and back (where they talk about these things) and now I know that there's a lot about Chinese history that I need to learn, but I need to find a place where it's presented in a way that's not going to put me to sleep. When I read about what I'll eat and how many shots I'll need to travel there, I started to wonder if I'm getting in over my head. I don't think I am, but I also think it's a good idea to start the research early. So we might not travel for almost a year, but reading the book now is giving me time to adjust to eating things like eating fish with the heads on and chicken feet.

Book #56: No Biking in the House Without a Helmet

No Biking in the House Without a HelmetTitle: No Biking in the House Without a Helmet
Author: Melissa Fay Greene

I see myself in the beginning of Melissa Fay Greene's memoir. She's a mom of four children who are getting older by the second, and she's not ready to give up the idea of herself as a mom to little ones. After an unexpected pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage, she and her husband decide to "just look into" international adoption. A few months later, Jesse joined their family, and they were complete. Then a few years later, Helen came from Ethiopia, followed by Fisseha, Daniel and Yosef. Greene (author of There is No Me Without You, the story of Haregewoin Teferra, a woman who helped with the AIDS crisis in Ethiopia by opening her home to children whose parents had succumbed to the illness) writes hysterically and honestly about her family's journey of adopting five kids. She's a great writer, and also very open about struggling with things like porn when she has four teenage boys in the house.

I'm fully aware that I'm about to have five kids myself, which in my mind moves our family from just on the bigger side of average to really big, and that people probably think I'm weird. There was one family I went to elementary school with when I was growing up and when I learned that they had five kids, my reaction was something like "what is wrong with you guys?" So I've always been a little skeptical of the motives of large families. I wondered about Greene too-- why does she want all these kids? But as she tells her story, it doesn't feel like she's trying to attract attention to herself or trying to fill up an empty place inside of her. Instead, it's a combination of seeing a need where she and her family can help and just liking kids. I hope that my motivations are as pure and that I remain open to go where my family needs me.

Book #55: Okay for Now

Okay for NowTitle: Okay for Now
Author: Gary Schmidt

I finished reading this book a few days ago and passed it along to Annie. Last night she came into my room with the book in her hands and told me where she was in the story and asked me, "Mom, when is this going to get good?" That's been the struggle with Gary Schmidt books in our house. I like them a lot, but my kids, not so much. Annie read about 40 pages of Lizzie Bright and most of Wednesday Wars, but ultimately finished neither of them. I know she's probably younger than Schmidt's target audience (although a third of her class read Wednesday Wars as an assigned book in fourth grade), but as I thought back to my reading of Okay for Now, I thought of a few reasons why she might struggle with his novels.

First, he's great at stained-glass prose. He writes pretty-- whenever I read his books I'm always struck with how much prettier is writing is than mine. It's not especially dense, but it does require a little bit of careful reading to get things. For example, in Okay for Now, Doug Swieteck (who you may remember as a minor character in Wednesday Wars) never really comes out and says the things he's struggling with. He wants to draw, but talks around it. He likes a girl, and never says it. (Spoiler Alert) He can't read, but never articulates that explicitly. Instead, he gives clues that lead an adult reader to put things together and figure out that the kid can't read, but I don't know that an average YA reader, without a teacher asking the right questions to help them come to those conclusions, would see it. I get why Schmidt does it-- eighth grade boys aren't known for being especially forthcoming, but I don't think it makes for easy reading.

Second, in both Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now, Schmidt doesn't assign names to major characters in the story. For example, we don't know that Holling Hoodhood's sister's name is Heather until the end of the book. In Okay for Now, there are at least two characters whose names Schmidt/Doug keeps under wraps for a lot of the story, and it doesn't always make a lot of sense why Doug won't call his brother by his name, at least until he starts liking him later in the story.

Third, not that much happens. I mean, there are day to day events that over the course of a year make for an interesting story arc, but for my kids, who are accustomed to reading about the witches and wizards of Harry Potter and gross out jokes of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the nonstop action of the Percy Jackson books, drawing birds and delivering groceries don't seem all that interesting. As an adult I'm patient enough to see things play out, but I don't know if kids are. Maybe I just have overly stimulated kids.

Finally, one of the things I liked best about Okay for Now was the way that Doug and Lil became friends over the course of the year. About 80% of the way through the book, something unexpected happens to one of the characters (which won't be unexpected now that I've told you). I felt like such a big, such an unexpected, such an unforeshadowed event felt out of place in the larger narrative. The book didn't need that to happen to be a good book and I'm not sure how it fit in the overall story arc. I know, life doesn't happen according to a story arc (is that one of Schmidt's points in his writing?) but it felt out of place to me.

I know that this review makes it sound like I didn't like Okay for Now. That's not true at all-- I liked it a lot. I'm just curious about why it and Schmidt's other books have played better to the mom than to the kids in his target audience.

Book #54: Started Early, Took My Dog

Started Early, Took My Dog: A NovelTitle: Started Early, Took My Dog
Author: Kate Atkinson

I've read several of Kate Atkinson's earlier works, and in general, I've liked the mysteries more than what I'd call the postmodern experiments (like Behind the Scenes at the Museum). When I started reading Started Early, Took My Dog, I spent the first four hours of the audiobook trying to get all of the stories straight. The book employs third-person limited narration, but it jumps from perspective to perspective several times within a chapter, and at first, it's not entirely clear how all of the characters will come together. I accidentally only downloaded the first half of the book, and as a result, I was really confused while I was listening to it. It felt like a mystery, and read like a mystery, but how were they going to solve it and wrap up all the loose ends in ten more minutes? This wasn't going to be a lame cliffhanger like Discovery of Witches, was it? And then I got to the unsatisfying end, and heard a familiar woman's voice come on and say, "this book has been broken into multiple parts to make the download faster. You have reached the end of this part, but not the complete audiobook..." Suddenly everything made sense-- this was a mystery-- albeit a complicated one. I was a lot less mad at Kate Atkinson after that.

Anyway, I think the book is interesting-- it follows the story of a hushed up murder/child abduction in 1975 and parallels it with murders and child abductions in the present day. Several police officers, private investigators, and even one crazy old lady take turns sharing the story. While I was ultimately somewhat satisfied with what happened with the 1975 murder/abductions, there were a lot of things I'd like to see wrapped up a little more in the current day story. Who's doing the killing? Where did the dang dog come from? For that matter, where did the kid really come from? And was justice ultimately served?