Monday, March 15, 2021

Let's Bust a Recap : The Comedy of Errors

Ah, The Comedy of Errors, one of Shakespeare's earliest known plays. This one is definitely the wackiest one I've read yet involving two sets of identical twins who were separated at birth. You can imagine the shenanigans to follow. Let's get straight to it.

We open on poor, unfortunate Ægeon, a merchant from Syracuse, who has come to Ephesus in search of his son. His timing isn't great because Ephesus and Syracuse are at odds and any Syracusian found in Ephesus is condemned to death. The Duke of Ephesus is bored though and wants to hear why any self-respecting Syracusian would dare show his face on Ephesian soil. So Ægeon tells him...

...Once upon a time, he was a happy newlywed with a gorgeous wife and infant twin sons. The same day his sons were born, some random poor woman with no job and no prospects also had twin sons which she happily sold to Ægeon so they could be his twin sons' slaves for life. Convenient, right? So this happy little family decides to go on a trip, but they run into a gnarly storm at sea at which point, Ægeon lashes himself to one of the ship's masts with one son and slave, and his wife lashes herself to the other ship's mast with the other son and slave. As you can imagine, the ship comes apart, everyone gets separated, and that's the last time Ægeon ever sees his wife and son and son's slave again. He did raise the other son (whom he has dubbed Antipholus) and his son's slave (whom he has dubbed Dromio) and when they grew up, they decided to go off in search of their lost twin brothers. After they didn't come back home for a while, Ægeon went off looking for them which has brought him to Ephesus because who cares about dying when his life has been such a graveyard of all his hopes and dreams anyway...

To which the Duke of Ephesus is like, "Sad story, bro. We're still going to kill you in the morning."

Meanwhile, on the streets of Ephesus, Antipholus and Dromio (of Syracuse) are figuring out their lodging situation for the night, making dinner plans, and lamenting the fact that their search for their long lost twin brothers has yielded a big fat nothing. Antipholus sends Dromio off to secure a hotel and is surprised when just minutes later Dromio shows back up saying Antipholus' wife is expecting him home for lunch so can he please come on already.

A wife? In Ephesus? Where he's never been before? Ridiculous. And what could this possibly have to do with his search for his identical twin brother

Probably nothing and Dromio is probably just making a bad joke so Antipholus soundly beats him.

Dromio (of Ephesus, because if all this isn't confusing enough, let's give both sets of twins the exact same names) goes back home and tells Adriana (Antipholus of Ephesus' wife) that her husband refuses to come home for lunch, and, on top of that, he says he doesn't even have a wife. Adriana, who has already had some sneaking suspicions about her husband's faithfulness, starts crying about the pitiful state of her marriage.

Back on the streets, Antipholus (of Syracuse) meets back up with Dromio (of Syracuse) who denies making any bad jokes about Antipholus having a wife so naturally, Antipholus starts beating him. But then Adriana shows up and begs them to come home for lunch and for the love of Greece, please don't leave her. Concluding that Ephesus is full of witches, Antipholus and Dromio go home with the strange woman. Still no thought that any of this might be connected to their search for their identical twin brothers.

Next, we meet Antipholus (of Ephesus) who is coming home to have lunch with his wife. But he's locked out of his own house because Adriana commanded Dromio (of Syracuse) to shut the gate and not let anyone in. He's about ready to break down the door but his friends convince him to go out to lunch with some other lady instead. (Which makes me think Adriana's hysterics over the state of her marriage probably aren't too far off the mark.)

Inside the house, Antipholus (of Syracuse) has discovered his wife's hot sister and is doing his best to woo her to which she's all, "That's sweet, but wouldn't it be, like, wrong for us to be together? What with you being married to my sister and all?!" Dromio (of Syracuse) has also discovered that he's the object of affection of a hideous kitchen-maid and starts in on the most outrageous bit of fat-shaming I've ever seen. He and Antipholus decide it's time to get the heck out of Ephesus away from all this witchcraft. 
 
Dromio (of Syracuse) runs off to arrange their travel plans, and Antipholus (of Syracuse) is stopped in the street by Angelo the goldsmith who is delivering a gold necklace that was commissioned by Antipholus (of Ephesus). Antipholus (of Syracuse) takes it and tries to pay Angelo, but Angelo, for reasons known only unto himself, is all, "Nah bro, I'll get it from you later." 

In the meantime, Antipholus (of Ephesus) has finished his lunch but is still pretty steamed about being locked out of his own house and sends Dromio (of Ephesus) off to get a rope that he can beat his wife with. Because apparently, physical abuse is the answer to everything for the Antipholuses...Antipholi? 

Then Angelo (the goldsmith) strolls up asking for his money for the gold necklace he just gave him. To which Antipholus (of Ephesus) is like, "Come off it, man, you haven't even shown me the necklace, much less given it to me." So Angelo has him arrested by the officer that I guess is just hanging out on retainer or something. 

Just as he's being led away, Dromio (of Syracuse) shows up, and Antipholus (of Ephesus) orders him to go to his wife and get some bail money. Dromio obeys (still without finding any of this odd), but delivers the money to the wrong Antipholus, of course. 

So just to catch you up, Antipholus and Dromio (of Syracuse) are currently together with a gold necklace they got for free, a bunch of bail money, and they're ready to leave Ephesus on the next ship they can get on because their identical twin brothers probably aren't here and all this confusion is obviously the result of witchcraft. Antipholus (of Ephesus) is under arrest waiting for his bail money, and Dromio (of Ephesus) is out buying a wife-beating rope. Are we all caught up?

Now a random lady walks up to Antipholus and Dromio (of Syracuse) when she sees Antipholus wearing the gold necklace and demands that he either give her back her ring or give her the necklace in place of the ring like he promised. Antipholus (of Syracuse) has, obviously, never seen this woman before and is all, "Peace out, you crazy witch." 

The lady then decides the only way she's going to get any satisfaction is to go to Adriana and tell her that her husband is certifiably insane. Seems like a logical course of action.

Dromio (of Ephesus) finally shows back up with the wife-beating rope, and Antipholus (of Ephesus) is, needless to say, a bit peeved that he didn't bring any bail money with him. But right at this moment, Adriana shows up with a conjurer named Pinch to cast the evil demons out of the insane Antipholus. Because let's not overreact or anything. 

The officer in charge is all, "This is my prisoner, guys." But Pinch is all, "Do you really want to keep this demon-possessed maniac in custody?" So the officer lets Pinch take him.

Minutes later, Antipholus and Dromio (of Syracuse) rush onto the scene with swords drawn and Adriana and her people run away because the only logical explanation is that Antipholus and Dromio (of Ephesus) somehow escaped from Pinch just a few minutes ago and came back to vent their demon-induced rage on everyone. 

Somehow, Adriana in the blink of an eye comes back with some ripped dudes to capture Antipholus and Dromio who see they're clearly in over their heads and take refuge in a nearby abbey at which the abbess fiercely protects them. 

At this point, the Duke is marching poor Ægeon through the streets to his execution and Adriana appeals to him to make the abbess give up Antipholus and Dromio (of Syracuse). But Antipholus and Dromio (of Ephesus) who actually have escaped come running up at that very moment and also appeal to the Duke for justice in this nutty situation. 

Ægeon is like, "Hey it's my son."

And Antipholus is like, "I've never seen you before in my life."

And then we have a gigantic, hilarious exchange of he-said-she-said to which everyone is agreeing and disagreeing right and left, and then the abbess finally comes out with the other Antipholus and Dromio and surprise! she's actually their long lost mother Æmelia, and ohhhhhhh, our identical twins live here: everything makes sense now. 

The Duke pardons Ægeon and they all go to dinner to celebrate their reunified family. Tra-la-la. 


Obviously, it's completely ridiculous that it never once occurs to Antipholus and Dromio (of Syracuse) that all this trouble could be explained by the fact that their identical twin brotherswho they're in Ephesus to find!—live there, but nonetheless, this wacky play was a rip-roaring good time. It's Shakespeare's shortest work and easily read in one sitting (in fact, I'd recommend reading it in one sitting so you're not totally lost each time you come back to it trying to remember which Antipholus and Dromio are in what crazy scenario). This is one I'd definitely recommend, but seeing a stage production of it would be even more fun.

Next up is Troilus and Cressida. Check back in around August or September for my recap of this year's tragedy, and as always, feel free to nominate your choices for my 2022 Shakespeare plays in the comments below. Click here to see which ones we've already covered.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Let's Bust a Recap : The Hypnotist's Love Story

Australian author Liane Moriarty has really exploded onto the scene in the last few years. Three of her eight novels have been picked up by production companies to be adapted into television series (in the cases of Big Little Lies and Nine Perfect Strangers) and a movie (in the case of The Husband's Secret), and Big Little Lies was such a hit it was nominated for sixteen Emmys and took home eight of them. 

I first heard of her while perusing one of Modern Mrs Darcy's posts a few years ago about some of the most unputdownable books she's read. She had included Moriarty's What Alice Forgot in her list, and after reading her little blurb about it, I promptly added it to my wishlist. Naturally, when I came across it at The Book Shelter, I brought it home where it has been sitting on my shelf—ignored—ever since. 

I still haven't read What Alice Forgot, but a few weeks ago when I took a bag of books that I was getting rid of to The Book Shelter, this other title of hers caught my eye. (And by the way, it's the only book I got on that particular jaunt to The Book Shelter and it was free because of the credit I got for the books I traded in, thankyouverymuch.) I started reading it the very next day on a little Galentine's beach trip I took with my mom with the intent that I would check the "last book acquired" box off on The Unread Shelf's 2021 Bingo Card

I have since bought two more books by Liane Moriarty. 

The Hypnotist's Love Story was published in 2011 and is about a professional hypnotherapist named Ellen O'Farrell who is at a point in her life where she's ready to get married and settle down. She thinks she may have met The One when he abruptly tells her they need to talk. As Ellen braces for the worst, she is pleasantly surprised when her boyfriend has no interest in breaking up, but informs her that he unfortunately has a very serious stalker. Far from being upset by this, she's actually quite intrigued. She even considers what it would be like to meet her and talk to her.

Little does she know, she already has

Muahahahaha! Doesn't that just sound deliciously creepy?

In all seriousness though, when I started The Hypnotist's Love Story, I had my reservations. At the beginning of the novel, Ellen and Patrick are on their fourth date and Ellen is ready to take Patrick home and get into bed with him. Apparently, premarital sex after only knowing someone a very short time has truly become a foregone conclusion in today's society, but not in my world and I was starting to think that I may just need to write off contemporary literature for good. On top of that, all the hippie-dippy hypnotism stuff was a little annoying and seemed heavy-handed at first as well. 

But, Moriarty hooked me with this story. And while she may not have intended it as a commentary on premarital sex and cohabitation, this story clearly portrays the practical and emotional consequences of living with multiple partners before committing to one person for life. 

My absolute favorite aspect of this book was the way Moriarty chose to switch back and forth between the third person point of view in Ellen's case, and the first person point of view in the stalker's case. It was creepy and unconventional and riveting, and I did not want to put the book down. 

The other thing I wasn't expecting was to feel sympathetic toward the stalker. Moriarty gave me that ethically murky tension I love in a good novel. (See also: The Scarlet Letter or Rebecca.) When you can make me root for a character and disagree with that same character's choices to the point where I'm really wrestling internally over that character's behavior, you have made a fan out of me. And Moriarty achieved that effortlessly. 

All this to say, The Hypnotist's Love Story was a highly satisfying read for me and an absolutely perfect choice for a fast-paced beach read. I give it two thumbs up, and I'm certain this will not be the only novel I'll be reading by Liane Moriarty this year. 

The question is: which one should I read next? 

Monday, March 1, 2021

Let's Bust a Recap : Unbroken

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom are the two books I will recommend to any person at any time. I re-read Unbroken in January for my Sister Book Club which worked out perfectly because I've specifically been wanting to re-read it just to write a recap for this very blog since it is my Go-To Book to recommend to people. 

I first read Unbroken right before the movie adaptation came out in 2014. I think every person in my family passed the book around and then we all went to see the movie together a few weeks later. Since that time, I have recommended this book to every single person who has ever asked me for a book recommendation.

As you can see from the cover of the book, Unbroken is a World War II story of survival, resilience, and redemption. In it, Laura Hillenbrand thoroughly chronicles the life of Louis Silvie Zamperini who was a distance runner in the 1936 Olympics held in Berlin, a bombardier in the B-24 Liberators in the Pacific Theater in WWII, and a POW in Japan after being stranded at sea on an inflatable raft for 46 days. After returning home from the war—which in and of itself was a true miracle—he experienced a personal regeneration after hearing Billy Graham speak at a revival meeting. He devoted the rest of his life to forgiving his captors, evangelism, and at-risk youth.

While Zamperini himself was a remarkable person, Hillenbrand's writing brings his story to life in an engaging and compelling narrative that feels more like a novel than it does a biography. Unbroken has won heaps of awards and been adapted into two movies. Since its original publication at the end of 2010, it has sold well over four million copies. It spent more than four years on The New York Times bestseller list. I've never really been interested in Seabiscuit the racehorse, but I've been curious about Hillenbrand's book on Seabiscuit ever since reading Unbroken just because I was so impressed with her writing. 

While reading about Zamperini's time as a POW and the subsequent consequences he endured because of the atrocities he was subjected to in Japan is difficult, I have to reiterate what I said last week in my recap of Anne Frank's diary: these stories are so important for us to remember. This is a book I will keep recommending to anyone who asks because, not only is it an incredible story, it really happened and it happened during a time in history that touched every corner of our world. My grandfather served in WWII and I have known many men and women who lived through those dark times, but we have reached a point where the current generation of young people may never meet someone who lived during WWII and the next generation definitely won't. Books like Unbroken and The Hiding Place and Night and The Diary of Anne Frank are critical for them. 

Am I making myself clear? Is this thing on? I know I'm not the most eloquent writer in the world but what I'm saying is:
READ THIS BOOK

That is all. 
Have you read Unbroken or any other true story of WWII that impacted you? What are your Go-To Book recommendations?

Monday, February 22, 2021

Let's Bust a Recap : The Diary of a Young Girl

"Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I've never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl."

Dear Anne, if only you knew. Your little diary has now been published in more than 70 languages and been read by tens of millions of people all over the world. 

Gifted this little red checked diary on her 13th birthday in the summer of 1942, Anne Frank began to document her life and her innermost thoughts. Less than a month later, her whole family went into hiding because of the Nazi persecution of the Jews. Anne continued to write in her diary faithfully, and after hearing a radio broadcast from the Dutch minster of education, art and science in March of 1944 calling for "ordinary documents" such as letters and diaries to help preserve this unique time in history, she mused over the possibility of publishing her diary someday after the war was over. Little did she know she would never live to see that day.
Anne Frank lived in the Secret Annex with her father, mother, and sister, as well as her father's business partner and his wife and son, and eventually a dentist named Fritz Pfeffer, from July 6, 1942 until August 1944 when they were discovered and deported to Nazi concentration camps. Of the eight, only Anne's father Otto Frank survived the war. Anne died in Bergen-Belsen at the age of 15, probably only weeks before the camp was liberated by British troops on April 15, 1945. If that doesn't absolutely break your heart, I'm not sure what would. 

If only Anne could see the impact her diary has had on the world. It has become the best known and most widely read document of the Holocaust, and Anne is seen as the symbol of the one million Jewish children who were murdered during that horrific time in history. Her diary went on to be adapted into a play which won the Pulitzer Prize, a 1959 film which won three Academy Awards, and it is pretty much a standard reading requirement in many schools all over the world. 

I remember reading excerpts from Anne's diary when I was in school and seeing the film as well, but I never read her diary from cover to cover until last year. I took it for granted that everyone knew who Anne Frank was, but as I carried her diary around with me for several months last year while I was reading it, I encountered more than one person who had never heard of her. That is a travesty because we cannot forget what happened during World War II. It may sound pithy but "those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."  If the old adage is true, we can't allow Anne's story to fade from our memories. 

Being so familiar with Anne Frank's story before going into my complete reading of her diary made it even more heartbreaking. I remember starting it on the first day of September thinking I would fly through it easily that month. However, as I read a few entries each day, I kept turning to other books, not wanting to come to that abrupt ending, and I didn't finish the book until almost halfway into December. As I got closer and closer to the final pages, my dread grew. Dragging it out did not preserve me from bawling my everloving eyes out when I read the words: 

ANNE'S DIARY ENDS HERE.

This girl, cut down just as her life was beginning, said in one of her very last entries:
It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. It's utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquility will return once more."
 I mean, honestly.

The thing that struck me the most profoundly was how thirteen Anne was. All her little vanities and heartbreaks. Her squabbles with her mother and her hurt feelings over being so misunderstood. Her curiosity about the world and her wonder at her own changing body. I identified so easily with that thirteen year old girl. I couldn't help but giggle at her perception of her romantic conquests or roll my eyes at her silly complaints or sigh in solidarity over her blossoming ideas about life. Then she'd casually slip in a line of how she longed to feel the sunshine on her face and I'd feel my heart squeeze in anguish as the fresh realization of whose diary I was reading washed over me again.

I hope Anne's story continues to impact our world until it comes to its end. Her voice, and the millions of voices it represents, can never be silenced. Anne once wrote, "I want to go on living even after my death!"

Oh Anne, you have.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Let's Bust a Recap : Surprise Me

"I just want you to know, you're inspiring. Fifty-nine years." I look straight at him. "Fifty-nine years, loving one person. It's something. It's an achievement."

"Love is finding one person infinitely fascinating." John seems lost in thought again—then comes to. "And so...not an achievement, my dear." He gives me a mild, kind smile. "Rather, a privilege."

The first book I read in February turned out to be this happy yellow number that I picked up at The Book Shelter last summer. I wanted something light and fun after reading Unbroken, and this was almost the ticket. While there were definitely funny elements, even a few laugh out loud moments, I wouldn't exactly categorize this one as light although it was a very quick read. 

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella was published exactly three years ago in February of 2018. Kinsella is best known for her Shopaholic series, but she also has several standalone novels as well and Surprise Me is one of them. I've seen the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic based on her books, and while it's one I enjoy, I've never felt compelled to seek out Kinsella's books. However, on one of my many shopping sprees at The Book Shelter last year, this bright yellow spine caught my eye and the premise of the story intrigued me so I brought it home. 

In Surprise Me, we are introduced to Sylvie and Dan who are celebrating 10 years together as a couple. They seemingly have it all: a happy marriage, beautiful home, healthy twin daughters, and great jobs. But after a routine visit to their doctor, they learn that with their genetics and current health trajectory they could end up living to be over 100 years old and being married another 68 years. 

So naturally, they panic.

What?!

I had a very difficult time reading the first half of this book. Setting aside the fact that these two young healthy people are distraught over the potential longevity of their lives (can you hear me rolling my eyes through the screen?), the idea that staying married to one person for multiple decades is somehow worse than a prison sentence was beyond distasteful to me. When my husband and I were dating and engaged, we dreamed of being married for 70+ years and just the thought of not making it that long distresses me. Suffice it to say, I could not connect with Sylvie and Dan who apparently never considered what "til death do us part" actually might mean.

But getting back to the book, when Sylvie hears the doctor's verdict, she immediately concocts a plan to keep their marriage fresh by implementing "Project Surprise Me" which she drags a reluctant Dan into. From unexpected (read: unwanted) gifts, to a sexy photo shoot gone horribly wrong, to both Dan and Sylvie trying to surprise each other with unique dates at the same time—disaster ensues and Sylvie begins to wonder if she ever really knew Dan at all. 

Further, when Sylvie discovers a secret phone in a locked drawer of Dan's desk and uncovers a scandal from the past she had no inkling of, Sylvie and Dan truly start to learn what being in a committed marriage actually means. 

As I mentioned before, a lot of this book was very frustrating for me to read. I wanted to force Sylvie and Dan into the same room and make them communicate with each other. And the way Sylvie completely idolized her late father even to the obvious detriment of her marriage was nearly unpalatable. I found myself wondering how in the world with all the amazing books I have in my house did I manage to choose two duds right at the outset of this year. 

But Kinsella's writing was consistent: I could hear Sylvie's voice throughout. She developed the plot fully all the way to her wholly satisfying conclusion. At the end when the same doctor informs them that he probably overestimated their life span and Sylvie and Dan suddenly feel like time has been stolen from them, I could not have been more gratified by these characters' growth and renewed commitment to one another. 

All in all, this is not a book I would recommend and it will also be going to the Little Free Library with The Oysterville Sewing Circle because I will not be reading it again, but thankfully, I didn't feel like it was a complete waste of my time and I'm not sad I read it. 

Just before I wrap this up: were you wondering about my starting unread number for 2021? I mentioned in last week's recap that I had counted up my unread books and I would share my starting number for the year with you today. Well, that number is......drumroll please.......508. Five. Hundred. Eight. Here's some fun math for you: if I read about 30 of my own unread books per year, that's seventeen years worth of material. Oy. We'll see if we can't get that down some by the end of the year.

I hope you had a fabulous Valentine's Day and were able to share it with someone you love this past weekend. What are your thoughts on long marriages? 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Let's Bust a Recap : The Oysterville Sewing Circle

Hello, all! We're just marching on through 2021 and already into February. I feel like we have a few things to catch up on around here. First of all, I deleted my Instagram account. I know, I know: the horror! I've had a love/hate relationship with the Instagram from the start and at the end of 2020, I decided I was done with it. So for you faithful few who are reading this without a little Insta-prompt: thanks for sticking around. (And here's a friendly reminder that if you want my posts to come straight to your Inbox, you can pop your e-mail address into that little box over to the right.)

Secondly, if you caught my loosey-goosey 2021 book list post, you'll know that I'm free-birding my way through my reading life this year and that my big goal is to black out the Unread Shelf Bingo Card. That means I need to read 25 of my own unread books. As part of this project, I decided to finally take a stab at rounding up all my unread books and figuring out how many I have hanging around. 

Anyone want to take a guess at what my number might be? It's embarrassing really. Actually, now that I think of it, I'm going to leave you hanging on that until next week's recap. *insert my most evil laugh here* Now you have to come back! (But if you're absolutely dying to know, you can find me over on Goodreads and browse "my unread shelf" to see what we're working with.)

Anyway, to get back to what I was saying about this year's reading goal, I should really be reading at least two of my unread books each month to keep ticking along at a nice pace. So how did January go, you ask? Well, I read three books (yay!), but only one was from my unread shelf (*shrugs*), and it just so happens that The Oysterville Sewing Circle was that one.

The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs was actually just published in August of 2019, and I picked it up off a cart of free books outside a library in Germany. I had just finished Rilla of Ingleside and was planning to head right into Unbroken but needed a little break in between WWI and WWII, and this little mass market paperback caught my eye. The book itself was pretty with this sort of ombré-style artwork and the title was just quirky enough to pique my interest. After reading the back, I thought it might be just the light, quick read I needed so I claimed it and immediately dove in.

And it was a flop. 

Sure, I read it quickly so it wasn't a big investment of my time, but even the time I did spend reading it turned out to be a waste. From just the first few pages, I could tell I was not going to love this one, but once I start a book I cannot quit, y'all. Our protagonist is Caroline Shelby, an aspiring fashion designer who has been slugging it out in glamorous NYC for the last 10 years trying to make a name for herself. At the beginning of the story, we find her crawling back to her tiny hometown of Oysterville, Washington with her tail tucked between her legs and two orphaned kids in tow. The kids, we find out later, are the progeny of one of Caroline's supermodel friends who died in Caroline's apartment of a drug overdose. 

By the way, consider this your spoiler alert because I just really don't care.

Through the course of the novel, Caroline ends up starting a thriving group for survivors of domestic abuse, designs her own fashion line, creates her own business which becomes instantly successful on the internet, reconnects with her two best friends Will and Sierra who are married to each other, supports Sierra through her divorce with Will, adopts the two kids after a nasty custody battle with their surprise father who, by the way, was her famous ex-boss that stole her designs and ruined all her prospects back in New York, and finally marrying Will—yes Will, her recently divorced best friend's husband. 

All this in just 415 pages! Seem like a lot?

That's because it is. And it comes together in such a jumbled, ridiculous mess of poor writing that you just have to laugh. Apparently, Susan Wiggs is a very successful, award winning author of over 50 novels. And I'm not here to bag on her. This is the first (and only) novel of hers I've ever read. Perhaps her other books are wonderful. But this one is not. It's scattered, shoddy, and there is absolutely no meaningful development at all. If Wiggs had chosen any one aspect of her plot to hone in on (or actually fleshed out the whole story in what would easily have turned into a saga well over a thousand pages long), she could have had a great story. Instead, it seemed like every idea that came into her head while writing got crammed into this plot and then she sent it off to her publisher and sat back down to crank out the next one.

Undocumented immigrant kids orphaned in a mysterious and probably violent way? Sure.

No name fashion designer hopeful gets shafted by a big name style icon but goes on to create a successful online company in under a year? Put it in there.

Not even 30 year old woman raised by two stable, loving parents and has never had a long-term relationship, much less an abusive one, begins a support group for survivors of domestic abuse and a roomful of battered women show up on Night One? It's the height of the #metoo movement, this is definitely going in.

Awkward love triangle with not just a married guy—the married guy of protagonist's best friend? Do it.

Wait, can we make the jerk ex-boss the kids' surprise father who shows up to claim them as part of his nasty vendetta against our just-trying-to-do-the-right-thing protagonist? Why the heck not!

And I'm just trying to hit the big points here. I mean, can you see how laughable this is? 

On top of everything, the writing just isn't good. I'd be afraid to tally how many times the word "totally" was used—which is totally okay for the teenage flashbacks but doesn't work at all for the adults. All the dialogue is painfully stilted and unnatural. And the book is littered with casual sex, casual divorce, casual drinking, drug use, and profanity, even a secret casual abortion—it was just off-putting.

I did enjoy the protagonist's flashbacks to her childhood in Oysterville. The author's description of small town life and the Oysterville community were lovely and made me want to take a vacation there. But those small sections could not make up for what was otherwise a very poorly written book. This is not an author I'll be trying out again, and my copy of The Oysterville Sewing Circle will be going to the Little Free Library downtown. 

Harsh start for our 2021 recaps, eh? Hopefully we can only go up from here!

What did you read in January? Have you ever read anything by Susan Wiggs? And don't forget to take a guess at how many unread books are floating around my house!

Friday, January 1, 2021

2021 Book List

A new year always feels like a blank slate, doesn't it? And that's the approach I've decided to take with my 2021 book list. After all the upheaval last year (isn't it nice to refer to 2020 in the past tense?), I've decided that this is the year to let my whims guide me in my reading life. 
I've put together a teeny, tiny skeleton of a list to keep me on track with some of my major reading goals—like reading a biography of every president of the United States and reading the complete works of Shakespeare—but besides that, I plan to read whatever I want, whenever I want.

So here's the skeleton list:

Awake My Heart : J. Sidlow Baxter
Martin Van Buren and the American Political System : Donald B. Cole
Old Tippecanoe : Freeman Cleaves
President without a Party: The Life of John Tyler : Christopher J. Leahy
The Comedy of Errors : William Shakespeare
Troilus and Cressida : William Shakespeare

A 365-day devotional, three presidential bios, one Shakespearean comedy, and one Shakespearean tragedy.

Right now, the possibilities seem endless to me. I have so many unread books on my shelves. My biggest reading goal this year is to black out The Unread Shelf 2021 Bingo Card. I mentioned Whitney's Unread Shelf Project in my year-end post yesterday, but to get into some more specifics: for the last few years, Whitney has been hosting The Unread Shelf Project in which she creates a monthly prompt to help people tackle the unread books they own. This year, she has created an additional twelve prompts for people that want to double up and has also put together all 24 prompts (with a free space) into this fun bingo card. I participated in both of Whitney's Unread Book Bingo games last year which was so fun, but this year I'm looking forward to blacking out the whole card. Among the piles of books and authors I may read this year, The Penderwicks series, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, P.G. Wodehouse, Dorothy L. Sayers, Eudora Welty, and Elizabeth Gaskell are at the top of my list. 

But I'm not limiting myself to my unread books. If I decide to re-read the entire Christy Miller series start to finish, I'm doing it. If I feel like a visit to Narnia is in order, to Narnia I will go. 

All in all, I'm excited to see where my reading takes me this year, and I hope you'll follow along. Feel free to let me know what some of your 2021 goals are—reading or otherwise. Here's to a bright new year!

Happy New Year!