Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver (ARC Review)

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
Publisher: Harper Books (October 16, 2018)
Description from the publisher:
How could two hardworking people do everything right in life, a woman asks, and end up destitute? Willa Knox and her husband followed all the rules as responsible parents and professionals, and have nothing to show for it but debts and an inherited brick house that is falling apart. The magazine where Willa worked has folded; the college where her husband had tenure has closed. Their dubious shelter is also the only option for a disabled father-in-law and an exasperating, free-spirited daughter. When the family’s one success story, an Ivy-educated son, is uprooted by tragedy he seems likely to join them, with dark complications of his own.
In another time, a troubled husband and public servant asks, How can a man tell the truth, and be reviled for it? A science teacher with a passion for honest investigation, Thatcher Greenwood finds himself under siege: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting work just published by Charles Darwin. His young bride and social-climbing mother-in-law bristle at the risk of scandal, and dismiss his worries that their elegant house is unsound. In a village ostensibly founded as a benevolent Utopia, Thatcher wants only to honor his duties, but his friendships with a woman scientist and a renegade newspaper editor threaten to draw him into a vendetta with the town’s powerful men.
Unsheltered is the compulsively readable story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum in Vineland, New Jersey, navigating what seems to be the end of the world as they know it. With history as their tantalizing canvas, these characters paint a startlingly relevant portrait of life in precarious times when the foundations of the past have failed to prepare us for the future.

I adore Barbara Kingsolver, and was ecstatic to get a complimentary advance copy to review. Although, it is been many years since I’ve read one of her books. I think the last one was Prodigal Summer, which is one of my favorites, and The Poisonwood Bible is an all-time favorite. I think that perhaps I had her up on a pedestal and my expectations were very high going into this book. 
As with most dual timeline narratives (of which I am a fan) one edges out the other and begins to feel like the primary story that grabs my attention. In this novel I found the fictional Thatcher Greenwood meeting the naturalist, Mary Treat, in the 1880s the more compelling of the two. Perhaps because she was a real historical figure, and many of the incidents that Kingsolver describes during that time frame actually happened. I find it enlightening to look at events in history and see how they reflect our present. Thatcher's attempts to teach Darwin and the backlash of the town leaders held a perfect mirror up to current issues around the fact of climate change (and apparent disregard for facts in general).
I had a hard time with the present day timeline, mainly because much of it felt like an op-ed and her supporting characters were vessels for each viewpoint. When Willa's son and daughter went on about economic disparity, it felt so cumbersome. Though Willa's story was engaging, as she navigated the ups and downs of the 'sandwich generation' - taking care of children (in addition to a grandchild in this case) as well as an aging parent. It felt very chaotic and messy, like a very real family in this day and age. 
Overall, I would say it was on the didactic side, even for Kingsolver. Although I agree with what she was trying to get across, I didn’t get as swept up in her storytelling like I normally do because of all the obvious messages, of which there were A LOT. It felt like the news these days: a little exhausting. It plodded in parts for me because she didn't focus on a single theme, but what felt like all of them - racism, healthcare, income inequality, climate change, and our current political climate. Current real life figures also play a part, and yes, a Donald Trump character is very thinly veiled as 'The Bullhorn' who makes that infamously loathsome comment about being able to shoot someone on 5th Avenue. The comparisons to the Vineland town leader Charles Landis (another real historical figure) are evident. 
“Somehow he gets them to side against their own.”
“They are happier to think of themselves as soon to be rich, than irreversibly poor.”
It’s all the more striking that the 19th century trial at the end of the book truly happened, and I’ll leave it at that!  
In the end, the various themes can be wrapped up in the fact that they are indeed all heightened right now and can also be distilled to the dichotomy of the struggle between the younger versus older generation: how we can keep progressing forward, unsheltered, and not cling to the past, be open to continual change. My favorite part, when Willa watches her grandson try to walk:
“He fell down on his pad bottom. But he went right back to it, trying again. He would do this over and over until he had it, and today or tomorrow he would walk. Will remembered all this. She’d watched her kids master these first small tasks with an application of effort that seemed superhuman, but of course it only amounted to being human, a story written in genes. First they would stagger, then grow competent, and then forget the difficulty altogether while thinking of other things, and that was survival.”
Many thanks to the folks at Harper Books for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review!


Summer Recipe Roundup

It's been quite awhile since I did any kind of recipe roundup - since JUNE! The cookbooks I've been perusing over the last few months just haven't wowed me like Healthyish. Most of the recipes seem to be ones we already have in a regular rotation or a variation on the same old stuff. Any suggestions are appreciated, please and thank you. 
I did try a smattering of cooking blog recipes, only to have most of them come up short, too. This Veggie Packed Buddha Bowl from Tasty looks so lovely, right?

Alas, it wasn't to my liking. The dressing was too mustard-y and I didn't enjoy the clash of cold uncooked vegetables with warm chicken. Since I do enjoy a good Buddha bowl recipe, I moved on to try these Beef and Broccoli Buddha Bowls from The Kitchn. I love a good miso dressing, but this was a weird tasting combo...
Not bad, but not so great we'd cook it again. 
There was one hit with the whole family, this Pasta with No-Cook Tomato Sauce from Erica Julson was a perfect meal in the summer months, easy, and tasty!
And I have been loving this Curried Tofu Salad from Budget Bytes that has been an easy and filling lunch staple.
We did fair amount of dining out over the summer, especially with our fun family Fridays and road tripping, so I have to give a shout out to the best fish n' chips I've ever had at Front Street Grill in Coupeville.
And the Mac n' Cheese Logs (YES) with spicy ketchup from Aslan Brewery in Bellingham. Drool.
I have a few cookbooks on hold at the library, so hopefully I'll have one worth reviewing soon! 


Books I Read in September

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
This was a unique little volume written from the perspective of a character who has Asperger's and how her life revolves around her dedication to her work at a convenience store. It's fascinating food for thought on our actions, the life we lead, and how it relates to societal expectations. How different is someone who intentionally imitates others in order to fit in, versus those of us that just do so subconsciously? The cover is somewhat deceiving, as it conveys light and happy and this was more of a stark and contemplative read.

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan
Kelly Corrigan is my new auto-read author. I have read (on audiobook) two of her books this year and are both absolutely five star worthy. (You can find my review for Glitter and Glue here.) I highly recommend her stuff on audio to process the full range of emotions. I feel like Corrigan can see right into my heart. It’s as if she has a manual for LIFE and is translating it for us all in the most relatable stories. Tell Me More is good reminder to listen, to give yourself grace, to show up for those you love, and cherish them in the short time that we have. In a recent episode of the What Should I Read Next podcast, Anne Bogel included it in a very short list of books she would want everyone to read. I echo this sentiment tenfold.

The Fourteenth of September by Rita Dragonette
I was excited to receive this complimentary review copy from JKS Communications and She Writes Press, and to try a debut author with an independent publisher. Alas, this was not the book for me. I felt ambivalent about the main character and there weren't any relatable moments for me to connect with her. I can't imagine the pressure and the situation for college students during the Vietnam War, so perhaps it's a generational gap. Indeed, the Goodreads reviews on this one are off the charts - so your mileage may vary! 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This young neurosurgeon's account (published posthumously) of being diagnosed with cancer was a tearjerker, obviously, but ultimately hopeful. I loved the crossover of faith and science. Sort of supporting my own personal feeling that the belief in miracles of science, of our biology, is a type of spirituality. It would seem that Kalanithi's decision to become a neurosurgeon had more to do with humanity and exploring the soul than just being a doctor and helping others. Thinking about what makes us who we are, and how amazing the human brain is, was absolutely fascinating and gave me so much food for thought.
I wrote a bit more about it here.

The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
I listened to this audiobook after reading When Breath Becomes Air, and it felt serendipitous. I'm not usually a fan of self-help like books, but the former made me more open to the teachings of Tutu and the Dalai Lama. They are obviously of different faiths, are welcoming of all religions, and agree that science is intertwined with our spirituality. The ways in which they support the '8 pillars of joy' with such intriguing scientific facts is so compelling. For example, people who have a more self-centered perspective and use mostly personal pronouns ( I/me/mine instead of we/us/ours) run more risk of heart attack, and fatal ones. Apparently it's more of an indicator than smoking, high blood pressure or high cholesterol! Or that holding grudges increases stress, and that even just THINKING about forgiving someone lowers stress levels. So much good stuff. Also, the pair are adorable and entertaining, always joking with each other, and they have the funniest of idiosyncrasies (Tutu loving rum and Coke, and switching to Coke Zero to ingest less sugar made me smile). Again, I wrote a bit more about this here.

CIRCE by Madeline Miller
This book sat on my shelves unread for many months. I kept pushing it down the list because I was afraid that despite the awesome reviews that it might not be my kind of book. Oh, man, how wrong I was! If the descriptor 'for fans of Greek mythology' might have signaled 'stuffy and cerebral' to you as well, fear not. Miller's prose is indeed smartly written, but in an accessible way. It reminded me that I did indeed enjoy my college Freshman year lecture class and the ol' book: Mythology and You. The stories have stood the test of time for good reason: they are gripping material! Miller takes it further with her simple and powerful prose, yes. But she also made me empathize and identify with the struggles of a fiercely independent goddess, especially once Circe becomes a mother. From the incessant crying of babyhood, to letting her baby fly the nest, her story felt so deeply human and real. A favorite quote:
"You dare to threaten me?"
These gods, I thought. They always say the same thing.
"I do."
My father's skin flared blinding bright. His voice seared at my bones. "You would start a war." 
"I hope so. For I will see you torn down, Father, before I will be jailed for your convenience any longer."
It for sure will be on my favorites of the year list. 

News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail DeWitt
This was a lovely character driven WWII historical fiction and you can read my full review here