Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
The story: The Gleesons and the Stanhopes are neighbors in the suburbs; both fathers are NYC cops. But the Gleesons have a full and boisterous house, while the Stanhope's home is quiet and full of tension. Something is wrong with Anne Stanhope. Everyone sees it, but her son Peter bears the bulk of his mother's strange behavior. Brian Stanhope, Peter's father, just ignores it. Peter and Kate Gleeson, the girl next door, are best friends from babyhood. As they grow into teenagers, Anne Stanhope focuses her hatred on Kate and ultimately Kate's family. An event forces the Stanhopes to move, and Kate and Peter mourn the loss of their friendship and blossoming love for years... until they meet again.
My reaction: This book was completely different than I expected, and my expectations were based entirely on the cover and the title. I thought it was going to be a fluffy beach read. SO NOT. Both the title and the cover do not match the content at all. This was an emotionally heavy book, brilliantly and beautiful written. It's full of compassion, tragedy, loss, celebration, redemption, and joy. The characters feel like people I know, so richly drawn, with love and tenderness, flaws and all. This felt like a sweeping family epic, extremely satisfying and bittersweet. Highly recommended.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
The story: This is Doyle's memoir of how she chose happiness over obligation -- how she made the choices (divorcing her husband) that would ultimately allow her to have true love with Abby Wambach. It's also a series of lectures on various topics, from parenting to marriage to technology to racism and religion. There's a lot here.
My reaction: I loved a lot of what Glennon had to say. While she doesn't have earth-shattering insights, she does express some things quite well. For example, "Brave is not asking the crowd was is brave. Brave is deciding for oneself." And "Now when I sense danger, I believe the cold and leave. When I sense joy, I believe the warm and stay." Not new, but nicely said. However, so much of this book seemed pretentious, sometimes self-righteous, and often way too idealistic. She seems to have everything figured out, especially parenting. I just kinda want to give her a pat on the back and say, "Just wait, honey." Yes, I know that is condescending, but parenting is hard, and she makes it sound like she knows exactly what makes each of her kids tick. As the late and much beloved Nanci Griffith sang, "No one ever really knows the heart of anyone else." I think what I disliked most about this book is the long monologues when she appears to be remembering directing conversations from years past, when she gave advice to people. As a fellow creative nonfiction writer, I understand that we have to construct some dialogue; however, this went on and on for pages as if she actually really said all this. It felt inauthentic at times. I skipped over a lot, but I did enjoy this for the most part. Doyle is strong and brave, and I think she is enjoying a degree of selfishness now that she will relinquish in years to come.
St. Christopher on Pluto by Nancy McKinley
The story: MK and Colleen are two women who went to Catholic school together as kids and then reconnect in their 40s. Colleen is brash and bossy, while MK just does whatever Colleen wants. The book is a collection of related stories, some with characters distantly related to MK or Colleen, some in the past and some in the present. Each story can stand on its own, but the place is the same: a dying industrial town in Pennsylvania.
My reaction: There was a lot about this collection I loved. I loved the melancholy and memory intertwined with hope. I loved the way the author immersed us in the sad, dying town — one that surely we all recognize, whether we've driven through it or watched this happen to our own small hometowns. A few of the stories just absolutely stunned me in their beauty and compassion. What I did not love about the book is that the stories were strangely and confusingly connected. I wanted them to lead into each other more gracefully or perhaps be told chronologically. Ii couldn't see the purpose to them being so out of order. I found some of the characters hard to remember from story to story, yet it seemed essential that I remember their background information. If I had been reading an actual hard copy book, I would have paged back to find a character's first reference; however, I find that too arduous to do on a Kindle. Device problems, sure, but that's my reality. I also did not really get a grasp on MK, the narrator of many of the stories. I wanted to know her story more. What happened in the years between age 12 and midlife? There seemed to be another few stories that needed to be told: her daughter, her marriage. I just wanted more. But I did enjoy this modern-day Winesburg, Ohio. Definitely worth a read.
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
The story: Everything is happening exactly as Dannie has planned. She's with the perfect man, she gets the promotion she's worked for her whole life, and the perfect man proposes in exactly the right way. And the she has a dream that seems way too real; the details are perfectly clear. It's five years in the future, and the man she's with is not her fiancé. She puts the dream out of her mind and continues on with her perfect life. She's too busy to plan a wedding, though. And then one day, five years later, she meets the man who was in her dream; he's her best friend's new boyfriend. And nothing turns out like she thought it would.
My reaction: I loved this book. I thought it was going to be a lighthearted, fluffy read, but it was not. I usually balk at this kind of premise-- the "I saw my future in a dream" sequence -- but this worked for me. I'm not saying it was a technique that had to be used to tell the story, and if I think about it too much, it seems contrived and hokey. Maybe I should say: the story worked in spite of Dannie's vision/dream. Anyway, this is a sweet and sad book, and I loved it.