Breathless, by Amy McCulloch

Cecily is famous for not making it to the summit of high mountains. She’s still a bit gobsmacked that the famous Charles McVeigh has invited her to be the only journalist on his final push to break a world record: to summit all fourteen mountains above the death-line of 8000 meters in a single year, alpine-style (no fixed lines, no supplemental oxygen, etc). There’s a catch, though. McVeigh has invited her on this trip, but she only gets the big interview after she makes it to the summit. Cecily has little confidence going into this experience, despite training hard, but she also has no other choice. Without that interview, her career is over. So even when the first fellow mountaineer dies in a freak accident before the climb even begins, and whispers of a killer on the mountain trickle through camp, Cecily must keep going.

Wow, this book was a trip. Definitely the best thriller I’ve read in quite some time! It probably helps that McCulloch has actually climbed Manaslu, the mountain this story centers on. Her real-life experience allows for incredibly realistic sensory writing, not just limited to emotion and sight/sound. The little details: condensation collecting inside the oxygen masks. The change in the color of the sky as you gain elevation. The varying and unpredictable reactions to altitude change. I don’t think the book would have been nearly so evocative without the experience behind it.

I loved that this was set up in a more traditional mystery style than with modern-day thriller tropes. From the prologue, you know – or at least there is the assumption – that the killer is a man, and as different men are introduced, they are each immediately under suspicion for one reason or another. I personally had two theories in mind from the beginning, and in a way, both ended up being right! It didn’t all come together exactly as I was expecting, though, so I wouldn’t say it was predictable. By the end, there were quite a few unanswered questions – it makes me wish I could discuss it with someone!!

One of my favorite aspects of Breathless is the respect McCulloch pays to the Sherpas and their culture. I’m no mountaineer, and while I love hiking, I have no desire to scale one of those giant Himalayan mountains. My opinion may be entire irrelevant because of this. However, I feel like the Sherpas are the true mountaineers and the true heroes of these mountains. To hear some of the things they were doing – how many times they scale the mountains; how they fix the lines and cart up ladders and even carry plush furniture up the mountain for some spoiled-rich clients! It’s just beyond imagination, and yet, they stay quietly in the background, appreciated perhaps by clients but hardly noticed by the world so fixed on the (usually white, usually male) mountaineers who plunk their flags at the summit. McCullogh spent some of the novel’s time with the Sherpas, one on one and also detailing some of their rituals, prayers, and beliefs. I loved that.

The only real downside to the book for me – and this is purely because I’m an American who was never taught the world’s measurement system – is how often I had to put the book down to do meters-to-feet conversions. Actually, funny story: When I first read the prologue, I was really surprised to hear that 8000+ meters is considered the death zone, where oxygen is so thin that your body is slowly dying the longer you stay above it. My brain automatically thought “feet” instead of “meters,” and I was thinking of all the people I know regularly climbing 14k-footers in Colorado, and how Jason and I were up around 6500 feet on one of our hikes last fall, and sure, the air was thinner than I’m used to, but surely it wasn’t that close to the death line? It took a few minutes for my brain to click. Meters, not feet. Do you know what 8000 meters converts to in feet? 26,247. That’s a LOT of climbing. Heh.

Posted in 2022, Adult, Prose | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sunday Coffee – The Paint Saga

So last week, I discussed the plans for my bathroom. In good news, my bathroom was (mostly) finished yesterday. In bad news, it took far more work and far more hotel time than expected.

Let me start by setting the scene. My original plan was to have one accent wall that was a rosy, dusty, autumn-toned orange, like in the photo below. The other walls would be a teal-ish color, so that it would be like a bright autumn sky with a burst of orange. I had a bunch of decoration in mind for the walls, but the essential bit was the one accent wall and the three blue walls, with a new tile floor that looked like a pale grey wood with reddish accents to match. The trim would stay white, the hardware (like the frame of the mirror I found, and the towel rods) would be spray-painted to match the new light fixture. Our plan was for me to be in the hotel three nights/four days – enough time to level the floor, build/paint the back wall, and lay the tile.

Then came the Paint Saga. So the above photo is what the paint was meant to look like, right? I matched the color swatch to this, and also to a towel so I had a non-light-based color to look at. Unfortunately, the store I went to did not mix the paint properly. It’s not the first time I’ve had an issue at this particular store. It’s literally a Sherwin Williams store. Paint is their specialty! You’d think that of anyone, they’d be able to mix paint properly! But this is the second time I’ve gone in with one of their own swatches and come out with a paint that looks absolutely nothing like what I chose. They got close on the teal paint – close enough that I didn’t mind that it wasn’t quite what I originally intended – but the warm rosy orange of the accent wall? Let’s just say that it looked like my bathroom was an Americana explosion, a Fourth of July room, patriotism unleashed.

That photo is after two coats of paint, because we thought maybe it would be better after a second coat. (It was worse. At least with the first coat, it looked bright orange instead of bright red.) So I went to a different store, picked out five new swatches and got sample-sized paints to try out. (In the pic below, you can see the towel that I matched the swatch to. That’s literally the color of the swatch. How did that translated to brick red in paint???) We tested the five swatches, and I chose the one I liked best. It wasn’t my original intended color, but the rosy cinnamon brown looked better with the not-quite-right blue anyway.

We had a few other problems along the way. It was no surprise to discover that the reason we’ve had two sewer gas leaks in the last two years is because the builders put the pipe hole too close to the wall, so a standard sized toilet won’t fit properly. We had to seek out a specialty toilet with a shorter-depth, taller-height tank! Then somehow, in the middle of all of this, something dropped onto the sink and punctured right through it, leaving a gaping hole in the porcelain. Long story short, I spent an extra two nights in the hotel, we had more work than originally expected on the bathroom, and yesterday, we finally finished everything** that we’re going to do for now.

I love the way it looks! I can’t wait to start thinking about decor!

**We do still need to paint the ceiling, which has both nicotine staining from the previous occupant plus some burn marks on the ceiling above the old light fixture. But we decided to hold off a few weeks on that one!

Posted in Personal | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Yerba Buena, by Nina LaCour

From GoodReads: When Sara Foster runs away from home at sixteen, she leaves behind not only the losses that have shattered her world but the girl she once was, capable of trust and intimacy. Years later, in Los Angeles, she is a sought-after bartender, renowned as much for her brilliant cocktails as for the mystery that clings to her. Across the city, Emilie Dubois is in a holding pattern. In her seventh year and fifth major as an undergraduate, she yearns for the beauty and community her Creole grandparents cultivated but is unable to commit. On a whim, she takes a job arranging flowers at the glamorous restaurant Yerba Buena and embarks on an affair with the married owner.

When Sara catches sight of Emilie one morning at Yerba Buena, their connection is immediate. But the damage both women carry, and the choices they have made, pulls them apart again and again. When Sara’s old life catches up to her, upending everything she thought she wanted just as Emilie has finally gained her own sense of purpose, they must decide if their love is more powerful than their pasts.

I’ve loved LaCour’s writing in the past, and I was interested to see what she could do with her adult debut. In many ways, she succeeded. This is a combination slice-of-life, second coming of age, and love story. Many of the elements were beautiful, and the really horrifically ugly ones weren’t at all glossed over. (Note: Please check trigger warnings posted at the bottom of this review.) Both Sara and Emilie have led different kinds of tough lives, ones riddled with drugs, personal loss, and family troubles. As far as love goes, things were never going to be easy for these two women, who come from very different backgrounds socially, ethnically, and situationally. And LaCour doesn’t make it easy. She doesn’t make it guaranteed, either. I liked that a lot.

The only part of the book that felt off to me was that there was a lot of meandering that didn’t seem to lead anywhere. Long periods of time would pass between events, and life would happen, but nothing would really happen. You know, as life is like in reality. But in fiction, if you’re going to describe the non-events that are part of time passing, it feels like they need to be moving the story along, not just in there for no reason. And a lot of the meandering, especially after Sara and Emilie met, felt like it could have been edited out of the book without detriment. Part of it, I’m sure, was to get across that feel of Emilie’s pointless wandering before she reaches a better idea of what she wants and finds inner purpose, but even that kind of pointless wandering needs to move the story forward, and instead, those sections felt a bit stagnated.

Still, I appreciated that LaCour didn’t take this down the road that I’ve seen other books – especially by male authors – that have the “meet and get pulled apart many times” trope and use the bits in between to debase the characters when they’re apart. I do love that Sara and Emilie have these complicated and traumatic pasts, and that they are both trying to deal with them, even if they must be pushed into doing so. It was a thoughtfully written book with beautiful prose, and other than a few sections that felt like they didn’t really need to be there, I thoroughly loved Yerba Buena.

TW: addiction, drug use, death of loved ones, prostitution and statutory rape

Posted in 2022, Adult, Prose | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Wellness Wednesday – Strength

Last week at the doctor’s office, there was an older woman, maybe in her 70s, sitting in the waiting room. She had an average-thin build, not bony, and from what I saw, seemed mobile, sharp, and relatively healthy.

This woman was called back before me. She started to stand, got a few inches up, then fell back into the chair. As she pushed herself up again, this time using her arms, she grumbled loudly about how ridiculous this was, seemingly embarrassed by her situation. The incident only lasted a few seconds – the woman propelled herself up the second time before anyone had time to help her – and she walked back into the medical area. Other than the failure to make it up that first time, she gave no appearance of needing assistance of any kind.

Years back, I read an article that discussed the correlation between grip strength and longevity. It said that in older folks, grip strength was the biggest predictor of health and lifespan, because grip strength was a good indicator of overall muscle mass/strength. We lose muscle as we age, especially after age 50, and the more deterioration, the more likely we become to experience aging perils like falls. There’s more to the studies than just this, but the general gist is that more muscle/strength equals longer life and better quality of life.

Not a shocking or surprising statement by any stretch of the imagination, of course. We all know that building muscle is good, losing muscle is bad. And this is where diet culture comes in, because again as we know, weight-cycling, yo-yo dieting, and rapid weight loss is a recipe for major muscle loss. Muscle drop leads to a drop in metabolism, which leads to easier weight gain and the need for a more severe calorie deficit to lose weight, which causes further muscle loss…and the cycle continues.

Thankfully, I’ve managed to retain a large muscle mass as my weight has fluctuated over the years, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t lost any. As I go through my 40s and move toward my 50s, that’s only going to get worse – unless I take action. Here’s the thing, though. I hate lifting weights. I didn’t used to, but I’ve realized that I only like strength-training in a group setting. Otherwise, I get soooooo bored. So I know that I need to either find a group to work with, or a not-boring program that incorporates strength work. Or both.

I don’t want to end up in a place where it’s hard for me to get out of a chair. Already, my autoimmune disorders cause inflammatory flairs that limit mobility, and I get so frustrated when that means that I can’t do simple movements. I don’t want muscle-loss to add to that, either age-related or diet-related. I’d rather be fat and strong than thin and brittle.

Anyone have any suggestions?

Posted in Wellness | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Sunday Coffee – the vacation that isn’t a vacation

Back in Feb 2021, there were so many problems going on with our house that Jason took a week off of work so we could try to get as many done as possible. Then he took a second week off a couple months later for the same reason. He had all this extra vacation time built up because the pandemic canceled all the actual vacations, and since only a single vacation has worked out in the last two years, he STILL has tons of time off built up. A house-issue cropped up this week, and he decided to take off this upcoming week to deal with it.

The situation: Back in Aug 2020, our master bathroom toilet began leaking sewer gas because the connection from toilet to ground had degraded. We replaced the toilet and the connection rings etc, but the new toilet never sat properly because either the tile or the ground under the tile was uneven. I’ve limped this along for almost two years now, but it began leaking sewer gas again a week ago, and no there’s no help for it. In order to get the toilet working properly, we need to rip out the tile, which means ripping off the baseboards, which means repairing parts of the walls…and we decided that with the exception of the tub/shower, we’re just going to fix up the bathroom properly.

(photo from Feb 2021 – the right photo is just about the same as we’re starting)

This means replacing the light fixture that currently runs so hot that there are burn marks in the ceiling. It means patching and painting walls. It means running new wiring. It means ripping up and fixing the floor before we put down new tile. It means pulling the toilet, counters, cabinets, and sink out from the bathroom and leaving it bare as we get it all fixed.

It means I won’t have a bathroom for at least a few days.

Maybe that’s not a problem for most people. You can just use the other house bathroom. Well, for one, the main bathroom in the house is frankly awful. It’s small, cramped, and rarely clean due to the use by two teenage boys. Even clean, it’s wired weirdly, dark, and difficult to use. Secondly, I use the bathroom multiple times in the night – I have diagnosed polyuria – and trying to find my way to the main bathroom without tripping over one of seven cats while also trying to keep them out of my bedroom is just not going to happen.  So I’ve checked into a hotel for the nights that I won’t have bathroom access. It’ll be like May last year, when I needed a vacation so badly that I spent a few nights in a hotel, a situation that ended up being far worse than I expected and very disappointing overall. Hopefully this year’s hotel experience will be better!!

And honestly, other than the sleeping part, I probably won’t spend much time at the hotel. I’ll be helping with the bathroom whenever I can. I’ll also be taking care of the foster kittens, and possibly catching some new** foster kittens. So the hotel just needs to be good enough for the nights.

I do hope this doesn’t end up taking more than a week. We have a few things planned, and the week after that, Jason’s parents will be coming down so that they’ll be here for Laurence’s graduation. I’d like to have a better bathroom situation by then!!

**Shai and Hulud’s three siblings, who are now old enough to be separated from their mom and socialized so they can be adopted out into good homes.

Posted in Personal | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Hacienda, by Isabel Cañas

When Rodolfo Solórzano proposes to Beatriz, she jumps at the opportunity to help her family out of their current poverty and dependance on hateful relatives. She travels with her new husband to his country estate with plans to make it a refuge for herself and her mother. Only something in very wrong with this hacienda. Soon Beatriz is left alone to fight the darkness, whether that darkness is in her own mind, or exuding from the walls and rafters of her new home.

As you might have guessed from the description, this is a retelling of Rebecca, set just after the war for Mexican independence. Only in this tale, Rodolfo’s second wife isn’t haunted by the psychological phantom of her predecessor. Oh, no. In this book, evil takes physical form. Curses and ghosts and rot come alive, and they are capable of physical harm. As are the other inhabitants of the hacienda, because not everyone is happy to find that their employer has brought home a new wife to command them.

Add into the mix a conflicted priest who tries to balance his Catholic teachings with his inborn witchcraft, an entire history of family skeletons, and a society stratified by racial castes, and you have one hell of a book! To make it even better, the language is incredibly poetic, and I have to give credit to any author who can casually toss in some of my favorite (but rarely used) words with ease: crepuscular, susurration, hubristic…

Full disclosure: It took me a few chapters to find the rhythm of the writing and thereby connect into the story. I’m not sure why I’m like this, but if I can’t hear the words and rhythm as I read, I struggle to comprehend what I’m reading. Cañas’ writing style was different than I’m used to, but once I fell into the rhythm, I adored it. I was also delighted to see how often native and Spanish phrases/words were used, how they were integrated seamlessly into the prose. (It drives me mad, for example, that the title of this book is The Hacienda, rather than La Hacienda, but maybe that’s just because I grew up in south TX…) Altogether, the complexities of the poetic language and word choice made for such a rich read even apart from the story itself, and the language and story complemented each other so well.

I adored this book. It exceeded my expectations, and my only quibble was an incredibly tiny thing. The word “slick” was used so often, especially in the phrase “slicked [my/his/her] palms” that by the end, I never wanted to hear the word again. Heh. But that’s such a little thing and absolutely did not detract from the overall experience. I highly, highly recommend that y’all check this one out, and if you’re a reader who participates in the RIP reading event, this would be an absolutely perfect choice for it!

Posted in 2022, Adult, Prose | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wellness Wednesday – Medical Catchup

This post will be long and is primarily for my own benefit of keeping all this info in one place as I have WAY too much going on medically right now. Feel free to skip this.

Continue reading

Posted in Wellness | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Day of Irony

I wrote yesterday about my ambivalence toward Mother’s Day – my ongoing troubled relationship with motherhood, not to mention the strained relationship I’ve had with my mom since her bout with covid, and then there’s that whole canceled vacation thing, etc. This was also going to be the last Mother’s Day I spent with my kids living at home – unless there are surprises, of course – so I tried to make the best of it. We had Plans. Only this is how our day went.

We went out for brunch at a place that I’ve wanted to go back to for over two years, only to find that the wait was 2.5 hours long at the place I wanted to go, which would conflict with our next event scheduled for 3 hrs from then. So instead, we went home and just had a late breakfast at home. Jason made some scones with clotted cream, and I had gluten-full, dairy-full deliciousness knowing that I would likely not feel great over the next few days, but f-ck it.

In early afternoon, we had an escape room scheduled. The place we went to back in 2019 (also for Mother’s Day) closed down during the pandemic, so we’d found another location close to us and chose their hardest room. An evil witch had stolen four people and captured their souls, turning them into voodoo dolls, complete with every awful cringy stereotype you can imagine. Heh. It was silly and way over the top, but that part I didn’t mind. The part that was disappointing was that for their “hardest” room, there were very few puzzles to solve. Most of it was overly simplified – more manual labor tasks than brain work. I think the boys enjoyed a lot of it, though.

After a brief interlude home to feed the kittens, we went out to a mid-afternoon lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant that we really like. Then we came home and had a lazy afternoon until Jason and the boys left to see a movie. (Maybe this seems weird, but them giving me a few hours of quiet time was actually perfect.) I did some photography work (below) and watched crappy SVU reruns and talked with each of my parents. This last part is when the irony of the day comes full circle.

My youngest son has accepted his place at the University of New Brunswick this fall. Jason and I, not considering that Canadian schools might start their semester at a different time than American universities, rescheduled our Alaskan vacation we were meant to be starting yesterday to early September. By then, Ambrose would be done with basic training and off to wherever he goes next, and Laurence would have gone up to Canada in mid-August for school. Ha. Ha. Ha. While I was on the phone with my dad, he asked me when Laurence’s semester started. I didn’t know, so I looked it up…only to find out that it starts smack in the middle of our scheduled vacation.

OMFG.

What is this, like the sixth time we’ve had to cancel and reschedule?? Is this vacation ever going to happen? Literally we’d just booked our flight and hotel the day before, and now we need to cancel everything again. I’m not even sure we’re going to rebook at this point. I’m just…tired.

Posted in Personal | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Sunday Coffee – Mother’s Day

It’s a strange day. I’m meant to be on a plane to Seattle today, before sailing for Alaska tomorrow, two years and multiple postponements later. Except that I’m not, and this trip is now rescheduled for several months out, again, and today is just another day.

Mother’s Day is complicated for me, because as it turned out, I’m not a big fan of being a parent. I love my kids, but I don’t love motherhood. I always thought that would change one day, maybe as they got older, and while yes, things have gotten easier – all those people who told me I’d change my mind about liking teens better than babies were wrong – I still know this wasn’t the right choice for me. Nothing to do about it now, it is what it is, but it makes the holiday more complicated. Bring into it the horrendous way women are being more and more regulated in the US over the last six years, and it’s overwhelming.

I would have preferred to be on a flight to Seattle, in other words.

Instead, my family has a few fun things planned today that we’ll enjoy. Unfortunately, we’re going through a massive heat wave – over 100 degrees yesterday and likely higher today – so I hope we can keep most of our plans indoors!!

Happy Mother’s Day, complicated or no, to those of you out there who celebrate it. Cheers.

Posted in Personal | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Reunion, by Kiersten Modglin (audio)

Cait doesn’t particularly want to attend her 10-year high school reunion, but she also needs to face the things that happened at the end of her senior year, and the people who made her life miserable. Only now that she’s there, not only is she dealing with those old insecurities, but someone seems to think it’s inappropriate that she would attend, and they’re willing to get violent in delivering that message.

This was a recent Audible daily deal, a $4 audiobook that sounded like Carrie meets Bellweather Rhapsody. In the end, it wasn’t quite the winner that such a mash-up would’ve been, but it was a fun afternoon listen and worth the $4 spent on it.

The good things: There are a lot of “people aren’t who they appear to be” thematic elements, while other people really are exactly who they appear to be, even ten years later and supposedly more mature. The narrator isn’t unreliable, though she’s extraordinarily naive to the point of almost breaking believability. There’s no last-second twist in an epilogue where you suddenly discover that the narrator is a raging serial killer in disguise or some such nonsense. A lot of the emotions seemed genuine, if somewhat exaggerated. Security/police respond promptly and correctly to the threats, but are also quick to point out that without more/better evidence, there’s not much they can do. In the end, you get resolution on most things.

The not-so-good things: I got annoyed at how long it took to get to the past’s mystery – it’s okay to hook along a reader for awhile, but it was probably over halfway through before we even found out what kind of scandal Cait was dealing with. Cait only meets a few of her former classmates, and other than the one who was one of her best friends, she spends only a few seconds interacting with them. (For a book about a high school reunion, the reunion was superfluous.) There are, of course, the naivety issues, which I’ll discuss in more detail in the spoilery section below. There was also one sort of weird foray into almost-erotica (which gets interrupted) that felt entirely out of place, like the book was going to be a different genre at one time.

The spoilers (highlight to read): Cait’s ability to see a person’s true character is almost unbelievably lacking. She acts in some ways as if she’s never been introduced to the internet before – posting her location, then getting surprised/scared when people find her. Seeing a familiar person but never trying to figure out why she knows them. Then there’s Sam, her former boyfriend/best friend. Somehow, he’s managed to keep his marriage from her. They’re not in contact much, but their parents are, and there’s no way that would be a secret. Even if it was, you’d think that Sam would recognize his wife’s name when Cait begins to talk about her stalker. Yeah, Anna is a common name, but still. And then it turns out Sam is a scumbag and his wife is a crazy murderer obsessed with him, and that must make him the most naive person on earth too, not to mention the crazy girl obsessed with him definitely would have told Cait that Sam was cheating on her back in high school. I mean, the whole conclusion was sloppy and hard to believe. End spoilers.

So overall, the book was okay, but I doubt it’ll stick with me. On the other hand, it provided a lot of fun entertainment when I needed something light and thrilling to read, and the narrator (Meg Price) did a fairly good job narrating it too. No regrets.

Posted in 2022, Adult, Prose | Tagged | Leave a comment