mcpolish book list: year 11

15 Nov

Well, Interweb friends, we’ve come to the end of RY2017, and reviewing the list of books I’ve read this year, I can say it’s been a good reading year.

Well, let’s face it. Any year that I read is a good reading year.

Don’t be alarmed that partway through this list my ambition to give you a quick, three-point review fell by the wayside. Life, it turns out, is very tiring, and sometimes you just need to let some things go in order for your head to not explode. And sometimes, that thing is explaining what you liked about a book, rather than just tacking on a recommended asterisk. And sometimes sometimes, that thing is also ensuring that your coat is buttoned properly, and you haven’t skipped a button thus throwing off the alignment of your coat and bewildering you for hours as to why your coat suddenly doesn’t fit.

Look at me! Growing! Learning! Being an adult and shit!

Anyway, here you go, reader friends. Perhaps you’ll pick up one of these paperbacks/hardbacks/ebooks, and if you do, won’t you share what you think? And if you have any recommendations from your own reading lists, you know who to send them to.*

*Me. You should send your recommendations to me. 

Books completed between November 10, 2016 and November 9, 2017

So as not to get too wordy, I’m taking the same approach as I do with my movie lists, and giving you three sentences or less about each of these books.**  You’re welcome.

**And then, as you’ll see, eventually three sentences just got to be too much. So we’re back to the * denoting those books I recommend, no explanation of why or how. I’M A MYSTERY LIKE THAT. AND LAZY.

  • My One and Only*–Kristan Higgins (1. Turns out I like Kristan Higgins’ standalones as much as I like her series! 2. I like the Cape Cod setting, and now want a cottage there. 3. I’m not so sure I like Harper and Nick together, I feel like he still has some growing to do.)
  • If You Only Knew*–Kristan Higgins (1. Not quite as romance-y as her other books, and I liked that about it. 2. Definitely a good, fast read. 3. I wanted to slap some sense into the married sister, but in the end I really liked her.)
  • Foreign Affairs–Alison Lurie (1. This book won a Pulitzer in 1984 for fiction. 2. I don’t really know why. 3. It was a nice book, but I didn’t find it enthralling by any means.)
  • Four Friends–Robyn Carr (1. I think this may have been a departure from Carr’s romance novels into more of women’s fiction. 2. I didn’t like it as much as I liked Virgin River. 3. For some reason this reminded me of the show Designing Women, and I have no idea why.)
  • Someday, Someday, Maybe*–Lauren Graham (1. Did you know Lauren Graham wrote a book? 2. I couldn’t help but read the main character’s voice in Lorelei Gilmore’s voice. 3. I want there to be a sequel to this book so we can see how her acting career turns out.)
  • Radio Girls*–Sarah-Jane Stratford (1. This is a time period [the 1920s/1930s] that I’ve really enjoyed reading about lately. 2. I totally looked up to see what about this story was fact, and what was fiction. 3. Lesbians! and Gays! in high society in the 20s and 30s!)
  • The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend*–Katarina Bivald (1. I didn’t want this book to end. 2. I didn’t want this book to end. 3. I didn’t want this book to end.)
  • Unfinished Business–Nora Roberts (1. It’s amazing when you read a romance novel that is well written vs. one that is horribly written, and Nora Roberts is that difference (in that she writes romance well, particularly given how prolific she is). 2. I love reading romance novels from Back in the Day, as it’s always a bit jarring to realize we’re talking about a pre-smartphone, pre-Interwebs era. 3. The main characters are just soooooo overwrought and dramatic.)
  • Eligible*–Curtis Sittenfeld (1.This is the first book by Sittenfeld that I’ve actually enjoyed. 2. I’ve never read Pride & Prejudice, but do I really need to, as this seems to be the exact same thing just with emails and planes rather than carriages and letters? 3. Why Liz Bennet doesn’t just throw her sisters and her mother off a cliff I don’t know.)
  • The Inn at Rose Harbor–Debbie Macomber (1. Was this the first book Macomber ever wrote? Because it reads like it. 2. Surprisingly, I got to the end of this and realized it’s the first book in a series and yet had no desire to read the subsequent books. 3. The writing lacks style.)
  • The Interestings–Meg Wolitzer* (1. Gad, I just love Meg Wolitzer’s writing style. Dense and beautiful and engaging. 2. Jules’ character never really grows up, does she? She kind of stays an annoying, emotionally stunted teenager well into her 50s. 3. Ash is annoying. And so is her brother.)
  • Staying at Daisy’s–Jill Mansell* (1. I wasn’t expecting much, since I picked this up as part of a 99 cents box set from Book Bub, and was happily surprised at how much I enjoyed it. 2. This makes me want to move to the English countryside. 3. Egads there are a lot of plotlines going on in this story.)
  • Millie’s Fling–Jill Mansell* (1. Ah, Cornwall. How I wish to visit thee. 2. I particularly like how Orla Hart’s storyline ends. 3. Again with the other romances/narratives taking more of a prominent role than the one that’s top-billed.)
  • An Offer You Can’t Refuse–Jill Mansell* (1. Strange–or not–that the Lola/Dougie narrative seems to take a backseat to every other plot in this book. 2. This seems to be a regular thing of Mansell’s books. 3. It’s a light, fun read so I don’t much care about which narrative does what, to be honest.)
  • The Unexpected Consequences of Love–Jill Mansell* (1. Sophie’s story, while billed as the main story, really comes across as secondary to the rest of the characters. 2. Wow, they really gloss over some major trauma, and yet, I’m perfectly okay with that. 3. I want to go live in this seaside village, it sounds so quaint and uncomplicated[ish].)
  • Lola’s Secret–Monica McInerney (1. This may be the first MM book that I really did not so much care for. 2. It’s been a loooong time since I read The Alphabet Sisters, and thus, I couldn’t keep Carrie and Bett straight, and honestly, didn’t really try. 3. I’m bothered by the fact that the storyline of the young girl whose parents always fought didn’t have an outcome that was as happy as possible for the situation, given that’s how the other storylines of hotel guests turned out.)
  • Fast Girl: Running from Madness–Suzy Favor Hamilton*
  • Today Will Be Different–Maria Semple*
  • The Woman Who Stole My Life–Marian Keyes* (This read almost like two separate stories to me. Odd.)
  • Vintage–Susan Gloss
  • The Expats–Chris Pavone(RECOMMENDED I GUESS BUT OH MY GOD THE THING THE HUSBAND DOES WHERE HE TICKLES THE WIFE’S PALM WITH HIS FINGER TO INDICATE HE WANTS SEX TOTALLY MAKES ME WANT TO PUNCH SOMEONE IN THE FACE AND THROW THIS BOOK ACROSS THE ROOM AND THEN INTO A SHREDDER BECAUSE WHEN SOMEONE DOES THAT THE SENSATION IS SO FUCKING GROSS LIKE WHEN SOMEONE TICKLES YOUR ELBOW. PLUS TICKLES IS A HORRIBLE WORD IN GENERAL. TICKLER IS ALSO A FUCKING UNFORGIVABLE WORD.)
  • Lizzie Pepper: Movie Star–Hilary Liftin*
  • The House at Pooh Corner–AA Milne* (I read this to Baby McSwedolish, but we read the whole thing so that counts, right? I’m counting it.)
  • The Hypnotist’s Love Story–Liane Moriarty*
  • Until There Was You–Kristan Higgins*
  • Dream A Little Dream–Susan Elizabeth Phillips* (I think I actually read this book last year, but I don’t see it on the list, so I’m just adding it here. See? This is what I get when I don’t record these books as I complete them.)
  • Maine–J. Courtney Sullivan* (1. Sad. Everyone in this book is just a bit of a sad sack. Good characters, but all of them, tinged with sadness that makes me sad for them that they can’t be happy. 2. None of these women strike me as particularly strong, and I found that frustrating. 3 Despite the first two points, I did enjoy the book, and it’s got great writing style.)
  • The Cinderella Deal–Jennifer Crusie*
  • The Cornish Guest House–Emma Burstall
  • Summer of Love–Katie Fforde
  • Trade Me–Courtney Milan
  • Big Little Lies–Liane Moriarty*
  • Hillbilly Elegy–JD Vance*
  • Meet Me at Beachcomber Bay–Jill Mansell*
  • In Farleigh Field–Rhys Bowen* (Slightly darker than her usual books. Is this the beginning of a new series? If I have a vote it is YES PLEASE.)
  • Cruising Attitude–Heather Poole*  
  • On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service–Rhys Bowen* (Latest in the Royal Spyness series. I know I thought these were kind of silly when I first started reading them, but now I love them and I can’t get enough of these books! I get so sad when they end because I have to wait for like, a whole year for the next one. Sigh.)
  • Some Girls: My Life in a Harem–Jillian Lauren*
  • The Fifth Letter–Nicola Moriarty* (Yes, she is the younger sister of Liane Moriarty)
  • Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery–Jenny Colgan*
  • The Travelers–Chris Pavone* (I liked this one way better then Ex Pats)
  • The Cafe By the Sea–Jenny Colgan*
  • Lucky Us–Amy Bloom*
  • The Royal Treatment–Melanie Summers

 

*Recommended

 

 

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on freak outs, animals and otherwise

8 Nov

One thing I was not expecting when we moved was how hard the animals would freak the fuck out.

I knew the move would be an adjustment for them, particularly for the cats, as everyone says* that cats are attached to places, while dogs are attached to people. But what I did not know is that in our first two weeks of living in our new Animal House in Zoolandia (our affectionate nickname for our new town) I would wake up more than a few times with all three animals in bed with Swede and me. The dog, yes—she sleeps with us every night.** But the cats have never—and I mean never—slept in bed.***

The first night I woke up and thought that Swede had piled a couple thick pillows and blankets on my legs. He’s never done this before, and I don’t predict that he ever will in the future, so why this was my first thought I can’t really say except that these things make sense when it’s 2 am and you try to turn over except you can’t because your legs are pinned down by pillows and blankets. Except it’s not pillows and blankets, it’s a large cat, draped over your legs. I managed to free my legs and roll over, only to nearly roll out of the bed in fright, because as I rolled over something jumped off the side of the bed, right at head level.

A ghost? The essence of the previous owner spiriting away after coming to check on us to see how we liked the house?

No, just Lady Gaga Halloween Cat, who had stationed herself near my head to…I don’t know that I’d call it sleep, as I don’t think she actually sleeps. Maybe go into a trance would be a better description. And when I rolled over I must have snapped her out of said trance because she went flying off the bed and into the shadows of the room to hid and most likely further plot her outline for world domination.

On night four, I woke up at approximately 3 am, and reached up to move the pillow that I thought was pressing against the top of my head, and again nearly fell out of bed in fright. This time it was the Fat Cat, who—and this is probably the weirdest thing he’s ever done****–had stationed himself above my head, and was resting a single paw on the top of my noggin. There is little that is as disconcerting to wake up in the middle of the night and feel something furry attached to the top of your head, Interwebers. Believe you me.

And the dog, well, she’s still adjusting to All the Wildlife that she can now see when she positions herself on the couch to stare out the front window. The dastardly birds, the bastard squirrels, and don’t even get her started on the Other Dogs in the neighborhood who deign to walk down her street. This all, of course, when she’s not busy running between the living room at the front of the house and the bedroom at the back of the house, crying, because Swede and I are in separate rooms, and how is she supposed to protect us if we’re in separate rooooooooms?

I’m not sure if there’s anything I can do to help the beasts settle into their new home, besides give them time. Time will help, yes? Yes, let’s hope so. Because we can’t go back to the condo, it’s sold and out of our hands. The good news is that they’re already showing signs of settling in. The Fat Cat, for one, has taken to exploring the basement (and then getting stuck down there when we shut the door). The dog only races between rooms in mild anxiety, rather than full-tilt. Lady Gaga Halloween Cat—

Well, whatever. We all make progress in our own ways, on our own time.

20170925_132812

So irritated that we moved them. They just…ugh. They just can’t believe our audacity. 

*I don’t really know who this everyone is. But I heard one person say this one time and it made sense to me.

**Terrible idea, BTW, letting dogs sleep in bed with you. This one in particular because she’s a bed hog, pillow hog, and snores like a g-d Mack truck right in your face.

***Apparently they used to, before Swede’s life had meaning, ie, before he and I started dating. But then here I come along, Jerky McJerkerson who’s allergic to cats and effectively kicked them out of bed. This is a big reason why, for the first four years of Swede’s courtship of me, I’m positive the cats were secretly campaigning to overthrow me as girlfriend and get back one of Swede’s previous love interests, whom I’m told were much more cat-friendly.

****And that’s saying something, considering this is the cat who regularly will sprint out of the room for no apparent reason, and yell—yell—at visitors when they come in the front door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dear buyer, i’m just wondering

19 Oct

Two weeks ago the sale on our bootbox of a condo was finalized, and I’d be lying if I said that since then I didn’t have a few anxiety-ridden, hand-flapping moments of oh holy fuck, maybe we made the wrong decision how on earth could we have sold a place where so much life happened for us and eeeeeeeeeeeennnggggggonlydogscanhearmypanicnow.

But in my heart I know selling the condo was the right decision on so many levels, the top of which is that we Needed. More. Space. The mental sanity of my child depended on it. The mental sanity of my main squeeze depended on it. My own mental sanity depended on it. As wonderful as the bootbox of a condo was to us for the past four years, it was time to go. It was time to go, and it was time to let go, and it was time to let the condo be a place for someone else to make memories of happy times and sad times and angry times and sexy times and drunk times and bored times and frustrated times and dreaming times and humble times and worried times and righteous times and crying times and laughing times.

Yet I can’t help but think about the new owner, and I wonder how she’s settling in.

I wonder if she pours a Very Large (no judging) glass of wine at the end of the day, and sits on the balcony watching the sky fade from twilight to dark, which is never actually too dark because the streetlights pop on, illuminating Michigan Avenue, casting people in shadows as they walk down the street.

I wonder if the smell of grilled meats that twirls through the neighborhood makes her reconsider her dinner plans, and say Fuck This Noise, I Am Not Cooking Tonight, Yay, Margaritas, and turn off the stove and dash through traffic to the Mexican restaurant across the street.

I wonder if she keeps her windows open at night, so the sound of the garbage trucks banging through the alley at the barest break of dawn wakes her up on the regular, to the point she wonders why she even sets an alarm.

I wonder if she is happy.

I wonder if, on the first morning she woke up in her new condo, she tried to have a Maria von Trapp moment as she stepped out onto the balcony, arms spread wide and ready to greet the city, but forgot that the screen door was closed, put her foot through it, and then had to duct tape over the hole so the cat wouldn’t try and use it as a cat door, except he was too fat to fit through it and got stuck.

I wonder if she is full to bursting with ideas for her life in this new neighborhood, this new part of the city she’s living in, a complete unknown except maybe it’s close to her work, so, bonus for that.

I wonder if she’s adopted a big baby of a pitbull.

I wonder how many times she’s thought to herself, Oh, fuck me, there are only two closets in this place.

I wonder, while unpacking, how fast it took her to say, “In my next home, the first thing on my wish list is more space.”

I wonder if she’s finished unpacking.

I wonder if she drops the F bomb a lot.

I wonder if buying this condo is just the first of several decisions she will make that will alter the course of her life in ways she can’t even begin to imagine.
I wonder if she’s noticed I only gave the tub a cursory scrubbing before we left.

I wonder if she will have a good life there.

Because that’s my greatest wish for her, and any owner who may come after her, that that little bootbox of a condo be a home, for however long that may be.

things i’ve been meaning to tell you: october 2017

11 Oct

ONE: I have some terrible news.

Remember how I was gloating over my awesomeness of keeping a whole one New Years Goal? That I was making ice cream like a champ, and hadn’t missed a month because I’m totally awesome and an ice cream rock star?

I didn’t make a new ice cream flavor in September.

I KNOW. I FEEL THE HORROR, TOO.

Sure, September was a shitshow of a month, and packed to the gills with our anniversary, Baby McSwedolish’s first birthday, buying a house, selling a house, moving, and driving to Baltimore for a friend’s wedding, all of these things taking place within two weeks of each other.

But that’s no excuse! Because what about those first two weeks of September? Where the hell was I then? I couldn’t have whipped up a quick batch of something to stay on track? I’ve failed you, Interwebs. And even worse, I’ve failed myself.

I may never recover.

Meanwhile, I’m taking suggestions for a flavor to make for October. And don’t you dare say anything involving pumpkin.

TWO: I went to my 20-year high school reunion last weekend. That merits a post of its own, one that I may actually get to at some point. But for now, I’ll just say that it was in all honesty a very good evening, and I truly enjoyed talking to my former classmates. Way more than I generally enjoyed talking to them in high school. Not that I didn’t enjoy talking to them in high school (I generally did, I think? Hard to say, high school was 20 years ago, my friends, and I can’t even remember if I brushed my hair this morning*), but you add 20 years to a person’s life, and they’re bound to be more interesting now than they were then out of the sheer increase in number of days on this planet.

THREE: Have you seen the show Finding Your Roots on PBS? I caught it the other night, and it’s fascinating. I’ve learned all sorts of things about random celebrities, for example, Fred Armisen is not a quarter Japanese, he’s actually a quarter Korean, and there’s an entire museum in Tokyo dedicated to his grandfather. (Why in Tokyo and not in Seoul, I’m not really sure. I may or may not have tuned out for part of the show.)

It’s this exact sort of randomness that I love about PBS, you guys. Seriously. I can’t get enough. PBS is amazing.

FOUR: Since we moved** into a home that has more than one bedroom, Baby McSwedolish now sleeps in his own room.

And it’s terrible.

Not for him, of course, but for me, because every time he whines or cries in his sleep (which he does with surprising frequency. What, exactly, is he crying about in his dreams? He’s a baby. The worst thing in his life is a full diaper or not being allowed to poke the dog in the eye.) it’s amplified by the video monitor that sits on Swede’s nightstand. It used to sit on my nightstand, but that wasn’t working out very well, as I’d lie in bed and stare at it at 2 o’clock in the morning, which, in case you didn’t know, is not conducive to sleeping well. So now it’s out of my reach but it’s still loud when he cries, and my heart breaks even though he seems entirely unbothered by it because he doesn’t even wake up and sweet Mother of God, I should probably just turn the volume on the monitor down for the love of all that his holy and decent and accept the fact that my baby is growing up and clearly doesn’t need me anymore. 

I may need a nap.

 

*Chances are slim.

**More on that later.

 

 

photo friday: state and monroe

11 Aug

20170803_163605_Burst01Monroe and State.

State and Monroe.

An underground picture to complement the above-ground picture I snapped oh so many years ago.

things i’ve been meaning to tell you: august 2017

10 Aug

One: Have you ever noticed that the women on the storytelling shows on NPR all sound the same? I’m sure that they’re all different people, and not just one woman who has lived a thousand lives and has the stories to show it. At least I’m pretty sure.

They all have a mildly self-deprecating tone when they share their stories, as if they’re not sure they should be telling a story, even though they think they should be telling a story, and their voices always have just a bit of scratch to them, as if they’re getting over a cold. And when they laugh it’s never an outright laugh, but more of a held-in, half-laugh-is-the-audience-laughing? kind of laugh. Their creaking-door voices and half-chuckles all blend together to my ears, I cannot tell them apart.

I don’t know if the same holds true about the male storytellers. I don’t know that I’ve heard enough of them on storytelling shows, to be honest. But I’ll keep my ears open.

Two: As I’ve expressed to one and all, I love the Great British Bake Off. Love it. I was talking with a colleague recently, who said she thought it was kind of cheesy, and that the drama over the baking was a bit silly. Which kind of befuddled me, because you guys, that drama is baking itself! Baking is Dramatic! Especially in a tent!

But I realized something: what makes the GBBO so alluring and enthralling is it speaks to my perfectionist side. (And yes, I have a perfectionist side.) (It’s not my best side, to be honest.) (Which drives its perfectionist self absolutely nuts.) To enjoy baking, or even just watching the baking process, you have to have at least a sliver of perfectionism in you. It’s too precise a process not to. And that’s why the natural drama of baking plays out so well on this show for its bakers and fans alike. (You don’t need manufactured drama. All you need is the nail-biting moments of contestants crouched in front of their ovens, counting seconds that could make or break their bake.) If you don’t have a bit of perfectionism in you, or if you don’t allow it to show its face and shake your hand every once in awhile, then I can understand why it all might seem silly. I don’t agree, but I can understand.

Three: During Amazon Prime days in July, I scored a Kindle Fire for $30, because my old, regular kindle crapped out on me after four years. I didn’t particularly want a Fire, because let’s be honest, the last thing I or the world needs is another device that links me to the distraction that is the Interwebs, but I did particularly want to not pay a lot of dough. And a regular, just-for-reading Kindle was like, $100.

ANYWAY, along with my Fire came a renewed subscription to the Washington Post—because this is a Jeff Bezos world and we’re just living in it. I had, for reasons unbeknownst to me, let my WaPo digital subscription lapse, and now, with this renewed access, I’m remembering how absolutely wonderful this newspaper is, and how much I absolutely adore reading their food section, particularly their Free Range On Food weekly live chats.

Their food section and staff are inspiring! And it makes me nostalgic for cooking dinner for myself, my friends, and eventually my Swede in my little apartment on Connecticut Avenue, with its two inches of counter space. And simultaneously makes me appreciate my current kitchen, with is six inches of counter space and a dishwasher.

Four: There’s a sign at my library underneath the directory that reads simply, Welcome Home.

Nailed it.

Thank you, sign designer.

 

photo friday: on the southside

4 Aug

Well south of Chicago’s Loop, past Soldier Field, past McCormick Place, the lakefront trail stretches out for miles. The crowds of bikers and hikers and rollerbladers (there seems to be a resurgence lately!) thin considerably, and if you know where to look, you find an unpaved nature trail that leads to some amazing, almost-untouched views of Lake Michigan, making you realize for certain that it’s not just good, it really is a Great Lake. Lakefront Trail