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We Are Not Ourselves

We Are Not Ourselves
Matthew Thomas

Eileen Tumulty is the only child of alcoholic Irish parents, growing up in New York in the 50s and 60s. She dreams of reaching an upper-middle class respectability, having a comfortable suburban life.
Eileen feels that her key to that life is to marry the right man.  But she falls in love with Ed Leary. It doesn’t take too many years before she realizes his dream for the future is different than hers.  In time, Eileen and Ed manage to have a son, Connell. Eileen transfers many of her hopes for the future onto her son. But while she hunts for houses in respectable suburbs, her huband grows more and more resistant and withdrawn.
Eileen has to face the fact that life- and her choices- have led her to a very different place than the future she dreamed of as a young girl.

The story of We Are Not Ourselves is nothing new, but the characters are drawn with an incredible insight thst makes the book irresistible. This is a book that you stay up late to read, and wake up early to read- but every so often, you have to pause, and just let the words sink in. This is a book that spans generations and lifetimes, but no words are wasted. Every song, every literary reference, every house has been crafted by the author as part of the story.

We Are Not Ourselves is a story of family, of dreams, and of love- in all its many forms. It easily leapt onto my Top 10 list for this year. I believe we will be talking about Matthew  Thomas and his brilliant writing for years to come.

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Psalm 23

I grew up with a theology that divided people into 3 parts: body, soul and spirit. The spirit could be redeemed,  but the soul and body were suspect at best.
However, I believe in a God that created ALL of me- all my senses, all my feelings- and intended that to be a source of wholeness, not shame. With that mindset, I’ve recently re-evaluated Psalm 23.

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” No denial of physical and emotional needs, but a shepherd who meets all of them.
“He makes me to lie down in green pastures” signifying being fed, and comfort.
“He leads me beside still waters” most of us have at one time or another drank brakish, warm,  unsatisfying water. But this is not where the Lord leads us. He takes us to the cool waters that quench our thirsts- thirsts for comfort,  beauty, music, art, etc.
“He restores my soul” (I’ll come back to this)
“Tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil” for me the biggest enemy of fulfillment and expression has been fear.
“For you are with me, your rod and staff comfort me” I grew up hearing how a rod and staff were tools of discipline, and limitation. But this verse is talking about comfort. Soothing. The safety of knowing someone is looking out for you.
“You prepare a table before me In the presence of my enemies” look anyone can pull bread and fish from a knapsack. But this is a table. Its a feast, even a party. Its food that’s not only nutritious but satisfying to body and soul.
“You anoint my head with oil” biblical anointing oil was soft on the skin and also smelled good (due to additions of myrhh and such.) It was also applied with a hand. We’re not talking about just dumping oil on someone here. We’re talking about touch, physical contact (in a completely non-sexual, healing way)
“My cup runs over” well,  we already have cool water, and its a feast so… this is probably wine.  (If you’d rather it not be, also ok) Wine tastes good, looks good, and makes you feel good. Its also a symbol of joy, and abundance.
“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me” mercy for my human failings. But goodness in the form of comfort to my soul and body: cool refeshing water, anointing, food that is also a feast, a cup overflowing with joy…
“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” this, THIS is where I chose to dwell. Where all my  God-given senses are acknowledged. Where my needs- physicial, spiritual and emotional- are valued, and met.
” HE RESTORES MY SOUL.” Not just my spirit,  or the spirtual part of me. But my senses, my body, my soul. The part that loves good food, bright colors, certain comforting things, and yes, an overflowing cup. He restores my soul.

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Prince of Fools

Prince of Fools
(The Red Queens War: Book One)
Mark Lawrence

When an author writes a trilogy as good as Lawrence’s Broken Empire books, its easy to be skeptical about a new series. Can he do it again, with a new character and a different story? For Mark Lawrence, the answer is, “absolutely, yes.”

Prince of Fools opens in the same world as Lawrence’s previous books, in a different spot on the map and perhaps a different time (its not immediately clear, altho it becomes clear latet.) Jalan is the third son of the Red Queen’s third son. He shirks what little responsibility he does have in favor of gambling and whoring. He has some repute has the Hero of the Aral Pass (although that had more to do with luck than skill or heroism.) Jalan is a brat- a charming, spoiled brat. He is also broke, as his gambling has outpaced his income.
When Snorri ver Snagason shows up before the queen with tales of the undead rising, Jalan pays little attention. He is more interested in gambling on the Norseman in the fighting pits. Things don’t work out as Jalan hoped, tho.
In the wake of a tragic fire, Jalan and Snorri find themselves magically bound to one another. Jalan’s magic is light and fire, while Snorri’s is cold and black. Neither of them can go far from the other. Jalan finds himself reluctantly joining Snorri’s quest to return home to the North, to rescue his family and get revenge on the undead.
Along the way, Jalan and Snorri fight against both the living and the undead. They spend interminable days on foot, on horseback or on a ship. They spend their nights, when they’re lucky, in disreputable taverns. Jalan learns about Snorri’s past and the things that drive his quest. He also learns more about the magic that binds their paths.

There are certain things in Prince of Fools that Lawrence fans will recognize and enjoy. The clever, snarky writing is there from the book’s opening lines. The whole mythos (the general map, languages, religions, etc) is familar, too. While Prince of Fools may take place in a familiar world- and maybe even mention a few familiar names- its a whole new story, written in an entirely different tone.
Jalan and Jorg are both very anti-heroes, but they are very very different. Jorg was an outright bastard, driven by  immense purpose, nor caring what anyone thought and willing to kill at the slightest provocation. Jalan is a brat, almost entirely purposeless, charming, shallow, and afraid to fight.
But Lawrence got us to root for that bastard, and he gets us to root for this brat. He writes Jalan with enough humor and humanity that the reader starts to care for him. And where Jalan is weak and foolish, Snorri is strong and noble,  so a reader naturally roots for him.

Jalan may be the Prince of Fools. His story may be comprised mostly of travelling and fighting. But Mark Lawrence has written a compelling character and a non-stop story. It’s different from rhe Broken Empire books, but  -yes- its just as good. It may even be better.

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Natchez Burning

Natchez Burning, Greg Iles

Its been 5 years since Iles has published a book (and yes, I’ve read them all.) When I got my advanced copy, it was almost 800 pages. All I could think was, “Greg Iles, this better be worth it.” Well, I am here to assure you Natchez Burning was completely worth it!

In Natchez Burning, Iles returns to Natchez, Mississippi and the character of Penn Cage, defense lawyer turned mayor- familiar ground to fans of Iles’ work. Cage has only recently gotten Shadrach Johnson off his back (thanks to an incriminating photo) and is focused on his wedding to his long-time girlfriend,  Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Caitlin Masters. Cage’s world is shattered when Johnson tells him that Tom Cage, Penn’s well-respected physician father, is going to be charged with murder after helping a dying patient, Viola, end her life. Tom Cage has recently suffered a heart attack, and Penn wants to protect his family at all costs. Will he be able to exonerate his father, solve the mystery of Viola’s death, and keep his girlfriend,  daughter, and mother safe?
Local journalist Henry Sexton is closing in on the Double Eagles, a radical Klan offshot responsible for many race crimes, and rumored to be involved in the murders of Dr King and the Kennedy brothers. He has finally gotten an old, dying Double Eagle to go on the record- solving many old crimes, including one that is personal to Henry. Will he be able to publish the truth? Will it be worth it for him?
All of Penn Cage’s best laid plans are ruined when his father skips bail. Henry Sexton is attacked outside his office. The stories of Tom Cage, Viola, and the Double Eagles are deeply tangled together in history. Caitlin Masters is torn between publishing the truth and keeping her loved ones safe.
Natchez Burning answers some of the questions is raises, but leaves many more open. It’s supposed to be the first in a new Penn Cage trilogy. All I have to say is, “Greg Iles, you’d better write faster, because I can’t wait to read what happens!”
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Note: joking aside,  Greg Iles was involved in a very serious accident that delayed the publication of this book. The health of an author and their family is much more important then my entertainment. I wish him all the best.

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Pretty In Ink

Pretty In Ink
Lindsey Palmer

When Hers magazine announces they have hired Mimi as the new editor in chief, the magazine staff is understandably shaken. Over the next few months, many of them will find themselves without a job. Those who remain at the magazine will have to adapt to the new work environment. Some of the staff struggle, torn between loyalty to their old boss and coworkers, and wanting to gain Mimi’s favor. The new staff, hired by Mimi, are sometimes oblivious to the tension their presence causes.
Palmer writes this workplace drama with a light touch and humorous perspective. It is obvious that she has experience in the magazine industry and professional world. She is able to move the story forward by writing about a day here and a day there.
Pretty In Ink is narrated by Leah, Jane, Victoria, Deborah, Abby, Drew, Liz, Ed, Zoe, Erin and Laura. Each voice is interesting, but having so many makes it hard to get invested in the characters. I personally enjoyed Leah, Jane, Abby and Ed the most. Leah, Jane and Abby all had multiple chapters, so I was able to get the clearest view of them as people. Ed, as the lone male narrator, and a mailman at that, provided a fun outsiders perspective. I think the story could’ve been told just as well with only those characters as narrators, and might have been a little easier to follow.

Pretty In Ink  is a fun read. I will be recommending it for beach reading this summer! 

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You might like The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (of course) and Bond Girl by Erin Duffy. 

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Vintage

Vintage
Susan Gloss

For Violet, running her shop Hourglass Vintage is more than a job – it is the fulfillment of dreams she had as a small-town girl and abused wife. So when lease issues threaten her business, she is frantic to find a solution.
April bought her wedding dress at Hourglass Vintage, but returned it when her engagement to an upper-class boy fell apart. Now she is left pregnant and heartbroken.
Elizabeth, a mentor to both women and a patron of the arts, has the idea that the women should work together. But can they each get past their own struggles to become friends.
Amithi comes to Hourglass Vintage to sell some of her clothes from India after her long marriage falls apart. She is hoping for some kind of fulfilling career but has no idea where to start. Violet’s business gives her inspiration.
Each of the women in Vintage has her own story to tell. One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was how the women were all different ages and at different stages of love and success.
Vintage: A Novel

You might like: A Vintage Affair, Isabel Wolff. The Perfume Collector, Kathleen Tessaro. The Shoemaker’s Wife, Adriana Trigiani.

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Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening

Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening
Carol Wall

Caring for her yard and garden was never much of a priority for Carol Wall, but one day she decided she had neglected it long enough. Her neighbor had a great yard, so she hired her neighbor’s gardener, Giles Owita. Mr Owita transformed Carol’s yard, trimming trees and adding colorful flowers; but he also changed her life. His advice on plant problems grew into advice on life problems. Mr Owita and Carol became more than an employee and employer; they became friends. Their relationship grew to include Carol’s husband Dick, Mr Owita’s wife Bienta, and the Owita children.
When Carol’s cancer relapsed, the Owita’s supported and encouraged her. When Mr Owita got sick, Carol rallied her friends to help his family.

Mister Owita’s Guide To Gardening is a charming memoir. Carol Wall writes with honesty about her own needs. She has a great deal of insight into both herself and others.  I enjoyed the parallels she drew between a blossoming yard and a blooming heart.

Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening is a story about gardening, of course, but its a story about so much more. Its a story about family, faith, healing and personal growth. Most of all, its a story about the friendship between Carol and Mr Owita.

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