Dispatches from the Distancing – Days 224-225

Well, it has been a quiet two days since my last post! The kids had Friday and will have Monday off from school and we are planning on doing as close to nothing as possible during the long weekend.

I did want to talk just a bit about what we’ve been watching on television. I’m kind of off TV at the moment–nothing is really grabbing my interest, with one exception. Our family is all in on WandaVision. I know some people are apprehensive about this, so here are some quick points about it:

  1. This is an all-in MCU series. It is not like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which was sort of on the sidelines of the MCU.
  2. Yes, you need to have watched all the Marvel movies. This is mostly because you need to have seen Endgame and to “get” that one, you need to have seen every movie that came before it.
  3. Take the time to rewatch Avengers: Age of Ultron before starting WandaVision as that will give you the necessary origin stories. I know that isn’t the best of the Marvel movies (that whole franchise improved markedly once Joss Whedon left!), but it will make understanding WandaVision much easier.
  4. Don’t expect to know what is going on until Episode 4.
  5. The first three episodes are a little tricky. They seem like they are classic comedies, but they generally aren’t overly funny. The point is not the comedy and, once you get to episode 4, you’ll realize this show is really not a comedy.

So, there you go. I highly recommend WandaVision, but I also realize you have to make the Marvel investment to understand it.

Okay, so now onto books. As usual, I’m linking up with Kathryn at Book Date for her It’s Monday…What Are You Reading? blog hop.

Last week, I finished:

This Telling by Cheryl Strayed (Kindle single)
(4 stars, no Goodreads review)

This is one of those Amazon-exclusive short stories that you can get either for your Kindle or on Audible (I believe Kristen Bell is the narrator for this, but I gave up my Audible membership for Libro several months ago, so I’m not sure). I was between library e-books and didn’t want to start anything long as my next book was supposed to come in at any time, so I opted for this as I love me some Cheryl Strayed!

This is a lovely story about a woman who gives a child up for adoption and how she deals with that in the years since. The story isn’t complex, but the beauty is in the narrator’s experience. This took me less than half an hour to read, but it was worth every second. Cheryl Strayed can capture emotion like few other authors and that is clearly on display here.

The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox (audiobook)
(2 stars; Goodreads Review)

My one realization upon finishing this book is that I probably should have DNF’d it. In fact, I would have except it was the only audiobook I had at the moment, I couldn’t find anything available on Libby, and I had almost a week until my next Libro credit.

This book was incredibly unsuccessful for me. It couldn’t decide whether it was a ghost story or a witch story. I think it tried to be both, but it was a much better ghost story than witch story. This is not so much a credit to the ghost story elements (although there were some truly creepy passages that I quite appreciated! Those were worth a star themselves!), but the witch story was just incredibly flimsy.

I think the basic idea of this book was a good one, but the big problem–even bigger than it didn’t seem to know what kind of book it was–was the main character. Don’t get me wrong, all the characters were pretty disappointing. We had 2 (figurative) mustache-twirling villains, a precocious and annoying kid sister, gossipy old women, and a very run of the mill love interest. But Lydia was, well, she was the most passive character I’ve ever encountered in a book. She did nothing but whine and let people walk all over her. Numerous times, she would come to a point where her options were to do something–ANYTHING–or sit back and whine and she almost always chose the latter. At one point, she talks about witnessing something between two other characters and she said all she could do was stand by and wring her hands–and that is the most active she was in the book! I mean, she’s a witch! C’mon!

This book really did have potential, but it fell flat on its face.

Find Me in Havana by Serena Burdick
(3.75 stars; Goodreads Review)

I normally don’t line up for mother-daughter stories, only because I’ve gotten to the point where they all just start seeming the same to me. It was the Cuban connection with this book that really sold me, even though that ended up being only a small part of the novel.

The good thing is that this booked worked better for me that most mother-daughter stories. It may have been that it was based on a true story (although I had never heard of Estelita Rodriguez and my google searches brought up precious little information beyond the basics of her life). It may also have been that Burdick doesn’t shy away from either Estelita’s or Nina’s faults. Estelita is an ambitious starlet who, despite loving her daughter, puts her career first. Nina is a moody child who lets her feelings be known. Either way, this surprised me by becoming a page turner.

I have no idea how factual this book is–as I said, not much is out there about Rodriguez’s life beyond her birth, movie roles, marriages, and deaths. But, if even one-third of what is in here is true, she and Nina had an unbelievable life together.

There are trigger warnings in this book for sexual assault, domestic assault, and drug use. Burdick respectfully does not shy away from these incidents, but I can see how reading them may be hard for some people.

I did have one problem with this book, which is probably bigger for me than it should be. Why is this structured as an epistolary novel? The chapters don’t read like letters, and aren’t letters. At first I thought Burdick used it so she could use the 2nd person and make it sound like Estelita and Nina were speaking to each other, but she wasn’t consistent with this throughout the book. This would have worked much better if she had just structured this novel as dual-narrative work and thrown out the pretense of letters.

Still, this is an entertaining and bittersweet novel…and you will be looking for Rio Bravo on your favorite streaming service once you are done.

The Getaway by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (audiobook)
(2 stars; no Goodreads review)

This was an old Audible exclusive title that has been sitting on my account–even though I no longer have an Audible account, I still have an embarrassingly long list of titles that I spent credits on (or, in this case, picked for free) that I haven’t yet listened to. As I had only a few days before my next Libro credit came through, I decided to give this one a try.

Folks, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are now on my do not read list. I know a lot of people enjoy their books and I’m glad that they bring them joy. For me, I just find them irritating and dumb. This was no exception–flat characters, unbelievable set up, predictable ending. It has all the things I hate in a thriller. Considering my past experiences with the Hendricks/Pekkanen team (a so-so read and a DNF before this), I think I just need to accept that they are not for me.

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict
(3.75 stars; Goodreads review)

A mystery about Agatha Christie, as I commented to a friend, seems very meta. But it is also very intriguing. I had heard about Christie’s disappearance before, but I didn’t remember many of the details. So, a mystery novel filling in the gaps seemed just the ticket.

Obviously, there is some fictionalization and no one knows exactly why Agatha Christie disappeared for 11 days or what happened to her during that time, but Marie Benedict presents a very plausible possible explanation.

This is more about Christie’s reclamation of herself than her disappearance, but it does read very much like a mystery. We see her become a shell of herself in her (what I would call) emotionally abusive marriage, all the while becoming a successful novelist.

This is a well-plotted novel that will keep you engaged. My only warning is that there are some spoilers for some of Agatha Christie’s novels tucked in these pages. Obviously, this book would appeal to mystery readers, but I feel like the appeal could be much wider than that and would have no qualms recommending it to readers for whom mystery is not their preferred genre.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
(2.25 stars, Goodreads review)

Okay, I know this is an unpopular opinion, but this book didn’t work for me.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some fun parts, some sad parts, and some thought provoking parts. However, those parts didn’t make up for what I thought was wrong with this book.

On a purely structural point, the pacing of this book was uneven. I almost feel like this should have been a short story, but Haig needed to come up with about 100 extra pages. Alternatively, even though this is not a long book, it seemed too long for me.

But here is the thing that ruined the whole book of me. We have a young woman who has a diagnosed mental illness (depression). She attempts suicide, goes through this weird near-death experience…and then is miraculously healed? Not only is this hard to buy, but it is incredibly irresponsible on the part of the author. It is also dangerous and unforgivable.

I know that so many people love this book, but this just isn’t one I feel I can recommend.

Last week, I started:

Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1) by Louise Penny

Hey you guys! I’m finally reading Louise Penny! I’ve had a lot of people recommend her to me, but you know who finally convinced me to give her a try? Hillary Clinton. For those of you who don’t know, Hillary Clinton (like everyone else on the planet) now has a podcast and she is a surprisingly good podcast host! Anyway, she did an episode on reading and one of her guests was Louise Penny, who is a friend of hers (Clinton loved these books so much that she decided to befriend Louise Penny. I guess you can do that when you are Hillary Clinton). The conversation that these two women had was so delightful that I realized I could hold back no longer and I needed to get on the Louise Penny boat. I’m about a quarter of the way through, but I’m really enjoying it! I’ll be adding all the others to my TBR right away!

Boundary Waters (Cork O’Connor #2) by William Kent Kruger

Okay, in fairness I haven’t started this yet, but I will this evening. I was blown away by the first Cork O’Connor book (and by WKK’s Ordinary Grace) that I knew I had to read on. There was quite a wait for the library e-book, so it took a while. But it finally came just as I was finishing The Midnight Library so I’ll be ready to snuggle into be with it tonight!

I’m still reading:

Middlemarch by George Eliot
Monument by Natasha Trethewey

13 thoughts on “Dispatches from the Distancing – Days 224-225

  1. I’ve been hearing so much about The Midnight Library. I’ll have to check it out when I have a chance. All of your books look really good. I hope you have a great week!


  2. This Telling sounds emotionally touching. I did like The Midnight Library, I felt it gave the opportunity for her to see so many experiences and how they might have panned out and that she learned from that and was therefore healed. But I see your point and suicide is always a dicey subject to explore.


  3. Well, you are the first reviewer I’ve read that didn’t care for the Midnight Library. So I guess I’d better investigate further before I decide to read it or not. I will look for the Cheryl Strayed novella/short story (?) I don’t often join this linky but I’m currently reading so many books I thought I’d give it a go this week. My Week in books


  4. I hope everyone enjoys the long weekend! And I’m loving WandaVision. I just watched episode 4 and it was nice seeing the different perspective. The whole idea of the town and the creepiness of it… love. I’m sorry to hear you didn’t love the Midnight Library. I too have heard a lot of the hype for it, but I’ll definitely think a bit more about that one before making a decision.


  5. Oh, I have heard a few other negative opinions of The Midnight Library…and some who loved it. Now I am not sure about when I’ll read it.

    But…the good news! I loved the Louise Penny book and have read the first three. Now I am eager to continue with the series.s

    Thanks for sharing!


  6. I read Still Life a while ago but wasn’t really tempted to go on with the series. I also read the first Cork O’Connor with the same result. I do hope you continue to enjoy these series. Come see my week here. Happy reading!


  7. I’m so sorry Midnight Library didn’t work for you, but Matt Haig became my favorite author after I read Reasons to Stay Alive, and Midnight’s really just a fictional take on his theme to encourage those who are depressed/suicidal to take another look at their life, I think. I so enjoyed it.

    It always frustrates me when I finish a book I’m not enjoying. At. All. I hate giving a rating under three.


  8. I hope you and your family have enjoyed your lazy long weekend.
    Thanks for the info re: Wandavision. I expect we will binge it once the season is done.

    After what seems to be a week of mediocre reads, I hope this one is better!


  9. I hope this weeks books are better – you seemed to have a few disappointing reads/audio books last week. I hate it when you get a week of disappointing books but the next week can only get better!


  10. OMG, I didn’t know Strayed had written fiction!
    So glad you have discovered Louise Penny, and the series gets better and better!
    I was hesitating about The Midnight Library, so thanks for helping me decide to take it off my TBR


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