REVIEW: THE SMASH-UP, BY ALI BENJAMIN

It’s September 2018. In Washington, D.C.,—and in cities and towns across America—women have taken to the streets to protest a Supreme Court nominee. And in Starkfield, Massachusetts—a sleepy rural town where nothing much ever happens—Ethan Frome’s otherwise quiet life has turned upside down.

Ethan’s wife, Zo, is so enraged by the national political scene that she’s transformed their home into a local headquarters for the Resistance. His college roommate and former business partner faces #metoo allegations, sending Ethan into increasingly desperate financial straits. His unruly, headstrong daughter, Alex, grows more challenging by the day.

Enter Maddy Silver—a breezy, blue-haired millennial making her way through the gig economy. Suddenly Ethan and Zo must question everything: their past, their future, their marriage, and what they value most. And all the while, a world-rocking cultural smash-up inches ever closer to home.

Inspired by a classic Edith Wharton novella about a strained marriage in a small town, The Smash-Up is at once an intimate, moving portrait of a family in distress, a vivid examination of our roiling national rancor, and a powerful exploration of how the things we fail to notice can shatter a family, a community, and a nation.
 
 
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The opening lines of The Smash-Up pose a question: What happened? Those words remind me of how I felt in 2016…and then later, in 2018, as inexplicable events unfolded. A world I could not imagine or accept.

As we follow the journey of Zo and Ethan and their daughter Alex, we see how these events changed lives into something almost twisted. How will these characters survive the world that they are now protesting?

I enjoyed watching the characters as they traverse these changes around them, dealing with things as much as possible, but also struggling. Their livelihoods are at risk and how their family moves forward, even as they remember the events of the past that brought them together, might be impossible.

A beautifully written story that kept me turning pages, I give this one 5 stars for how it gripped and resonated with me.
 
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BOOKISH FRIDAY: “MR. FLOOD’S LAST RESORT”

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which I  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What a great way to spend a Friday!

Today’s feature is a new download:  Mr. Flood’s Last Resort, by Jess Kidd, the spellbinding tale of a lonely caregiver and a cranky hoarder with a house full of secrets.

 

 

Beginning:  He has a curious way of moving through his rubbish.  He leans into it, skimming down the corridors like a fearless biker on a hairpin bend.  He gallops and vaults through the valleys and hills, canters and bobs through the outcrops and gorges of his improbable hoardings.  Now and then he stops to climb over an obstacle, folding his long legs like picnic chairs.

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Friday 56:  Renata sighs.  “None of this is normal.  Who finds photographs in milk bottles and stuck to windows?  And why are these faces burnt away?”  She purses her lips.  “And what kind of person stays in a caravan?”

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Synopsis:  Maud Drennan is a dedicated caregiver whose sunny disposition masks a deep sadness. A tragic childhood event left her haunted, in the company of a cast of prattling saints who pop in and out of her life like tourists. Other than visiting her agoraphobic neighbor, Maud keeps to herself, finding solace in her work and in her humble existence–until she meets Mr. Flood.

Cathal Flood is a menace by all accounts. The lone occupant of a Gothic mansion crawling with feral cats, he has been waging war against his son’s attempts to put him into an old-age home and sent his last caretaker running for the madhouse. But Maud is this impossible man’s last chance: if she can help him get the house in order, he just might be able to stay. So the unlikely pair begins to cooperate, bonding over their shared love of Irish folktales and mutual dislike of Mr. Flood’s overbearing son.

Still, shadows are growing in the cluttered corners of the mansion, hinting at buried family secrets, and reminding Maud that she doesn’t really know this man at all. When the forgotten case of a missing schoolgirl comes to light, she starts poking around, and a full-steam search for answers begins. Packed with eccentric charms, twisted comedy, and a whole lot of heart, Mr. Flood’s Last Resort is a mesmerizing tale that examines the space between sin and sainthood, reminding us that often the most meaningful forgiveness that we can offer is to ourselves.

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What do you think?  Does the quirky story grab you?  Would you keep reading?

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FRIDAY SPARKS: BOOK BEGINNINGS/FRIDAY 56 – “EVERYONE WORTH KNOWING”

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Welcome to some bookish fun today as we share Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and as we showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

If you have been wanting to participate, but haven’t yet tried, now is the time!

What better way to spend a Friday?

Today I am featuring a book that has been on my stacks for a while:  Everyone Worth Knowing, by Lauren Weisberger.

 

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Beginning:  Though I’d caught only the briefest glimpse from the corner of my eye, I knew immediately that the brown creature darting across my warped hardwood floors was a water bug—the largest, meatiest insect I’d ever seen.  The superbug had narrowly avoided skimming across my bare feet before it disappeared under the bookcase.  Trembling, I forced myself to practice the chakra breathing I’d learned during an involuntary week at an ashram with my parents.

***

56:  The phone rang a little after eleven P.M.  I held it and stared, patiently waiting for the caller ID to register my caller.  Uncle Will:  to screen or not to screen?

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Blurb:

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A GIRL ON THE FRINGE ENTERS THE REALM OF NEW YORK’S CHIC, PARTY-HOPPING ELITE?Soon after Bette Robinson quits her horrendous Manhattan banking job like the impulsive girl she’s never been, the novelty of walking her four-pound dog around her unglamorous Murray Hill neighborhood wears as thin as the “What are you going to do with your life?” phone calls from her parents. Then Bette meets Kelly, head of Manhattan’s hottest PR firm, and suddenly she has a brand-new job where the primary requirement is to see and be seen inside the VIP rooms of the city’s most exclusive nightclubs. But when Bette begins appearing in a vicious new gossip column, she realizes that the line between her personal and professional life is…invisible.

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What do you think?  Should I move this one up to the top of the stack?

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THURSDAY SPARKS: THEMES & BOOKING — MARCH 1

Good morning!  Welcome to another Thursday event, in which we spark some creativity and dig into the books we’re reading for our Thursday Themes, hosted by Reading Between Pages ; or explore our thoughts and feelings about bookish topics in Booking Through Thursday.


Our themes give us a wonderful opportunity to explore and understand different writing styles and descriptive approaches adopted by authors.

Today’s Theme:

March is going to be all about making life easy. This month we will do ‘Pick what you see first‘ themes. So open the book you are reading, continue reading; pick the first mention of any name in it and post the snippet. The only condition is ‘No Ebooks’.. lets go traditional. Easy-peasy!!

NAME – The first name you come across while reading

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I grabbed a book from next week’s list.  Gossip, is an ARC from Beth Gutcheon, one of my favorite authors.

Loviah “Lovie” French owns a small, high-end dress shop on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Renowned for her taste and discretion, Lovie is the one to whom certain women turn when they need “just the thing” for major life events—baptisms and balls, weddings and funerals—or when they just want to dish in the dressing room. Among the people who depend on Lovie’s confidence are her two best friends since boarding school: Dinah Wainwright and Avis Metcalf.

Outspoken and brimming with confidence, Dinah made a name for herself as a columnist covering the doings of New York’s wealthiest and most fabulous. Shy, proper Avis, in many ways Dinah’s opposite, rose to prominence in the art world with her quiet manners, hard work, and precise judgment. Despite the deep affection they both feel for Lovie, they have been more or less allergic to each other since a minor incident decades earlier that has been remembered and resented with what will prove to be unimaginable consequences.

These uneasy acquaintances become unwillingly bound to each other when Dinah’s favorite son and Avis’s only daughter fall in love and marry. On the surface, Nick and Grace are the perfect match—a playful, romantic, buoyant, and beautiful pair. But their commitment will be strained by time and change: career setbacks, reckless choices, the birth of a child, jealousies, and rumor. At the center of their orbit is Lovie, who knows everyone’s secrets and manages them as wisely as she can. Which is not wisely enough, as things turn out—a fact that will have a shattering effect on all their lives….

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Snippet:  “You were asking about Dinah Wainwright,” I said to Judy Mellincroft, once we got her bodice basted.  Mrs. Oba was on the floor with her mouth full of pins, taking up the hem of a sleek wine-colored evening sheath.

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Booking Through Thursday:

Our leader asked participants about questions they would like to see asked.  Today’s is from Ted:

Have you ever fallen in love with a fictional character? Who and what about them did you love?

When I was very young, I read Gone with the Wind around three times.  Almost as if I could make things turn out differently.  Like when you watch a movie over and over, hoping that maybe the characters will take a different turn.

Well, I kept hoping Scarlett would come to her senses and realize how fabulous Rhett Butler was…but she didn’t.  Not until it was too late.

I couldn’t imagine falling in love with Scarlett’s obsession.  Ashley Wilkes was a milquetoast, IMO.   But Rhett, with his dark good looks and swashbuckling ways was brave, kind of bad, and strode right into every situation as if he had total control of everything.

Perhaps his finest moment was when he finally gave up on the silly Scarlett:  “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

I wonder if I’ll love him just as much when I reread the book?  I ordered it recently just so I could see if my younger self had any taste at all….

In current times, I have “fallen in love” with characters like Ranger, in the Stephanie Plum books.  It’s easy to put a face to the name when you see the movie, which I recently did.  Janet Evanovich’s  One for the Money brought Ranger to life on the Big Screen.

Again, many of the same qualities as numerous heroes.  I wish I wasn’t drawn to these types.  Bad boys.

Perhaps if I had more time to think about it, I would come up with those quiet, bookish types that I also enjoy.  Right now I can’t put a name to any of them.

What about the rest of you?  Who floats your boat?

THURSDAY SPARKS: THEMES & BOOKING THROUGH THURSDAY — FEB. 23

Good morning!  Welcome to another Thursday event, in which we spark some creativity and dig into the books we’re reading for our Thursday Themes, hosted by Reading Between Pages ; or explore our thoughts and feelings about bookish topics in Booking Through Thursday.


Our themes give us a wonderful opportunity to explore and understand different writing styles and descriptive approaches adopted by authors.

Today’s Theme:

 

This week’s theme is related to the nose – any action that you do with your nose. I can only think of SMELL and BREATHE for now, but go ahead and come up with something more innovative.

SMELL Breathe, Anything else you can come up with the nose’s functions

***

Today I’m excerpting from Whole Latte Life, by Joanne DeMaio.

Would you leave everything behind to know who you are?

Sara Beth Riley never dreamt she’d walk straight out of her life.  Actually she’d never dreamt a lot of things that had happened this year … From being kidnapped by her own best friend, to throwing her wedding rings into the Hudson River, to calling an old love in France, to getting inked with said best friend, painting the passionate constellation of these choices into permanence.  But mostly, she could never have dreamt what started it all.  How could it be that her mother’s unexpected death, and the grief which lingered painfully long, turned her into the woman she was finally meant to become?

Sara Beth’s escape begins a summer of change – of herself, of marriage, of the lives of those around her.  In a story that moves from Manhattan to the sea to a quaint New England town, Whole Latte Life looks at friends we never forget, at decisions we linger with, at our attempts to live the lives we love.

***

Theme: (After his wife goes to New York, Tom spends some time in the attic, reflecting).   He slides the rocking chair close to the crib and sits there, watching.  Before you know it, Owen won’t be a baby; this peaceful time in the night won’t happen forever.  Tom hears the sigh of his son’s breathing and then he does what he’s been doing more and more for the past year:  He figures out how to do this reading thing, how to fill in for his wife, his voice whispering about ducks and happiness and spring and puddles. p. 38

***

Booking Through Thursday:

What do you look for when reading a book blog? Does the blogger have to read the same genre? Do you like reviews? Personal posts? Memes? Giveaways? What attracts you to a book blog?

And–what are your favorite book blogs?

There are a variety of characteristics that draw me to a blog and combine to make it a favorite.

First, I like a blog that is designed creatively with a header that appeals to the eye; I like sidebars that have interesting photos to tempt me into clicking on them, to see where they might lead; I like blogs that load fairly easily, so I don’t have to wait FOREVER for them to “settle down.”

Secondly, I like a mix of posts that feature books, but also other topics that show the reader who the blogger is.  Life moments, if you will.  And lots of photos.  It helps if the blogger is a little bit quirky and has a sense of humor.

Finally, I enjoy it if the blogger reads some of my favorite genres, so I can find new books that I’m going to love to read.

Now…that said, I also like knowing that there will be a post that feels cozy and warms me up in the morning with my coffee, like Book Journey, with the Morning Meanderings.

Socrates has a lot of cute and cozy mysteries that intrigue me; Bibliophile by the Sea usually finds just the book I’m wanting to read; and, at Life in the Thumb, I’m also able to connect with books and add them to my shelves.

Book’d Out showcases books that sound so good I can’t help but want to read them, plus she poses interesting questions and dilemmas that make me think.

Reading Books, Thoughts and a Few Adventures is like having a conversation with a friend over tea or a nice martini, with lots of cute moments with Lucy (her cat-person).

There are more sites, too, like Bermudaonion or Book Fan Mary, but I can’t name them all!  I enjoy participating in certain memes that allow me to connect with familiar blogs and sites:  These two memes, of course; Sheila’s It’s Monday:  What Are You Reading?; and Alyce’s Saturday Snapshot.

What do you like about the book blogs you read?  What draws you in?

THURSDAY SPARKS — THEMES! — SEPT. 8

 

Welcome to another Thursday Sparks, in which we celebrate Theme Thursdays, hosted by Reading Between Pages.

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Theme Thursdays is a fun weekly event that will be open from one thursday to the next. Anyone can participate in it. The rules are simple:

  • A theme will be posted each week (on Thursday’s)
  • Select a conversation/snippet/sentence from the current book you are reading
  • Mention the author and the title of the book along with your post
  • It is important that the theme is conveyed in the sentence (you don’t necessarily need to have the word)
    Ex: If the theme is KISS; your sentence can have “They kissed so gently” or “Their lips touched each other” or “The smooch was so passionate”

This will give us a wonderful opportunity to explore and understand different writing styles and descriptive approaches adopted by authors.


I am just glad I have so many suggestions to pick from. This week’s theme is unique and is suggested by The Book Gatherer. So are you ready for:

HEALTH (Health / Wellbeing / Illness / Disease/ etc )

 

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Today I’m spotlighting a new review book called Space, by Emily Sue Harvey.

In this excerpt, the character Deede has consulted a doctor about a fertility issue:

“You have polycystic ovaries, Deede,” Dr. Wingo said gravely.

“What’s that?” I asked as the old familiar dread snaked through me.

“That’s a disease where the ovaries produce an egg, although it’s not a mature egg usually, but the hormones are unbalanced.  So the egg never releases.  The egg then becomes a cyst.” p. 21-22

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Maybe TMI?  What did you find in your books today?  Come on by….

RESHAPING THE EVENTS OF LOSS — A REVIEW

In Elizabeth Berg’s novel Home Safe: A Novel, we are almost immediately plunged into the world of loss. It begins in the preface, when, as a nine-year-old girl, Helen Ames experiences the death of a classmate: she describes everything she sees, up close, from the hands on a wristwatch to the top of the mother’s head and the sound of her weeping – and completely immersed in this experience, she becomes obsessed with these details. And then she describes: “Nothing helped until the day she took a tablet and pencil into the basement and moved the event out of her and onto paper, where it was shaped into a kind of simple equation: loss equaled the need to love, more. With this, she was given peace.”

Predictably, this is the onset of this writer’s life. And we meet her again, some years later, when she is struggling with losses all around her – from her husband’s death months before, to the elusiveness of her daughter, to the struggle she now faces to find the words that once flowed so freely – and we begin again. The journey to reshape the events of loss and make some kind of sense of her life in the present.

As I delved into this Berg novel, I realized again why I await each of her creations so eagerly. She has the uncanny ability to draw the reader in. Partly because her topics are cut from the cloth of daily life and shaped with such detail that we can immediately feel part of what’s going on with the characters – their innermost thoughts, fears, and even those negative emotions we all feel in some moments of our lives – and then we can watch as the characters struggle to reshape their world into a semblance of a new reality despite their losses.

So this is how we observe and learn about Helen Ames, her daughter Tessa, and the relationships that formed them – before and after these significant losses. Somewhat emotionally dependent on her husband, Helen begins to form an over-dependence on her daughter afterwards; Tessa chafes against the smothering bonds and moves further away emotionally.

Helen flails about, fearing she will drown in this new life. Sometimes she stays in her pajamas all day while she desperately tries to pound words out of the computer, to no avail. She even considers a job in retail sales, but thinks better of it. She goes to a speaking engagement – something familiar to her in the past as a writer – but cannot even connect with her audience. Her words seem to lie there in the air, with no visible reaction from the listeners.

Then, just when she thought nothing could get any worse, she discovers that substantial sums are missing from their retirement accounts.  And her search for clues leads nowhere.  At least she has an action to take, she thinks, as she plunges into trying to uncover the mystery. Then she receives a phone call, and the trail takes her on a very strange journey.

Now what will happen? Will Helen finally be able to reshape the events of her life and begin again? And will she rediscover that bond with her daughter, or at least develop a new one? Then, for those of us who are writers, we wonder if she will regain her “words” to create again.

I was actually sad to turn the last pages to the book’s conclusion. As with all of Berg’s other novels, I felt like I belonged in the world of the characters and did not want to see the last of them. Definitely a must-read for any of her fans, and all those out there who love reading as “comfort” food.

THE FRIDAY 56

Good morning!  On Fridays, we play this meme called The Friday 56, hosted by Storytime with Tonya.

Here’s how it works:

Rules:
* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence (plus one or two others if you like) along with these instructions on your blog or (if you do not have your own blog) in the comments section of this blog.
*Post a link along with your post back to this blog.
* Don’t dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.

HAPPY FRIDAY!

By my junior year, I thought I had turned myself into a reasonable model citizen of Peninsula High, but even I was aware that the bar I had set for myself was a low one.

Coach Jefferson’s face was coffee-colored; there was gray in his sideburns, but his eyes were an impenetrable mahogany.  p.56

This little tidbit is from Pat Conroy’s South of Broad.

Here’s a snippet from Amazon:

Charleston, S.C., gossip columnist Leopold Bloom King narrates a paean to his hometown and friends in Conroy’s first novel in 14 years. In the late ’60s and after his brother commits suicide, then 18-year-old Leo befriends a cross-section of the city’s inhabitants: scions of Charleston aristocracy; Appalachian orphans; a black football coach’s son; and an astonishingly beautiful pair of twins, Sheba and Trevor Poe, who are evading their psychotic father….

What book did you find next to you this morning?  I hope you’ll stop by and share….