Book Review: Better Luck Next Time

*Thank you to HarperLuxe for an advanced reader copy of Better Luck Next Time*

I hesitate to call “Better Luck Next Time” historical fiction, but it is certainly a slice of history that was unfamiliar to me. Nevada passed a law in 1931 that allowed for “quickie divorces” for its residents–not long after the law passed “Divorce Ranches” started popping up. Women (well mostly women) would stay at the ranch for 6 weeks to establish residency and finalize their divorces. If you have a few minutes, check out this NPR piece.

This book is primarily set on a divorce ranch outside of Reno, the divorce capitol of the world, in 1938 and is told from the perspective of one of the cowboys, Ward. He had no idea what he was getting himself into when he met Nina and Emily. For a book featuring women who are all seeking divorces, its surprisingly light hearted, but it also serves as a reminder of how impactful someone can be in your life even if they aren’t in it for long.

“Better Luck Next Time” hits the shelves on January 25th, 2021.

Book Review: Did I Say You Could Go

*Thank you to Simon and Schuster for the advanced reader copy of “Did I Say You Could Go”*

Humans thrive on community–no one wants to be alone. As someone from the midwest where family is abundant and people are friendly, it is hard for me to imagine two women as seemingly isolated as Gemma and Ruth. Motherhood can be trying even if you have a supportive partner, we all need friends to lean on. But what if your closest friend was also your clearest enemy? Enter Ruth and Gemma.

Ruth and her daughter Marley are alone in the word until they meet Gemma and her daughter Bee. Ruth’s money and Gemma’s warmth meld them into a family, a family that Ruth tries to hold unto with a death grip, but she slips up. Gemma and Bee pull away until Bee and Marley are starting high school, and Ruth finds her way back into Gemma’s good graces. Now–she just needs to do everything possible to stay there–to show Gemma that she needs her.

Prepare for some abrupt twists and turns. This book starts as a light read but ends on a dark note and will leave you wondering who the master manipulator really is while ardently hoping that both Bree and Marley are able to move forward with their lives leaving past traumas behind them.

This book is set to release August 3, 2021.

Book Review: The Sun Also Rises

I first read a Hemingway book as a teenager, and I distinctly remember having to look up “cognac” because I had never heard of it before. I finished the book (It was either “For Whom the Bell Tolls” or
“A Farewell to Arms”) but wasn’t especially moved or impacted by it. Maybe I was too young because I thoroughly appreciated “The Sun Also Rises.”

“Appreciate” is a specific word–and I use it because I am not exactly sure that I enjoyed it. I found it to be painfully raw. It all felt a little too real–like a heightened version of a weekend trip with friends that has gone very poorly, and in fact it was very real. Check out this article if the “realness” of the story interests you.

Hemingway’s writing felt refreshingly straightforward, and I was impressed by all that he was able to convey without the flowery extras. Sometimes a book leaves you yearning for more, but this book left me grateful not to share in the hangovers or emotional strife. I am still trying to decide if Hemingway’s foray into writing from literal experience feels brave or cheap, and I suppose it ultimately doesn’t matter what I think.

Book Review: Majesty (American Royals #2)

I love reading, but there have been years in my life where I haven’t done much of it because I was too hung up on just reading “good” or “serious” books. But no more. Reading is a respite for me, and sometimes, retreating into light hearted fiction or a throw-away “airport” book is exactly what I need. In the last year, I have started just reading what I feel like reading and stopped trying to justify my choices–because truly, no one cares what I read. Sometimes it is narrative nonfiction–sometimes it is contemporary fiction, and sometimes, like today, it is fun, young adult fiction.

*I was very excited to received an ARC of “Majesty.” Thank you Random House!*

I really enjoyed “American Royals”until I got to the end–and realized that it was just the first installment in a series and was ending on a cliff hanger! The general premise of the series is that America never became a Democratic Republic and, instead, remained a monarchy. The series follows Princess Beatrice (next in line for the throne), Princess Samantha (the spare that becomes the heir), and Prince Jefferson (the handsome prince) and their friends (and sometimes significant others) as they navigate finding love while constantly in the public eye. If “Gossip Girl” and “Princess Diaries” had a love child–this series would be it.

“Majesty” picks up where “American Royals” left off. The King has passed away and Beatrice is now the first Queen of America to rule in her own right. She is left to decide if she wants to continue her relationship with Connor and call off her wedding to Teddy (Duke of Boston) or set aside love and do what is best for her country. Meanwhile, the Prince, Princess, and their friends work to sort out their own love lives–and we meet a new character along the way.

When I finished “American Royals” I was sure that I knew the direction that McGee planned to take the series, but I was both assuredly wrong and pleasantly surprised. There were more than a few unexpected twists and turns. This light and breezy YA novel doesn’t disappoint–until of course you realize you have to wait for the third installment.

5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: “A Well-Behaved Woman A Novel of the Vanderbilts”

Having recently read a couple of Fowler’s books, I was excited to discover this 2018 book about Alva Vanderbilt. I went into the book thinking that Alva Vanderbilt was only interested in social standing and extravagant homes. Even though the book is a work of fiction, it really altered my opinion of Alva for the better.

Alva lived in a time where women had few options. She may have married for money, but that was what was done at the time. She masterfully maneuvered the Vanderbilts into the highest social circles, and being in the best social circles allowed her to be a force for change. Her divorce was shocking to many at the time, but she called to light that men were given many passes by society as their wives were expected to sit by and feel grateful. She was seen as a pariah when she was really the wronged party.  Her forcing her daughter into a loveless marriage is a bit difficult to understand, but it was not nearly as shocking then as it seems now. If you are interested in Consuelo, I very much enjoyed her ghost written autobiography, “The Glitter and the Gold.”

It feels as if history has neatly filed Alva away as a sensational figure, a fortune hunter who tossed her husband aside and chased a title for her daughter. True, she was a divorcee, a women’s rights advocate, etc. But, this book suggests that there was more to Alva. Yes she did seek a divorce, but she was married for two decades prior to that. She lived an entire life with W.K. Vanderbilt and worked to advance their family. Yes she built lavish homes, but she was integral in the process–additionally her NYC home played a significant role in how the city was developing. She campaigned for all women–regardless of their race to be able to vote.

This book will have you googling socialites every few pages, wondering what it would be like to be that wealthy, and feeling grateful that women no longer have to be immensely wealthy to be independent (although I have to imagine most of us wouldn’t turn the $$$$ down).

Four out of Five Stars.

Book Review: “A Good Neighborhood”

I am normally a heavy library user, but I recently joined Book of the Month Club.   And while justifying the cost, I jokingly promised to send my husband a book report on all of the books that I purchase through BOTM.

I selected two books for June, “A Burning” and “A Good Neighborhood.” I haven’t had a chance to read “A Burning” yet, but I recently finished “A Good Neighborhood.” It is Therese Fowler’s 6th novel. Prior to it’s release she had most recently published “A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts” (this is next on my TBR pile) and is most well-known for “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” which was adapted for television.

“A Good Neighborhood” received a lot of good press in advance of its March release. And given the national conversations about race, I expect it will continue to be buzzy. Told from a variety of perspectives, the book follows the lives of two teens–one black and one white and their respective parents whose yards abut one another. As the teens relationship blossoms the parents relationship wither; lawsuits, love, and tragedy. The book speaks to race, class, and the prejudices that accompany both.

Although the teens are at the heart of this story, the parents actions and inaction push the needle. Would things have been different had Valerie intervened when she saw Juniper and Zay together or if she had never pursued the lawsuit? If Brad wasn’t so disillusioned about Juniper, would he have gotten the police involved? Should Julia have known? Should she have acted sooner. None are innocent–they all bear some blame.

The book is a literary reminder that racism is real and has lasting painful ramifications and that all that glitters is not gold. People are not always as they seem. The story is raw, and frankly, difficult to read.

Immediately prior to picking up this book, I read “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” and was enthralled. Initially, I found the books to be very different in style, but reflecting back they are more similar than I initially thought. Fowler’s writing propels you into the characters lives–which isn’t always comfortable.

I would give it 3 of 5 starts (for reference, I gave “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” 5 stars).

Grief: Can’t Go Under it, Can’t Go Over it. Gotta Go Through It

Grief feels like a language that I am still learning to speak. Thick and heavy on my tongue, it’s syntax is still new to me. Yet as I struggle to find the right words, I have a new appreciation for the many people I know that understand and speak it fluently. Like a traveler to a foreign country, I am comforted when I encounter someone who shares even a little of this new language with me. And in my lesser moments, I envy those who are unable to understand even a snippet of it.

I have learned that grief has a way of leaving an indelible mark, and people that have been touched by it never forget.  Like a tattoo this mark might be displayed openly its symbolism explained in great detail to all whether they ask or not, shared with just a few, or dutifully hidden. Yet no matter who sees it, the mark remains, and although each one is unique, many of us bare this type of mark.

Grief is both a singular journey and one of life’s most widely shared experiences. While it stems from a unique place,  those that grieve similarly find themselves at the edge of a great chasm. This deep abyss can be crossed but the journey is not easy; there are no maps or Sherpas. We must navigate our own paths and carry our own, heavy loads.

As I find myself at the edge the first chasm that has been put squarely in my path, I am reminded of one of my favorite children’s books, “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.” The premise is that when confronted with an obstacle, you must meet it head on–“Can’t go under it, can’t go over it, gotta go through it.”

Eventually, I must cross through this chasm because, if I want to move forward, I will need to get to the other side. Fortunately no one is timing me, and I won’t be judged too harshly if I get lost a time or two. But someday, I will reach the other side, and when I do, I won’t forget the journey. Rather, I will bare that indelible mark, and I will remember because some things are far to great to forget.


That’s All She Wrote

Long Live the “Instaship”

The other day I happened upon an article titled “Posting Pictures Like Popping Molly, Millennial Addicts Need to Cool it With the Instagram: It’s time to get clean. It’s time to unfilter our lives.” I normally would not have clicked on such an article because, admittedly, I enjoy Instagram and don’t want be made to feel guilty about that fact. But, a fellow Hillsdale College graduate, Philip Wegmann, wrote the article, and since I have been feeling a bit nostalgic about my alma mater lately, I decided to give it a read.

You might be able to glean the author’s point just by the title, but I would still recommend reading the piece. I found myself wanting to agree with the author. I wanted to be able to be a bystander chastising the millennials for living life behind a lens because I truly believe that many millennials are addicted to oversharing and carefully crafting “paper” lives.  But, I just couldn’t do it. I could neither fully reject nor accept his argument.

As odd as this may seem, I couldn’t accept his argument because of Hillsdale College. There is a lot to be said about Hillsdale College, but I will leave most of that to another day. What I will say is that people are able to cultivate beautiful friendships while at Hillsdale (this is most likely true of many institutions of higher education, but my experience is at Hillsdale), and there are few things in life more worthwhile than having and being a good friend. Aristotle puts forth three types of friendships within the Nicomachean Ethics (I wouldn’t be a true Hillsdale College alumna if I didn’t at least mention Aristotle once); friendships of utility, pleasure, and virtue. The virtuous friendship is, of course, the highest form of friendship. It is the type of friendship that makes a community thrive, and I think that it is this type of friendship that I witnessed and participated in at Hillsdale.

Unfortunately, I live in a different time zone from almost every friend that I made while at Hillsdale, but in many ways, Instagram has made the distance between us seem much shorter. I like to call it, the “instaship.” Through Instagram, I have come to know about the daily lives of my college friends. I see pictures of their families and their homes. I see pieces of their lives; those pieces might be a bit shinier, but I know that. And, maybe this desire to see beauty in the mundane isn’t so terrible.

“Instaships” are nowhere near as fulfilling as friendships. If the highest form of friendship is a sturdy rope, an “instaship” is a few strands of that same rope. I suppose the question is would you rather have a few strands of the best friendship or none at all? I know that I would rather cling to those few strands for as long as possible. Those strands have allowed me to remain connected to people who otherwise would have slipped through my fingers and out of reach as I drove away from Hillsdale that final day. I may not be an active participant in their lives, but I am an active observer. And maybe, someday, because of those lasting strands, circumstances will allow us to reassemble that rope and make the transition from observers to participants.

Although, I am unwilling to give up my “instaships,” I can also see the danger that Wegmann illustrates. My approach to Instagram and social media is likely the exception not the rule. I am not looking for likes, shares or follows. In fact, most of the time, I agonize over whether or not I want to post at all. When I do post, it is because I want to share a slice of my life with friends and family who are dear to me. Maybe it will make them smile to know that I too saw a beautiful sunset or was able to gather with old friends, but maybe it won’t. And, that doesn’t bother me.

Abuse of social media is commonly associated with the societal desire to be liked, to be included, to be beautiful, or even to be envied. And of all the social media platforms out there, I can see the danger that Instagram presents. Like a drug (possibly molly…), some users are unable to stop. Whether it be scrolling through photos, coming up with quippy captions, or framing the perfect photo, they choose to preserve a moment rather than to live it. And often, users go as far as to fabricate that moment. Instagram itself isn’t bad, but sometimes the way its users approach it is harmful.

Instagram offers us the opportunity to “share” photos. Share can be described a number of ways, but its use by Instagram has always brought to mind the term defined as “to divide and distribute in parts; apportion.” When, I click the “share” button, I am showing my followers a fraction of my life. It is not a true representation of my life; it is an incomplete piece. And as I enjoy my “instaships,” that is something that I strive to keep in mind.

Instagram should be used intentionally and in moderation. Molly should be avoided.


            That’s All She Wrote

Life in the ‘C’ League

I am sure that all of my avid readers (Mom and Dad) are familiar with my bio which reads, “Bureaucrat by day, ‘C’ League athlete by night, I fill the rest of my time thinking about things I should be writing about and sometimes fighting crime.” I will leave an account of my career as a vigilante for another day, but  I will take a little time to tell you about my life in the ‘C’ League. The timing only seems right as my volleyball team starts tournament play today.

I have been living large in the ‘C’ League for three years now. I am sure you are bursting with questions.  What is life like in the ‘C’ League? How did I get here–how can you get here? All are good questions. You don’t wake up in the ‘C’ League; getting here has been a journey which is why this will be a two part post.

Am I an athlete? Mrs. Larson’s 5th grade class certainly thought so when they voted me “most athletic girl.” This distinction of my athletic prowess put me up there with the best of the best; the cream of the crop. *Jenny, *Kelsie, and I reigned as the most athletic girls in the whole of the 5th grade.*Names have been changed–athlete’s of this caliber don’t need to be distracted from their training by pestering fans.

I stuck it out with the greats for a few years. but I always knew when it was time to retire. Some people might question my usage of the word “retire” rather than “quit.” Quitters walk away when they are faced with adversity; that’s not what I did. I made a series of strategic choices. Following the prolific career of an elite athlete can be  tough. So, I will break my career down by sport (starting in Junior High) and reason for retirement.

Sport: Track

My track career ended after a highly successful 8th grade season.  I walked away from the last meet  as the regional champion in high jump, long jump, and triple jump much to the chagrin of *Kelsie who was the favorite in the jumping events. Some might argue that I shouldn’t have walked away while I was on top, but ultimately, it was the right choice. I considered jumping into another season, but on my way to the first practice, I made a last minute judgement call and instead opted to enroll in a pottery class at the local rec center.

Reason for Retirement: Diversifying my interests while still on top

Sport: Basketball

I was a solid starter throughout junior high. Tall and lanky, I was an excellent re-bounder who inevitably spent almost as much time falling on the floor as I did running up and down it. Years of YMCA basketball had prepared me for the rigors of being a true baller. During my 8th grade season, we ran the sideline play “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” (I suppose I should note the coach was also our history teacher) like a well-oiled machine. Hindered only by a lifelong ankle injury, I finished that season well-prepared to enter the world of freshman ball. That summer I geared up by attending a basketball camp at a college campus in a neighboring state. It was there that i learned that there is very little I like about girls basketball. From the shoes to the shorts to how serious all the girls took it, I just knew that the sport wasn’t for me.

Before camp was even over I had decided I was done. However, I did purchase a great sweatshirt that remains a household favorite. So, there’s that…

Reason for Retirement: Required open gym attendance would infringe on valuable time in the boat the following summer. 

Sport: Cross Country

I ran varsity cross country from 7th through 10th grade. Cross country is, for the most part, just as miserable as you would imagine it to be. I am not a natural runner, but I managed to make it work. But after four years running varsity, I reasoned that it was time to turn in my spikes (this is literally just a saying–I never thought buying spikes was that necessary much to the annoyance of my coach). My main contribution to the team was a positive attitude.

Reason for Retirement: Came to my senses

Conquering (or achieving the most marginal level of success) and later retiring from sports was an important step in achieving my current status in the “C” League where I am currently living large.

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