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As stated in our last post - Mysteries That Saved My Sanity - 2022 life has taken on a challenging bent for me, challenges which are briefly outlined in that post, so I won't repeat them here. And, when due to these items, I can't quite summon the energy for the great books we review, Netflix comedy specials (hello Taylor Tomlinson, Michael Che, John Mulaney and others) have come into play.
How does this train of thought help book lovers? Please stay with me here ... these shows made me very, very open to Kari Meutcchof's (of the Yankee Bookshop) recommendation to read anything by Jenny Lawson during Episode Five of Shelf Help. Shelf Help being our new podcast developed with and starring the fabulous owners of three indie bookstores - Yankee Bookshop, Still North Books & Bar, and the Norwich Bookstore - where we answer questions from listeners about what books they need to read next.
So today, the Book Jam reviews one of Kari's Episode Five recommendations and one other book we somehow found along the way. Both brilliantly manage to be laugh-out-loud funny and deal frankly with important topics (e.g., BLM, depression). We hope they help you laugh and think too. ~ Lisa Christie
Broken (in the best possible way) by Jenny Lawson (2021). In honor of May's National Mental Health Month, Shelf Help's Episode Five featured books highlighting mental health issues. In Episode Five, Yankee's Kari Meutcchof mentioned Broken (in the best possible way) and described it so well it stuck with me. Thus, weeks later, on a recent road trip to help my parents move into assisted living, I listened, laughed, cried, and then laughed until I cried as Lawson narrated her thoughts about life in general, and then very specifically spoke honestly and descriptively about her mental illness (i.e., anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts) in a way only my good friend Kate manages in my real life through her work with Wafflenugget. Lawson's chapter on the difficulties navigating health insurance is so astute we passed it along to professors from the Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science because laughter is the best medicine, or at least gets your attention in new ways, and it might help these doctors help us. Normally, I would recommend starting with Lawson's first memoir so you know her life from the beginning; however, I believe Broken stands alone and can help us all deal with how the world feels right now. Thus, new fans can start with Broken, and existing fans discovering Broken will be thrilled to find Lawson navigating in blunt detail what her depression feels like and how her life has been upended over and over again as she survives, thrives, and embraces being broken. Both existing and new fans will be thrilled with Victor's continued support and humorous asides as Lawson navigates her difficulties head on (may we all be blessed enough to find our Victors). Broken offers laughter, hope, honesty, and very realistic relationship advice when we may all need it most. Please pick this up to read, or better yet, listen as she narrates her own thoughts so you can feel what it must be like to be in her very complicated head. (And thank you Lisa Cadow for in your day job; serving as a therapist to so many people in need of help is inspiring.) ~ Lisa Christie
Please Don't Sit On My Bed in Your Outside Clothes by Phoebe Robinson (2022). In her latest memoir, Robinson, of 2 Dope Queens, shares humorous stories and heartrending tales, some of which may inspire rage and possibly action. She tackles white guilt, white activists, allyship, and what it’s like to be a woman who doesn’t want kids when all straight, cis women are supposed to. She, in a very different way than Jenny Lawson (as described above), discusses how taking care of one’s mental health, which she clearly labels as currently being marketed as “self-care", requires a LOT of disposable money. I hope someone with an ability to affect change is listening to these astute women. Great to read it or listen to as Robinson narrates it herself. ~ Lisa Christie
Mysteries That Saved My Sanity
Admittedly "Mysteries That Saved My Sanity" is a rather lofty title; and I am certain many, including my teenaged sons, feel strongly that my sanity has not been saved. And, 2022 has been an extremely challenging year for me thus far. As Queen Elizabeth might say, it has been an "annus horribilis" (hers was 1992 - maybe there is something to beware of in years ending in two); I'm weary and wary and we haven't even gotten half way through it. There have been personal and family health scares, adjusting to kids growing up and out of the house, moving parents into memory care facilities (huge thank you to my sister Kathleen), as well as an unexpected (but definitely not conscious) uncoupling. And then there's what is happening in the Ukraine, with our national politics, with gas prices, the global economy, our climate, in our neighborhoods plagued by gun violence, in our mental health challenged post covid lockdowns existence, and with families who have lost loved ones to covid/cancer/insert tragedy here. I completely recognize those much larger tragedies out there and truly mourn for all that is happening to everyone of late; I also remain truly grateful for all I still have. And yet, as my friend, the author KJ Dell'Antonia - look for her latest book, In Her Boots on July 5th - has commented, I appear to be living under very, very, messy and misaligned stars.
As I navigate my new normal in terms of health, kids, and personal relationships, my attention span has contracted. My ability to dive into intricate novels is nonexistent (big sigh). Luckily, mysteries have saved me. Perhaps it is their ability to have a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying conclusion. Perhaps it is because my lovely friends who are trying to help me cope with the above list of 2022 challenges keep giving me great mysteries to devour. Perhaps it is that they are just plain fun. Whatever the reason, I'd like to share the mysteries that have saved my sanity these past six months (again my kids probably would dispute this assessment), in the hopes they may help others who are struggling with their own demons as we pull out of pandemic lockdowns and masking mandates; and with the knowledge they may entertain the rest of you who are thankfully finding 2022 just delightful. ~ Lisa Christie
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (2020). I avoided this book for years because too many people raved about it. I just assumed there was no way it could be as good as people stated. Luckily a good friend (thank you Deb) dropped it off for me when my long awaited trip to London was aborted due to the inconvenient fact I contracted covid just two days before departure. I couldn't read it then as my disappointment and symptoms made concentrating difficult, However another severe personal set back recently had me reeling and this book saved my sanity for the moment (as stated above it has been a very challenging 2022). Anyway, this book and its foursome of retired folks, living in what must be the best retirement village ever, charmed the socks right off me. The Thursday Murder Club of the title started as a group working old murder cases culled from the files of club founder and former police officer Penny, who's currently comatose. The four remaining members include Elizabeth holder of an unspecified job (MI6?); Joyce, a former nurse; retired psychiatrist Ibrahim, and former politician Ron. When the cold cases are replaced by a double murder right outside their village, the club springs into action, charming two local police officers into assisting them - or at least into appreciating their meddlesome ways. Mr. Osman is an English television personality and comedian and knows how to craft a tale that pulls you in and keeps you there for the duration. Enjoy this from any lounge chair you happen to find yourself in this summer. You will not regret it. In a fun coincidence, Lisa Cadow also read and enjoyed this during a very dreary late March/early April in New England.
The Drowning Sea: a Maggie D'Arcy Mystery by Sarah Stewart Taylor (out June 21, 2022 - preorder now). Luckily for mystery fans, Maggie D'Arcy is back - this time, unemployed and in Ireland to figure out whether her renewed romance with a beau from decades earlier can withstand close contact, trying to help her daughter Lilly deal with the trauma of Lilly's father's recent death, and trying to figure out what is next for her own career. Happily for readers, she's in West Cork as she ponders all these items. It's gorgeous, and a vacation, and life is good until a body or two washes ashore. The development of an old manor home, migrant laborers from the European mainland, and old versus new money clashes seem to be at the center of the deaths and some other things Maggie can't resist investigating. Think of this novel as a chance to spend quality time in an amazing Irish village with characters you'd love to have as neighbors (or who at least would make your life more interesting). This is a perfect book for a comfy chair and some tea, or a porch, or a beach, or a plane, or to keep you company while waiting for an appointment, or when needing some travel inspiration or ... Thank you Sarah for being an amazingly steadfast friend, as well as a talented author.
The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray (2022). KJ (see above) reviewed this in one of her newsletters and graciously agreed to pass it along to me when I asked her to share. If KJ's review hadn't enticed me, the back cover's description of Jane Austen meets Agatha Christie would have. This was just perfect (although I still have about 100 pages to complete, I'm assuming they will hold up). This novel features a house party, many of Jane Austen's characters, a murdered Mr. Wickham (relax, it's in the title so I didn't spoil anything), and plenty of suspects. Claudia Gray is the pseudonym of YA author Amy Vincent; based on this I may have to pick up her other works.
The Missing Piece: Dismas Hardy #19 by John Lescroart (2022). The 19th book in this series does not disappoint. I read these as much for the opportunity to live in San Francisco again as I do for the time spent with the fabulous characters Mr. Lescroart has created -- Dismas Hardy, lawyer with a heart of gold and a complicated past, former SF head of homicide Abe Glitsky, Hardy's law partner Wes Farrell, and their respective romantic partners. In this one, the aging protagonists are a bit more cynical and questioning of their career choices as they face a case from their past lives and as questions of guilt, innocence, and appropriate punishment abound. Recommended for anyone who has ever loved San Francisco; you can buy it just for the tour. I must thank the aforementioned estranged husband for putting this on our "for the moment still joint" ebook account.
Run Rose Run by Dolly Parton & James Patterson (2022). Yes I normally avoid books by celebrities; no idea why. I just do. But, this was Dolly. So, I read this during my bout with covid. It was perfect; it entertained and had a lot of Dolly thrown in. And it got me out of my doldrums. The plot is simple - Rose is running towards a future as a country music star. With the help from a glittery established star with fake lashes nails and hair (sound familiar?) she just might make it before her complicated past catches up to her. The book reads like the movie it will inevitably become. Until it hits a big screen, read as an escape - nothing more and nothing less. In doing so, learn a bit about how music is made in Nashville, especially the important role studio musicians play - the ones who will never be big stars but whose skills are essential to the success of every star in town. Huge thank you Jane who dropped this off for me as I was indulging in a wallop of self-pity to not be London bound.
The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley (2022). Jess is broke and broken and needs a new chance at life. She turns to her half brother Ben who didn't really say yes to her suggestion she crash with him for a bit, but he didn't say no. She arrives at his stellar Paris apartment from England only to find him missing. His neighbors are by turn helpful and suspects. Each day brings less clarity about what happened to Ben and what Jess needs to do with her life. Enjoy the eccentric characters in this building, the time in Paris, and the unexpected aspects of the plot. As The Library Journal said in their review, "Another well-paced, suspenseful locked-room mystery with shifting points of view.” Thank you Jen for having a trip to Paris so I had an excuse to read this and then pass it along to you to enjoy while strolling France with your son.
The Maid: A Novel by Nita Prose (2022). I just downloaded this from our beloved Norwich Public Library's Libby site as an audiobook. I can not wait to immerse myself in it as I walk the dog, clean the house, and purge a ton of unwanted baggage. While I can not yet recommend this as I have not yet read it; I trust the booksellers who do love it. I can also recommend you explore your local library's free audiobook resources if you have not yet already; I think you will be pleased with what you find. Thank you Lucinda and Lisa and ... for running such a great resource for those of us here in Norwich.