Salutations May 2021

I love May. It’s the best dirty-fingernail time of the year when I get to plant my veggies and flowers amidst a curtain of green in every shade imaginable. And in May, I always am certain I’ll be able to control my garden this year. I’ll keep the weeds down, guide my perennials to stay where they were put, tend, nurture, and tidy the annuals, and… Okay. Probably not. I know myself. Love to plant, hate to weed, can’t bear to pull up a plant that’s going to flower even if grows where it shouldn’t or – yikes – could be a weed.

Truth is, my garden is already out of control. The kale that went to seed last year has sprouted where it wants. Deep rooted weeds – morning glory, wild onions, and that feathery fernlike thing I don’t know the name of – are already winning, resisting my meager efforts to thwart them.

And you know what? I can’t care. Veggies will still produce abundance beyond what we’ll be able to consume. I’ll still get joy from the blooms of annual and perennial flowers wherever they decide to grow. And I’ll marvel at and feel inspired to emulate the resilience of all my plants, weeds included. May. It’s a wonderful time to savor sun and anticipate easy living and lots of reading. I haven’t used it yet, but the hammock has been hung on one deck, a new shade umbrella purchased for the other. Bring on those beach reads!

Some of this month’s reading did have beachy-tones, some more suited to pulling up the covers. Just like May. A blend of spring, summer, and fall. A reading diet that includes meat and potatoes as well as candy. Just the way I like it! What do you think about my reading choices this month.

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This was a remarkable book. Eye-opening in so many ways. Olivia is a typical American – naive about the terror experienced in far too many parts of the world. Delan is a Kurd from northern Iraq. In a quest to know, to fully understand Delan, Olivia accompanies him home for a cousin’s wedding and learns a lot more than she ever bargained for. The time precedes Saddam Hussein, but the country is as brutal as one imagines his regime, particularly toward the Kurds. A kidnapping, a home invasion, rapes, murders. All in the space of a few weeks. No longer can Olivia or anyone who reads this book be complacent about the privilege of living without constant fear. It’s stunning to imagine how so many people survive unrelenting terror. This isn’t an easy book, but it’s an important one. And it is told beautifully. Well worth the effort!

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Have I mentioned I love my book clubs? Things You Save in a Fire was one club’s May choice. I read it over a weekend, and by the following Wednesday, I’d finished all the other Katherine Center e-books available at my library. And I’ll keep my eye out for more!

Things You Save in a Fire follows a woman firefighter and EMT from a big city where she’s accepted to a small department whose male crew is less than enthused to have her with them. Cassie is tough – so tough she’s walled off her heart to pain and therefore love, pouring herself into being the best, most fit, most able firefighter in the department. Still, she’s challenged and we doubt she’ll make the grade. Good story with lots of heart, healing, and learning to knock down walls that save us from the riskiest thing of all – love.

What You Wish For is set in the most appealing elementary school you could ever imagine. For that and the struggles to keep the school welcoming and engaging for students when a new and frosty administrator arrives, it’s a good read for anyone who has anything to do with education. Throw in the au currant need for increased security, a need to heal from trauma, and our school librarian’s recurring epilepsy, and you’ve got another heartwarming story. I liked it a lot.

Of these three Katherine Center books, I liked The Lost Husband the least. But since I liked the first two so well, that doesn’t mean this one didn’t have lots of appeal. A husband dies, a widow and her two kids move to a Texas Hill Country farm to help an aunt run her farm. Goats, garden, kooky neighbors, and handsome if hairy, farm manager – who has time to wallow? A good read!

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This was a sweet if somewhat preachy read. I liked the town a lot. It’s a place where divorced women return with their kids and consequently, the mayor and police chief are women. They’re behind the scenes too. Everyone acknowledges that members of the Quilting Circle run the town. It’s a town where kindness is valued, people look out for one another and feel lucky to live there even if it is in Nebraska. Except the richest guy in town has been talking about opening a Walmart and decimating downtown shops. Horrors! Enter a mysterious stranger and that’s where it got preachy for my taste. Despite the stranger’s repeated assertion that he isn’t spouting religion, it sounds a lot like religion. Over and over again. There’s a lot of healing and good will in the story, but I could have done with less of the stranger’s philosophy.

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I’ve long been a fan of Elinor Lipman and this book is just as smart, different, and fun as everything else of hers I’ve read. Lipman is the queen of quirk – in the situations she writes as well as her characters. Our protagonist here is high-school student Frederica who has always lived on a small women’s college campus with her dorm advisor parents who are as involved in the faculty union as they are teaching classes and tending students. They pride themselves on telling Frederica everything. Except surprise! her father was married before. When we meet Laura Lee, we immediately know why Dad chose to divorce her. She’s a calamity with the judgment of a flea. But skilled at worming her way into close proximity to her ex, creating unholy messes wherever she goes. Still, full credit to Lipman, Laura Lee is not a character we love to hate. We certainly hope she doesn’t move next door, and we get fully exasperated with the predicaments she causes. But we manage to conjure sympathy for her nonetheless. It’s an engrossing, endearing, and funny ride. Classic Lipman!

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Oh boy, here’s another tale that put housework on the back burner. (As if that’s not where housework lives.) Friends Frank and Siobbahn recommended The Bestseller to me well over a year ago, but it didn’t make it to the top of the stack till I found it on Libby. (What a Godsend Libby has been this long year!) I wish I’d listened sooner! What a story! More than anything, this book made me deeply grateful for today’s ease of self-publishing. Because if Goldsmith’s view of traditional publishing, albeit twenty or more years ago, is accurate – and it sure reads like truth – then that world is a snake pit I want no part of! What a circus! Good writers struggling to get noticed, bad writers vying for bestseller status, publishers with their own agendas and axes to grind, oy! And so much insider information. At least it reads like insider info to one on the outside. There are useful insights for a writer – what makes a story work, the exhausting work of promoting a book even when traditionally published, what to never get sucked into! And terrific quotes about writing and publishing. Thank you Frank and Siobbahn. Next time, I’ll hunt down any book you recommend!

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Housework, gardening, pretty much everything other than reading took another hit here. I won’t let myself read another Kristan Higgins book unless and until I have NOTHING else to do. This one was more clearly in the romance genre than others I’ve read by Higgins and therefore fluffier. But appealing characters I’d like to know, settings on Martha’s Vineyard, Glacier National Park, New York, and a road trip across the northern great plains, and a well-written romance made this book great fun. What more do we need?

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Bring on the candy! Kinsella is reliable candy for me – appealing characters, train wreck attempts at establishing relationships, funny situations, and a satisfying ending where everybody grows. Here our protagonists both need a kick in the butt. Not to get together because that happens easily as a holiday fling. They both want to make it work when they return to real life, but each is blocked – Ava by her inability to stick to any purposeful work and Matt in a career he never wanted. They both deny their blocks and try to live with the other’s until resentment boils over. As one might expect, in anger, every frustration is revealed. Voila, the kick in the butt! It’s a fun read, especially apt for a summer hammock.

And that’s my ‘have read’ list for May, though it’s likely I’ll finish another dandy story before the day and month is out. Stay tuned to hear about a very unusual road trip next month along with my usual eclectic collection.

Finally, lest you think all I do is read, I thought I’d share this arty-farty pic I couldn’t resist taking on my first kayak paddle of the year. I rarely paddle in May since my pretty little boat affords only an eighth-inch of mahogany plywood between still chilly water and my bottom. So brrr. But a perfect warm day made me care not at all about a potentially cold tush. The gentlest breeze, few others on the lake, it was a great first paddle of 2021 and the start of a resolve to do more of what I love in the weeks ahead. Our lake is gorgeously picturesque so expect more arty-farty pics to come!

Meanwhile, what are the best books you’ve read in May?

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