Saturday, April 20, 2024

Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff

Keep the Memories, Lose the Stuff: Declutter, Downsize, and Move Forward with Your Life by Matt Paxton (2022) 310 pages

I have too much stuff; this kind of book always draws me in. Author Matt Paxton, who has a business emptying houses, also has a presence on television, with an A&E series called Hoarders and a show on PBS called Legacy List with Matt Paxton. He tells stories of real people he has helped, starting with his own when he was a young man tasked with cleaning out his father's and grandparents' homes. He thinks it's critical for us to tell the stories of why we have trouble letting a particular item go, and he believes that if we can tell the story of what it means to us, then it will be easier to give the item away.

In addition to the psychological aspects to decluttering or preparing to move, he also has many practical guidebook-type suggestions on how to start and what to do with the things that we're relinquishing. He also tells us what supplies and precautions we should take when physically cleaning a house. The book has a resource section at the end, along with a thorough index.

The section I need most is his section on dealing with documents and photographs. He thinks we should be able to pare away 80-90% of our photos. He also suggests using digital photo managers and making sure to back up anything that we digitize.

I liked the way the author's own story, and those of several of his clients, were woven into this helpful guide.

The Unsinkable Greta James


The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith (2022) 306 pages

Greta James has worked her way up in the music industry. She's now a well-known indie rock guitarist. But her career is at risk because just a week after her mother's sudden death a few months ago, she had an onstage meltdown that has gone viral. She hasn't gone back to perform anywhere since then, although her sophomore album is ready to be released and needs to be hyped.

Meanwhile, her father, whom she has butted heads with since she was in her teens, is set to go on a one-week Alaskan cruise that was supposed to be a 40th anniversary trip with his now-deceased wife. Greta's brother talks her into going on the cruise with their father. There are a lot of emotions that need to be addressed, and their conversations are frustrating for both of them.

When Greta meets a professor on the ship, there's a mutual attraction between them, in spite of him being quite different from anyone else she has dated. Oh, and he's not quite divorced yet, and has two young daughters. 

There's a lot that needs to be unpacked between her personal life and her professional life, but I feel that it is handled realistically.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (2012) 320 pages

Harold is retired with little to do. He and his wife, Maureen, have long ago lost their spark. One day, Harold receives a letter from a former co-worker, Queenie, who had left her job suddenly more than 20 years ago. Queenie has cancer and has written to say goodbye. Harold writes a sentence or two and goes out to mail it. but keeps passing up mailboxes to walk farther before mailing the letter. Somehow the thought arises that he should visit Queenie in her hospice, some 500 miles away, so he just keeps walking.

Once the reader can accept this idea - along with the thought that by walking (not driving), he can keep Queenie alive longer - a new purpose for Harold is set into play. He walks, he thinks, he talks to people. He calls Maureen from time to time. Maureen, by the way, is bewildered by his actions, and actually starts to think back on their relationship's origin and reassess her opinion of Harold. Harold is doing the same - for his relationships with Maureen, their son David, Harold's parents, his old boss, and Queenie.

It's a tough trip, and especially so as Harold picks up disciples along the way.

What seems to be a simple story expands, often injecting surprises. I liked it, and had to see what happened at the end.

Just for the Summer

Just for the Summer by Abby Jiminez, 418 pages

Justin and Emma suffer from the same curse: everyone they date ends up going on to meet their soulmate immediately after breaking up with them. So the pair comes up with a plan to break that curse: they should date each other for just long enough (one month, four dates total) and then break up so they can each meet their own soulmates. Except when they meet, the sparks fly and Justin in particular is determined to make this relationship last longer than required by their agreement. However, both of them have some serious baggage to deal with too: Justin's mom is headed to prison and he'll soon become the guarding of his three minor siblings, while Emma's a traveling nurse who only sticks around anywhere for three months tops (which may or may not be a holdover from her nomadic childhood with a largely negligent mother and bouncing around in foster care).

While all romance novels feature an element of unbelievability, this one features some of the most believable problematic dates, hurdles to the relationship, and solutions to problems that I've seen in quite a while. It's a fantastic slow-burn romance with an amazing cast of characters well beyond Emma and Justin. Highly recommended!


James by Percival Everett, 302 pages

In Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the titular character and runaway slave Jim travel south on the Mississippi River, encountering a series of perilous mishaps that repeatedly separate the pair. That classic of American literature is narrated by Huck, and when Huck and Jim get separated, the story naturally follows Huck.

In James, Everett retells the story from Jim's point of view. And in this book, Jim is an eloquent, educated man who plays up the stereotypical vernacular and dumbs himself down in the presence of white folks (his way of thinking is that it seems a good way to stay alive, being the dumb slave they expect). Along the way, Jim and Huck encounter many people who wish Jim harm, as well as some who claim to be anti-slavery but still refuse to treat Jim as an equal (or even someone worthy of decent treatment).

This is an excellent retelling of an American classic, bringing extra dimensions to the shared adventures with Huck and filling in the gaps where Huck and Jim are separated. While it's definitely possible to enjoy this fantastic book without reading Twain's original first (that's the boat I'm in), I have a feeling it would be even better with that book in your reading history. Either way, it's well worth a read and worthy of the many accolades that it's sure to acquire.

Friday, April 19, 2024

As the Crow Flies: A Longmire Mystery


As the Crow Flies: A Longmire Mystery by Craig Johnson  316 pp.

This is the eighth book in the Longmire Mysteries Series. After an unpleasant encounter with the new reservation Chief of Police, Lolo Long, Sheriff Walt Longmire and his best friend Henry Standing Bear are out scouting on the rez in Montana for a location for Walt's daughter's wedding after a conflict eighty-sixed previous plans. The wedding is two weeks away. While in a remote location they witness the death of a young woman who falls from the cliff at Painted Warrior. Was she pushed or did she jump? Then Walt's dog, Dog, discovers the infant child she was apparently holding when she fell. The baby is bruised but not seriously injured. They secure the area and rush the baby to the medical center. Long arrives at the center ignoring Walt's reason for being there and immediately starts causing problems. Eventually she realizes what has happened and ends up enlisting Walt's help in solving the death even though he is out of his jurisdiction. The arrival of Walt's daughter, Cady, and her mother-in-law-to-be complicates things further. After much conflict with Chief Lolo and then the FBI agents, who arrive because the death occurred on Federal land and the arrival of Walt's daughter, Cady, and a couple more deaths, the mystery is satisfactorily solved. There is so much more in this story than just the mystery and the wedding. Walt's relationship with "the Bear" and Henry's beat up truck, "Rez Dawg", add great comic relief to what would be a mostly depressing story. And the I listened to the audiobook read by the master, George Guidall.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Kamogawa Food Detecitves

The Kamogawa Food Detectives by Hisashi Kashiwai, 200 pages

On a tiny street in Kyoto, there's a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where the proprietors, a retired police detective and his daughter, make incredible food from a wide variety of cuisines. But what really pays the bills is the Kamogawa Detective Agency, in which the restauranteurs track down and make the comfort food recipes that their clients can't seem to replicate. Told in episodic format, they find everything from a beef stew served more than 50 years earlier at a vaguely remembered restaurant to family recipes created by long-dead mothers to tonkatsu made by a dying ex-husband who was also a chef. This is a supremely cozy and satisfying book, a warm hug of a novel if ever one existed, and a wonderful respite from everyday stresses. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Good Asian: 1936

The Good Asian: 1936 by Pornsak Pichetshote with art by Alexandre Tefenkgi (2023) 304 pages

Hoopla has this graphic novel split into two volumes. The bonus historical material about the Chinese Exclusion Act provides important
background. The synopsis on Goodreads sums it up well. "THE GOOD ASIAN follows Edison Hark – a haunted, self-loathing Chinese-American detective on the trail of a killer in 1936 San Francisco – in a noir mystery exploring the first generation of Americans to come of age under an immigration ban: the Chinese, as they’re besieged by rampant murders, abusive police, and a world that seemingly never changes." This has all the essential parts of a detective noir. I like a lot of the artwork. The mystery is complex with many twists and turns as Edison Hark and the other central figures remember their distant past, their recent past, changing identities, and questionable loyalties. Searching for a missing woman and turning up the trail of a killer reveals many secrets.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The House of Hidden Meanings

 The House of Hidden Meanings: A Memoir by RuPaul  256 pp.

As RuPaul says, "We are all born naked, the rest is drag." Beginning with life as a queer kid with the unusual name of RuPaul Andre Charles, growing up with problematic parents in San Diego, through his evolution into a celebrity icon RuPaul doesn't hide the reality of the wild years, the relationships gone bad, homelessness and couch surfing, and extreme substance abuse. RuPaul is his own creation that evolved over many years, surviving the AIDS crisis of the '80s while others fell around him. And then there is the drugs, so many drugs. I find it hard to believe he was able to function as a rising international star while continually using multiple substances. And yet, he did it and became a phenomenon, recognizable in and out of drag around the world. Then there is the moment of realization as his husband, George, enters rehab, that he also needed to rehabilitate himself from what, until then, he thought was just recreational drug use. Unfortunately the book ends before the creation of "RuPaul's Drag Race All-Stars" which hopefully will be in a second volume. The audiobook was read by the author. 

The Familiar

The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo, 385 pages

Luzia is a servant in the home of a spiteful (but not particularly wealthy) mistress in 16th Century Madrid. While most of the world sees Luzia as the lowest of the low (she does sleep on the floor of the pantry, after all), Luzia has a secret up her sleeve: she can perform little miracles like mending tears in fabric and un-burning the bread. When her mistress finds out, she puts Luzia's abilities on display in the hopes of climbing the social ladder. But soon, Luzia's miracles have grabbed the attention of Antonio Perez, the disgraced former secretary of King Philip. Perez puts Luzia in a perilous competition against three other so-called miracle workers, pitting them against each other under the watchful eye of the Inquistion. Complicating things further is the titular familiar, Santangel, a mysterious man who has been tasked with helping hone Luzia's talents.

I loved the character of Luzia, a woman who is intelligent, talented, and ambitious well beyond the bounds of her station. The way this book unravels keeps the reader guessing at what will happen next, and it's never clear who Luzia can trust, if anyone, as her skills and power grow. An excellent, if somewhat dark, fantasy, set against an unexpected (but somehow perfect) backdrop. Highly recommended.