Tuesday, July 28, 2020


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1. What are you currently reading? Cloche and Dagger by Jenn McKinlay. This is the first in The Hat Shop Mystery series, set in London. Scarlett is a Tampa woman who is ready to make big changes in her life, and her extended family offers her a solution -- join her cousin in London to help run the hat shop established by their grandmother. Eager to escape both ennui and a broken heart, Scarlett hops on a plane.

Only Cousin Vivian isn't there to meet her. In fact her cousin has gone missing, leaving Scarlett to run the business on her own. Vivian's friend/business associate tries to reassure her that spontaneously taking off on holiday is just the kind of thing Vivian would do, but Scarlett is not pacified. Things get more intense when a high-profile millinery customer is found murdered. Are these instances just a coincidence? Or is Vivian in real trouble somewhere ... and why won't anyone take Scarlett's concern seriously?

I like the "fish out of water" aspect of the book. Scarlett is dealing with jet lag and unfamiliar surroundings, so naturally we can't expect her to be a sharp and savvy sleuth. Jenn McKinlay is an experienced practitioner of the cozy mystery genre, so I know I'm in good hands and expect to continue enjoying this book.

2. What did you recently finish reading? The Nine of Us: Growing Up Kennedy by Jean Kennedy Smith.The eighth of Joe and Rose Kennedy's nine children, and the last one left (she died this summer at 92), Jean Kennedy Smith wrote an affectionate and highly readable memoir.

It's a completely uncritical book. If you've read anything about the Kennedy family, you've heard about the scandals and tragedy. This is not the book for anyone curious about growing up in a family that faced grand-scale gossip, womanizing, murder, substance abuse, rape allegations and even a lobotomy. 

As I read this, I kept hearing Streisand and "The Way We Were" in my head. For Jean, nearing the end of her life, it's the laughter she remembers. It's the love she shares here. I respect that.

While her stories are positive, they're still unique and intimate. Her memories of "Brother Bobby" (future Attorney General and Senator) were especially touching. I knew that, as an adult, he remained the most devout of the Kennedy kids. I wasn't aware of that it began with the connection he felt to St. Francis of Assisi. His middle name was Francis, and he felt it explained (excused?) his passion for animals, including the pet pig who rode beside Bobby en route to school in a chauffeur-driven limo.

The Kennedys were known for their family football games and Jean recalls one game in particular: Wednesday, November 9, 1960. The six remaining sibs (by now Joe, Jr., Kathleen and Rosemary were gone) played on the lawn, blowing off steam and trying to relax after one of their number had just won the White House. Their father called them to lunch, and the six began making their way to the house. Jack and Jean brought up the rear and Joe, Sr., who could not abide tardiness, told them in no uncertain terms to hurry up. Jean recalled how her brother grinned and enjoyed the absurdity of the moment: the newly-elected leader of the free world scolded for letting his chowder get cold.
So, if you want a book that's heavy on smiles -- and sometimes I do -- reach for this light and loving memoir.

3.  What will you read next? Something with a bit more grit and substance. I've got two possible candidates: Road to Jonestown about Jim Jones and The Girls, a novel based on the Manson Family. (When I go dark, I go dark.)

It's all I can think to do

My friend Nancy is having the worst year ever. She's experiencing the kind of anguish that the rest of us can only imagine ... or dread.

Her dear old cat died. She works for a fitness chain, so the corona virus has had a predictably negative impact on her salary. Her 20-year-old daughter Ivy came down with the virus and was stranded in Minneapolis, which became the epicenter for violent unrest after the murder of George Floyd. It was a hard time to be a mom.

But there have been bright spots. She and her husband have gotten along beautifully working from home together during quarantine. They have really enjoyed one another's company and have thrived in their home, their home offices and their yard. Ivy has gotten better. Her older boy, Nick, was entering his second year of sobriety. He wanted to come home from Boston, where he's been living, but everyone -- his internist, his therapist -- warned against it.

And then Nick died suddenly. He felt heart palpitations and went to the ER where his heart just gave out. He had battled drugs and alcohol but was two years sober. Still, those two years of clean living were not enough to repair the decade of damage. He died alone and scared in Boston.

Nancy is overwhelmed. "Trying to put one foot in front of the other." She reached out to me. I want to be there for her, but I don't know how. I'm not Jewish. I've never been a mother. I can only imagine the pain she's in.

So I suggested we get a burger at the greasy spoon around the corner from her home. "Or maybe chicken," I texted. I know she loves their fried chicken. I said if we can't get a table inside, we'd take it to go and sit in the park. Something quiet, low key and kinda normal.

As normal as we can be during a pandemic and after her son died just days before his 24th birthday.

I'm seeing her Friday. I hope I don't screw this up.

Image courtesy of KEKO64 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net