Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane (NetGalley Review)

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
Publisher: Scribner (May 28, 2019)
Description from the publisher:

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are two NYPD rookies assigned to the same Bronx precinct in 1973. They aren’t close friends on the job, but end up living next door to each other outside the city. What goes on behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the stunning events to come.
Ask Again, Yes by award-winning author Mary Beth Keane, is a beautifully moving exploration of the friendship and love that blossoms between Francis’s youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian’s son, Peter, who are born six months apart. In the spring of Kate and Peter’s eighth grade year a violent event divides the neighbors, the Stanhopes are forced to move away, and the children are forbidden to have any further contact.
But Kate and Peter find a way back to each other, and their relationship is tested by the echoes from their past. Ask Again, Yes reveals how the events of childhood look different when reexamined from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.

I have stopped and started this review so many times over the last week! It’s hard to review a book I loved, to articulate what gives it that something that just resonates - much harder than reviewing one I disliked. I love a dysfunctional family drama, one that spans decades, one that has multiple narrators, and a gut punch ending. Ask Again, Yes checks all of these boxes and that 'something more' quality which keeps a book on my mind long after I've finished turning the pages. 
I think that what I found unique was the author's ability to take a narrative full of high drama (secret love, a gruesome shooting, a character sent to an asylum and more) and give it a nuanced, introspective tone that was so compelling. Normally I do not gravitate towards books that are heavy on characters inner lives and short on dialogue, but not in this case. It is such a quietly told, yet riveting story. Keane writes evocatively of each character's stage in life and I completely understood and empathized with their choices and emotions - especially Kate as she transforms from the stubborn little girl to the headstrong young woman, and eventually, the strong willed mother trying to keep her family together. And that's the crux of this story, that from one vantage point in your life you can see things in a completely different way than another: childhood versus adulthood, being a child versus being a parent, witnessing depression versus being caught in it's cross hairs. Every single character in this book can be considered villainous and also heroic at various points in the story. It's beautifully told, how none of us can be entirely one or the other, how humanity is fallible and also worthy of love. 
"...their worry for Peter, the person they each loved most, bound them, put them in the same boat together, and they could either row hard as one or else drift while he drowned nearby."
The title of this book is such perfection and I would so love to share the titular quote, but it would give too much away and I think it's so impactful after coming all this way with these characters. I will think on it often, how I wouldn't change a thing and think 'YES' to all the messiness that life throws our way.
Many, many thanks to Scribner books and Netgalley for a complimentary advance copy for review!


Recent Eats! Kitchen Express by Mark Bittman and Raddish Kids

Checking in after another long hiatus of cooking updates (since January)! As per usual, I was burning through cookbooks that didn't wow me or have more than one or two dishes to report back on - though Bittman's book has definitely turned the tide. 

But first I wanted to give a little plug for this awesome subscription service I got for the kids because they have become increasingly interested in getting into the kitchen. I got a few cookbooks geared towards children and we would help each kiddo make a dish of their choosing. This was fine, but they would inevitably pick meals like breaded chicken tenders or mac and cheese, not really broadening any horizons. I started searching for meal kits for kids (I mean, there are about one million options out there for adults) and came across Raddish - extra D not a typo, as in RAD dish! I got a six month subscription and it has been awesome. 
Each month we get a themed meal kit that includes a kitchen tool (pastry cutter, garlic press, silicone tart molds), a patch for their apron (which comes in the first box), dinner table conversation starter cards, and sturdy laminated recipes for a main dish, dessert and some sort of side or extra that fits the menu. 
I wasn't really interested in getting actual ingredients in the boxes, as I am already a weekly meal planner/grocery trip person, so this was perfect - and not terribly expensive. I also love that the menus are somewhat adventurous but still have kid appeal like mango sticky rice with chicken satay, or rainbow taco salad. Plus, there's no hemming and hawing about their choice - they get what they get and we help them make the meal. 
Not having the ingredients shipped also gives us a lot of flexibility. It's been a little busy around here with Spring Break and school sports, so I've saved the most recent delivery and might hold on to the next month's to break out over the summer. And, I do have a referral code which gives me some $$ off my next boxes if you are so inclined - you can use BB9H2W for $10 off a subscription. All this to say, that even if there was no referral code, I'd still be telling y'all about it! 
Okay, as for the rest of our meals, I have been over the moon about Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express. I don't think I've marked this many recipes in a cookbook EVER. Although there are over 400 recipes in there, so... He packs them in by eliminating pictures, long ingredient lists or step-by-step instructions. Just an easy paragraph explanation for each recipe. At first I was a little disappointed, because I usually look through recipe books based on the picture! But, I do cook in a more laid-back way, like the recipes are written. They are all so simple, obviously, but have unique ingredients. I can’t believe I’ve never used a Thai chili before, but I’ve used them twice already in recipes from this cookbook that appealed to me, such as fish with Thai pesto sauce.
And chicken in a basil coconut curry.
We've also used his simple spice rub and sauce for spicy chicken chipotle tacos, which I forgot to snap a picture of before gobbling them up. I look forward to trying at least a dozen more recipes from this book, so good!
I also picked up Milk Street: Tuesday Nights a few weeks ago and so far we've made the Lemongrass Tofu a half dozen times. DELICIOUS. Can't go wrong with America's Test Kitchen/Christopher Kimball.
And, folks inevitably ask about how our kids like these meals. And, I give my inevitable answer: they try it, but get a modified version such as chicken and rice without sauce, or chicken without the chipotle and a quesadilla, or fish sticks and a wee dip of pesto, etc. We might save tofu for a night they're eating pizza, though. Haha! They are coming around slowly but surely thanks to our modeling and their interest in getting involved in cooking!


Books I Read in April

There There by Tommy Orange
I normally love a novel that reads like connected short stories, but this one felt somewhat disjointed. I lost the thread of characters that I wanted to spend more time with, though the ideas within are so important and should be talked about more. 
"The wound that was made when white people came and took all that they took has never healed. An unattended wound gets infected. Becomes a new kind of wound like the history of what actually happened became a new kind of history. All these stories that we haven’t been telling all this time, that we haven’t been listening to, are just part of what we need to heal. Not that were broken. And don’t make the mistake of calling us resilient. To not have been destroyed, to not have given up, to have survived, is no badge of honor. Would you call an attempted murder victim resilient?"
I did find the writing to be absorbing and unique. The plot that follows a dozen native Americans on their way to a Powwow, which you can see coming from the first pages, is still a gut punch in the end, which is no small feat. I’m glad I finally read it after it has garnered so much attention and acclaim since it's publication.

Sisters First by Jenna Bush Haeger and Barbara Pierce Bush
The audiobooks I listened to in March were on the heavier side, so I was searching for something a little more lighthearted but still interesting. Sisters First definitely fit the bill, although I'd say interesting does not equal informative. I didn't have any grand revelations about the Bush family after listening, but there were definitely a range of well told stories that were funny, sad and heartwarming. Also, worth noting, I was constantly distracted by Jenna's voice because I think she used her television speaking voice (always emphasizing the last word in her sentences) instead of sounding more conversational, like Barbara. Perhaps the hard copy of this one is the way to go!

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
Confession: I haven’t read Liane Moriarty since I read Big Little Lies, years before the tv show (which I thought was an EXCELLENT adaptation). The buzz around Truly Madly Guilty wasn’t great, so I never picked it up. Then I had the chance to catch Moriarty on tour for her latest, and absolutely loved hearing her talk about Nine Perfect Strangers. And STILL, I took forever to pick it up because of mixed reviews. I finally read it and absolutely tore through the pages. Yes, it’s a little kooky. No, it’s not Big Little Lies. But she writes such fast paced, wholly engaging stories. This one was also exceptionally hilarious, and I often barked a “HA!” out loud. Perhaps I saw Liane in the main character Frances, whom she said she identified with most, and I was able to invest in her journey. Either way, I definitely recommend this book for a fast, fun and crazy ride. Now maybe I’d better pick up Truly, Madly, Guilty...

The One by John Marrs
This book was CRAZY! What if genetic testing existed to find your true biological soul mate, your perfect match?? Marrs explores a whole host of chaotic scenarios that were really thought provoking. I was in the mood for a thriller and this one has a little sci-fi, a little romance, and a lot of food for thought. And of course, it’s coming to Netflix as a series in the near future - I definitely plan to tune in!

You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein
I was flailing for awhile this month, choosing an audiobook - starting and casting aside several that just weren’t doing it for me after feeling just so-so about Sisters First. I’m SO GLAD Annie Jones mentioned You’ll Grow Out of It on a recent episode of her From the Front Porch podcast! Indeed, this was HILARIOUS and made me guffaw repeatedly. Klein tells the most relatable stories about her career, motherhood, marriage, dating, friendship and just being a woman in the world. ‘Ma’am’ was probably my favorite chapter- highly recommend!

The Farm by Joanne Ramos
This was full of moral dilemmas to chew on, but not full of depth. Full review here!

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? Alyssa Mastromonaco
I love hearing Mastromonaco on Pod Save America and finally picked this one up on audio. This is exactly what I wish From the Corner of the Oval had been! I loved the inside look at the White House, the personal dramas and funny moments that shone through the truly fascinating inner workings of the government. While I found Beck Dorey-Stein frustrating, Matstromonaco comes across as humbled, hard working and full of wisdom from her experience. 

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Oof. Home Fire is really well done and so tragic. Going in, I knew it was an interpretation of Antigone as a way to tell a story about immigrants and radicalism. I didn't remember much about it from my college mythology class, though it just so happened that my son was recently on the school production team of Antigone, refreshing my knowledge of the story. Still, knowing the bones of the plot and the ultimate fate of certain characters, it was gut wrenching. Shamsie brilliantly shows how shockingly easy it is to make Antigone relevant thousands of years later.


The Farm by Joanne Ramos (ARC Review)

The Farm by Joanne Ramos
Publisher: Random House (May 7, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.
Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.

The premise of this novel was gripping from the get-go. It certainly mirrors The Handmaid's Tale, and could very well be a precursor to how our society might easily fall into that particular brand of dystopia. The themes are also similar: power struggles between the wealthy and privileged vs the poor and desperate. With a more modern day take, the ethical and moral dilemmas abound, giving the reader a lot to chew on. Ramos' world building of Golden Oaks and all it entails was vivid and thought provoking. 
”Because in America you only have to know how to make money. Money buys everything else.” 
I also thought that there was a lot of food for thought about feminism, misogyny and racism. Yet it felt like more breadth than depth was given to these themes. Ramos utilizes archetypal characters rather than ones that really stand on their own as a fully fleshed out individuals. There was quite a large cast of characters in the book and I felt as if they could've been pared down significantly so that Jane could have been given a bit more oomph. Though she was somewhat unlikeable, Jane's cousin Ate has the most dynamic and full character arc. Alas, she is not who I wanted to be invested in, to be the hero of the story. I also felt frustrated by the ending, Jane's ending, even though it was probably the most plausible outcome for her and I turned the pages pretty furiously to get to the conclusion.
Overall this was an entertaining read that was driven by plot and juicy 'what if?' scenarios. It would make for an good summer read, and definitely a book club pick - lots of moral choices to dissect.
Many thanks to Random House for the complimentary advance copy in exchange for my honest review!