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Controlling what I can + “The Lying Game” by Ruth Ware

Life just keeps giving me rain hurricanes. And just when one blows itself out, here comes another one, ready to reek havoc on our shore.

And it’s impossible to control hurricanes.

In case you’ve forgotten, my mom died in March. There are a lot of stories rolling in my head about her life, true stories waiting to be changed and fictionalized, most of them having to do with the horribly tumultuous time in her life just after her mom died. I was in my late teens, knowing my mom’s pain, but unable to fathom a world where my mom was gone.

I look back and want to just pull her close, hug her fiercely from one woman to another. I didn’t realize how much harder hard times are when you don’t have your mom to call. Even if she couldn’t do anything, she could listen to my worries and talk me through the my difficult times.

Any way, there was that. We had two memorial services for her; the last one was in Colorado in early June. When that was over, I said to myself, “well, that’s all done. I’m gonna miss her everyday, but the public mourning is done. I can go on.”

But there was one more thing lingering in our family background. My husband had some digestive issues lingering: sever diverticulitis that required a resection of his intestines and bowels. Fun. A serious surgery, but one that is done quite often. The surgeon was sure he would be fine, because he’s young and strong and in good health.

All true.

He initially came through the surgery fine. Initially.

But then infection. And then more complications. So here we sit, three weeks after the initial surgery, back in the hospital and waiting. At this point, it’s been a week and a half since we came in for the infection.

This is the storm.

Right now, my life is a shuttle. I’m back and forth, between home and hospital (which, luckily, is less than three miles away). I feel guilty for not spending all day at the hospital, and guilty for not spending my evenings with my girls.

Thank goodness they’re 14 and (almost) 13 — it would be much more difficult if they were little. I’m also thankful for good friends, willing and able to jump in with food and help with the girls.

But what do you do when life starts to (feel like) it’s spinning out of control? Me, I find things to organize. Because when life feels out of control, organizing the junk drawer, or the laundry room, or our closet, gives me control of something. I guess it feels good to have a little control, even if that control won’t change a thing.

You can’t control the hurricane, but you can control how you prepare and react. You board up the windows and make sure you have food and water. You stock up on candles and lighters. You take control of what you can, and hold on while the storm rages.

And, speaking of the storms . . .

While you ride out the storm, maybe you look back at your life. Maybe you have secrets, ones that you never got around to telling your significant other.

And that can be a bit of a storm, right? Especially when the secret comes back, needing your help.

That’s kind of the premise of Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game.

All it takes is one text to get Isabel, Thea, and Fatima to leave their homes (and families) in London and head to the quiet seaside town of Salten. Three words from their old friend Kate, “I need you.”

For one year at boarding school, the four girls were inseparable. Kate, the daughter of the art teacher, gave them a home to which to escape on weekends. But something happened toward the end of that year at Salten, something that caused three of the teens to be forced out of the school, with each unsure as to what propelled that expulsion.

Kate has stayed in Salten, living in her childhood home. When a bone is found on the shore, she calls for the three people she know will come.

But none of them understand what happened when they were teens, and do not understand what dangers lurk in Salten.

I’ve become very addicted to Ruth Ware’s edgy mysteries, and The Lying Game lived up to my high expectations. I wanted to scream at Isabel (she’s the consistently unreliable narrator), and to shake all the other girls – which makes it’s incredibly unputdownable!!

If you haven’t read Ruth Ware, check her out. I reviewed In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10, with both making my recommendations list. She’s so dark and creepy, which makes her thrillers nothing but perfect.

PERFECT!

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Getting through the valleys + “Every Last Lie” by Mary Kubica

Marriage is not all wine and roses. Well — maybe the wine. But it’s not all roses.

If you’re married, you know this. Heck, if you’re in a relationship at all, you can make that deduction. Because relationships are hard work.

(FYI, this is not an essay bashing marriage or husbands or my husband or relationships in general. If  I scared you, continue on. It’s safe.)

For this post, I’m going to talk about marriage. It’s the relationship I know the best at this point in my life. But my deep and meaningful (I say this tongue-in-cheek, because these are just and only my deep thoughts) insights can describe any relationship of duration, from romantic relationships to friendships and even family relationships.

Marriage starts off as magic. From the moment two people meet, there’s a magic that comes with that new connection. You meet, you spark, you fall in love. You get married, and that marriage starts off on a high (or it should–mine did). For the first while, it’s all magic.

And then that magic – that connection – ebbs a bit, and then flows again. It’s starts off up high. On top of a mountain. The very peak of that mountain. But the air gets thin up there, and you have to come down. Sometimes it’s a slow descent, sometimes you’re on the world’s fastest pair of skis.

That’s when you hit the valley floor. Those valleys can be long and flat, much like the day-to-day of life and marriage. Or they can be small; a little valley — a big fight, after which you start the ascent to the top of the good relationship mountain (boy, isn’t that a trite little metaphor).

Or it could be just a valley, not long or short, but filled with lies and untold truths, spread throughout that valley like hidden gopher holes and dangerous old wells. That’s the time when marriage becomes an obstacle course, with traps to avoid and overcome.

I believe the valleys happen no matter what you do. I don’t know a marriage that doesn’t have ups and downs. Everything in life is ups and down, a scale trying to find the balance, achieving it in rare moments that are remembered and cherished. Those are the moments that make a marriage special.

It’s how you handle the valleys that makes your relationship. If you can weather the down times, you start back up that next mountain a little stronger, getting to the next peak together, ready to celebrate and enjoy it (at least until you get to the next valley).

And, without the valleys, we would not be able to appreciate the mountain highs quite as much.

But what would happen if your spouse died while you’re in the relationship valley? What if you didn’t realize you were caught in such a dangerous valley – because your spouse kept covering up the lies and untruths? What if he died, and you were suddenly left with those hidden gopher holes and old wells, the ones he covered up and hid?

That’s the premise of Mary Kubica’s Every Last Lie.

Clara Solberg is a happy wife. Married to a wonderful man that dotes on her, with a precocious young daughter and a newborn son. Her husband, Nick, has a dental practice that’s taking off, and her life seems good (although she could use a good night’s sleep).

On an afternoon when her new baby, Felix, is actually sleeping, Nick offers to take their daughter, Maisie, to her dance class. After class, he calls and offers to pick up Chinese food, making her feel like the luckiest woman in the world (it’s amazing how standards fall when you’re sleep deprived with a new born).

But, when the police arrive at her house rather than Nick with the food, she knows something is really wrong. Uncomprehendingly, she listens as they tell her Nick was killed in a single car crash. Surprisingly, Maisie has no injuries.

And so begins Clara’s long, dark trip. Sleep deprived and mourning, sleep becomes more elusive. When Maisie mentions a bad man, Clara decides the accident wasn’t an accident, and she needs to figure out who killed her husband.

Along the way she starts to discover all the things Nick was keeping from her. Those little lies and untruths start to pop up, causing her head to spin with dark thoughts. Wading through the sleep deprivation, the sadness, and the mystery — not to mention her mother’s Alzheimer’s and her father’s caretaking — Clara is determined to discover the truth about her husband and his death.

I really enjoyed Every Last Lie. I could feel Clara’s pain, understand her loss and descent into a kind of madness. In any other mystery, the amount of suspects and problems would overwhelm me as a reader, but it worked her. Clara’s feeling overwhelmed, making up scenarios and suspects at every turn. The fact that many of these people aren’t exactly good people helps her make them into killers, at least in her mind.

When the truth does emerge, it’s beyond her wildest (and they do get wild) imaginings.

Kubica does a fantastic job with Every Last Lie, continuing with her string of great mysteries. I think this was my favorite of her books, if only because I could imagine being Clara at one point in my life.

I highly recommend Every Last Lie. It’s the perfect vacation/beach/lakehouse/rainy day read. Incredibly unputdownable!!!

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Sweltering Heat and “The Dry” by Jane Harper

I have been HOT for awhile. Not just hot, SWELTERING. Withering. Melting.

My daughters and I drove through 6 states (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Eastern Colorado) to get to my (and my mom’s) home town for her hometown memorial service (It was wonderful and beautiful, by the way. More on all that another day). It was beautiful when we left Ohio, in the 70s. Perfect weather.

But, by the time we hit Iowa, it was inching into the high 80s. And, the next day, Colorado was in the 90’s. Our drive back saw my car thermometer hit 102 in Nebraska and Iowa.

Sun-rise-summer-hot-temperature

Two words: Air conditioner. Thank goodness for that sweet, sweet air conditioner in my car.

We got home and guess what? That which saved us in the car forsook me at home. Our home air conditioner decided not to work, or at least not fully. My saving grace was a swim meet at which my older daughter and I got to spend the night at a hotel. A nice, cool hotel. The downside of that? The pool where the meet was held was like sitting in a hot house. It was seriously swoon-worthy in the stands.

And we came home last night to sweltering heat — in our house. Finally, around 8, the heat broke and we got a downpour. Last night was cool. Today the air conditioning guys are coming to look at our unit (our house is about 18 years old and probably in need of a new one soon, but hopefully not today!).

During this sweltering heat (and sitting at a swim meet for hours), I started thinking about a book I read this past January — The Dry by Jane Harper. This book made me warm in January in Ohio, so that’s saying something.

A literary mystery, The Dry is set in rural Australia during drought and a heat wave. Everything in this book seems hot, parched, and dry. Harper set the story with such authenticity and substance, helping me really picture Kiewarra (the small farming and ranching town). The heat and lack of moisture helps create an intensity and need that makes the mystery seem all the more pressing.

In Harper’s debute novel, Federal agent Aaron Falk returns to his hometown for the funeral of his childhood best friend. That friend, Luke, was slaughtered in his home, ialong with his wife and their young son. Only their baby was allowed to live.

Falk finds himself drawn into the mystery by Luke’s parents, who ask him to get involved. But returning to Kiewarra throws Aaron right back into his long ago past and the reasons he and his father left the small town — another mystery that went unsolved.

In high school, Luke and Aaron were best friends. Luke had the charisma and good looks that brought the women into their group; first his girlfriend Gretchen, and then the bad girl Ellie, who both boys crushed on. Aaron and Ellie lived and neighboring farms, and both were motherless, so naturally were drawn to each other, although Ellie’s home life was not as stable as Aaron’s.

The end of this foursome was Ellie’s death, a drowning that seems straightforward. But Luke convinced Aaron to lie about their whereabouts. These lies aren’t natural for Aaron, and made him seem guilty. As a result, Aaron and his father are forced out of town by suspicions and threats on their lives.

When he returns, the old suspicions are aroused as he delves into the deaths of Luke and his family. The local sheriff is sure it’s a murder-suicide, although Luke’s mother doesn’t buy it. And neither does Aaron, after some digging.

There’s a lot of holes in this story, and Aaron’s emotions make him slightly inept (or so I hope). The fact that he’s drawn back to the worst time of his life, a time in which he went against his better judgment and lied, a time in which his hormones and emotions ruled his life. Add in the death and his untruths — and his teen years in the small town are jumbled.

Harper is a wonderful storyteller, creating great imagery and substantive characters. But the problems falls in that great storytelling, I guess. She creates dynamic, real people, but magnifies their flaws too much in most cases, or not enough in others. Small town group think is given to much cred; it, and everyone in town seems to hate Aaron because Ellie’s crazy family (drunks and basic ne’er-do-wells) tells them he lied. This didn’t sit right with me — Aaron and his father didn’t have much, but they were hardworking and seemed like good citizens. I didn’t understand why Ellie’s father would be believed over Aaron and his father . . .

The characters were pretty much stock characters in any mystery, and, despite the exaggerated flaws, she really gets into the heart of them. OR she doesn’t get into them at all. The cops and Aaron seem inept in some aspects, and the whole ‘investigation’ is sloppy.

Despite these holes, though, this was one of the best books I read in January (and that doesn’t mean I read bad books!). Harper has a real talent for imagery and description. I couldn’t put the book down: she drew me into Kiewarra and I didn’t want to leave until Aaron was safe. And that’s what I want in a book–to be lost in the pages and the story. I can look back and see the flaws, but at the time I was drawn in fully.

The Dry  will make you hot. And thirsty. Because Harper draws this small Australia town so well. Jane Harper is an author I will be watching.

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Memorial video for my mom

Because Facebook has policies against playing music on personal videos, I couldn’t get this to post. Please feel free to watch this on here.