Ghosts of You by Cathy Ulrich: The thing about murder victims is . . .

Ghosts of You

Ghosts of You

by Cathy Ulrich

eARC, 150 pg.
Okay Donkey Press, 2019

Read: September 23-30, 2019


This collection of 31 pieces of flash fiction shouldn’t work. This is probably not the sentence that the author and her publicist want me to start with, but hear me out. It shouldn’t, but it does.

Why shouldn’t it work? For starters, each story has essentially the same title. “Being the Murdered _____.” Earle Stanley Gardner got away with it, as did Lilian Jackson Braun—but I can’t see how anyone else does. Add Ulrich to the list.

Secondly, each story starts with the same sentence:

The thing about being the murdered [word/phrase from title] is you set the plot in motion.

Outside of “Once Upon a Time,” that should not be done (it’s arguable that it shouldn’t be done there, either). But it does work.

From these nearly identical launching pads, Ulrich spins 31 incredibly distinctive tales about what happens after various women are murdered. I should probably clarify a bit, about what I mean about the various women (and the blanks above). These stories focus on people like the murdered Girl, Wife, Lover, Homecoming Queen, Babysitter, Mother, Extra, Jogger—mostly the kinds of women you read about/see in the beginning of a murder mystery. Ulrich also goes for some unexpected types, e.g.: Politician, Mermaid, Muse, Chanteuse (she probably deserves extra points for using that word in the Twenty-First Century), and Taxidermist.

Their murders change the lives of those around them, those who knew them, knew of them, investigated their deaths both immediately and for years to come.

Now, as the word “plot” in the topic sentences indicates, these are primarily reactions to/depictions of/commentaries on the way that the homicides of fictional women are portrayed in Crime Fiction (or even “Literary” Fiction), TV, Movies, etc. I think it has a lot to say about those depictions, but I think there are a lot of weaknesses to Ulrich’s approach, too. Too often, her critiques are overgeneralized, inflammatory and outdated—while retaining a kernel worth chewing on.

Thankfully, the book is about more than that (or I’m not sure I’d have bothered to finish it). I frequently felt like my reaction to the stories was not what it was intended to be. When she’s telling a story (as abbreviated as they are), describing human reactions to situations that “tragic” doesn’t quite begin to apply to—these pieces shine. For someone who shuns self-help books, I’ve read a lot about grief in the last couple of years—these stories contain some of the best portrayals of it in all its varied expressions—that I can remember. If your heart doesn’t break a little at least twice while going through this collection, you need to go listen to some community singing in Whoville, so they can help yours grow.

Beyond that, there’s the obvious strength of the economy of words here—these stories are lean, without a wasted word, and are pound-for-pound some of the most effective stories I’ve read this year.

As with any collection, there are stronger pieces and weaker pieces—some that will satisfy some and other readers will be stupefied by or indifferent to the same ones. I do think there’s a better hit to miss ratio in this collection than I’m used to. For what it’s worth, “Being the Murdered Bride”, “Being the Murdered Student” and “Being the Murdered Mama” were the high-points for me.

While these are all very different (Ulrich almost never plays the same note twice), I don’t recommend reading too many in one sitting (I limited myself to three at a time, for example)—beyond that, you risk robbing them of their impact.

I heartily recommend this collection that works far better than it should. It’ll cause you to stop and think, stop and feel, and hopefully change your perspective on a few things.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the author via Lori @ TNBBC Publicity in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this.


4 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

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COVER REVEAL: The Vagabond Mother by Tracey Scott-Townsend

Welcome to The Irresponsible Reader’s part in the Cover Reveal for Tracey Scott-Townsend’s The Vagabond Mother—although, guessing by the people taking part in this Reveal, geography/time zones, etc. at this point, it’s more of a Cover Confirmation. Still, welcome. Pretty pictures ahead.

But first, some words.

In particular, words that you’d find on the . . .

Back of the Book

Not every Vagabond is a Castaway…

Maya Galen’s oldest son, Jamie, left home eight years ago after a massive row with his parents and now Joe, her youngest child and apple of her eye, has cut off all contact with them too.

Called to Australia to identify the body of a young man, Maya is given her son’s journal. After a sleepless night she decides that the only thing she can do is follow in Joe’s footsteps and try to discover her most basic human self. Eschewing a monetary lifestyle, from now on she must rely on her physical and emotional strength to survive.

Following Joe’s hand-drawn maps and journal entries, she travels from Australia to Denmark and beyond, meeting many other travellers along the way and learning valuable lessons.

Eventually a crisis forces her to return home and confront the end of her marriage, but also a new understanding of what family, in the widest sense, really means.

 

Exploring the big questions at the heart of human existence, The Vagabond Mother shares territory with books and films such as Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, The Way, starring Martin Sheen, Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.


This book will weigh-in at 312 pages and will be available on Jan. 20 from Amazon UK and US (I’m not sure about other Amazons).

Without further ado…

The Cover


That’s a nice looking cover, isn’t it?

Here it is with the back cover, too:

Now, I’ve done my part—I’ve revealed and/or confirmed the cover. Now it’s your turn, knowing what the cover looks like, put it on your shelf/kindle. Go click on the link for Amazon UK and US and get this ordered.

The Swallows by Lisa Lutz: Hilarious and Harrowing Account of Destroying the Status Quo because the Status is Not Quo

The Swallows

The Swallows

by Lisa Lutz

Hardcover, 399 pg.
Ballantine Books, 2019

Read: August 21 – 22, 2019

As I gazed at my students, I had the same thought I always had on the first day. They looked so young and innocent. Then I found a dead rat in the bottom of my desk drawer and remembered the tenet I had learned over the last eight years. The young may have a better excuse for cruelty, but they are no less capable of it.

For someone looking for omens, it’s odd how many exit signs I chose to ignore.

If a century of tradition were the only thing my time at Stonebridge brought to an end, I’d be okay with that. It’s the two deaths that keep me up at night.

How can I talk about The Swallows without ruining the experience? Not easily, and verbosely. Let’s see if I can manage it.

Structurally, it’s a boarding school book—a bunch of well-off (and/or scholarship) kids livingly largely without parental supervision and guidance, getting away with all sorts of things while the adults responsible for the supervision turn a blind eye, are honestly oblivious, or are complicit in the goings-on. At the end of the day, the real power is wielded by the students—a small sub-set of them, anyway—and there’s a split between those wanting to exercise their power for their own pleasure and benefit (largely male at the expense of female empowerment, self-respect, self-esteem, and dignity) and those, well not wanting that.

Largely the book focuses on a small group of female students sick and tired with the status quo (offended and angry, actually) who set out to expose the cabal and the horrible games they play with people in a way to salt the earth so it can’t be repeated. This seems like a tall order, but what choice do they have? They also have male students sympathetic to their cause and are willing to help out.

But also, there’s a teacher (or more) not willing to go along with this, and who knows something’s going on, so she does what she can to track it down to find ways to stop it (either herself or via student/faculty proxies). Her name is Alex Witt and she’s just arrived at Stonebridge Academy following an ignominious departure from Warren Prep. It takes her very little time to determine that something is rotten at Stonebridge and that a couple of her students are trying to do something about it. Instinctively in agreement with them, Alex does what she can to encourage the individuals to find one another and use the strength their numbers and collaboration can bring. One student described her as:

…my friend, my ally, my confidante. She charmed, teased, amused, incited, and befriended us.

Alexandra Witt was the pied piper of Stonebridge Academy.

Chapters are told from the perspective of Alex or some of the other faculty or various students—primarily from the perspective of Gemma Russo (the student quoted above). Gemma was well on her way to a time as a firebrand, but with nudges and aid from Alex, her crusade picks up momentum until upheaval comes to the existing conditions and then all bets are off (see that last line of the opening quotation). Essentially, Alex is John Keating without the stand-up or poetry, making Gemma Neil Perry, I guess.

The book starts off as offbeat, with Gemma as this strange instructor in an alien environment, trying to escape her legacy and to maybe find a little peace while the students are running around pretending to be revolutionaries. But it shifts at a certain point, and while still occasionally comic and never anything but fun to read, it sheds the comedy in favor of earnest emotions and motives and dangerous situations. You don’t notice it happening, but after a certain point, you’ll notice the ground has shifted. Lutz pulls that off really well.

There’s a lot of subtle work to the plot and the prose, and some that’s pretty obvious. But even the obvious is done well. There’s a reveal toward the end of the book that caught me so off-guard, but was so perfect I think I laughed out loud. I think this is technically streets ahead of Lutz’ previous work.

It’s a very different kind of humor than we got in The Spellman Files, but it’s probably as funny as Lutz has been since the third book in that series—but it’s mixed with the harsh realities of The Passenger and the feel of How to Start a Fire. Lutz puts on a clinic for naturally shifting tone and using that to highlight the important stories she’s telling.

There’s not a poorly designed or written character—I can’t say I liked all of them, or even most of them (many of them could use a few days in a pillory while fellow students threw rotten fruit or whatever at them)—but as players in this particular drama, they’re great. I was repeatedly torn between things happening too quickly, and yet not quickly enough—which I take as a sign that she nailed the pacing.

Because I’m really nervous about oversharing here, I’m going to wrap things up—but this is one you really should be reading. If it’s not on one of my Top 10 lists of 2019, I’ll be pretty shocked. I can’t think of many that I’ll put ahead of it at the moment.

From the funny and dark beginning, to the perfect and bitingly ominous last three paragraphs The Swallows is a winner. Timely and appropriate, but using tropes and themes that are familiar to readers everywhere, Lutz has given us a thriller for our day—provocative, entertaining, and haunting. This is one of those books that probably hews really close to things that could or have happened and you’re better off hoping are fictional. Lisa Lutz is always a very good author, The Swallows is Lutz at her best.


5 Stars

Chances Are . . . by Richard Russo: Russo almost writes a Crime Novel, but manages to avoid it.

Chances Are . . .Chances Are . . .

by Richard Russo

Hardcover, 302pg.
Knopf Publishing Group, 2019
Read: August 5 – 6, 2019

What were the odds these three would end up assigned to the same freshman-dorm suite at Minerva College on the Connecticut coast? Because yank out one thread from the fabric of human destiny, and everything unravels. Though it could also be said that things have a tendency to unravel regardless.

Whatever the odds were, three very different freshman from very different backgrounds did end up assigned to the same dorm suite and ended up working in the kitchen together. It’s the kind of friendship created by shared living space, shared experience and intense emotions (college in general, and the Vietnam Draft they watched on TV together). They became the Three Musketeers—in spirit and in name to those who knew them—and then they left Minerva College and started their lives. Then, yes, things unraveled.

It’s now forty-four years later and they reunite at Lincoln’s Martha’s Vineyard home for one last hurrah before Lincoln sells the family home. The three of them spent plenty of time there in college, and what better way to prepare to sell? But there’s a shadow over their reunion (and not just the fact that they’re all showing their age in different ways).

As with Dumas’ trio, there was a fourth—like them, yet not. Her name was Jacy. All three men were in love with her, but in a true one for all fashion, they didn’t try to see if there was any chance for a relationship with any of them. On the last weekend they spent in this house, a few weeks after graduation, Jacy left early one morning and was never seen again. All three—Lincoln, Teddy, and Mickey—are haunted by memories of that weekend as they assemble.

Each man responds to these memories differently, Teddy indulges in self-introspection, Mickey drinks a lot and spends a good deal of time planning for the trio to catch some live music. Lincoln starts looking for an explanation—and ends up talking to a retired police officer who remembered the case, tries to build a case against a neighbor, and generally stirs up trouble asking questions.

This sounds like the setup of a Crime Novel, doesn’t it? I’ve read so many book blurbs that this sounds like that I started expecting this to be Russo’s take on Crime Fiction. While we do learn what happened to Jacy and why; the book is about so much more. It’s about friendship, fleeting youth, the expectations of others, aging, and love—probably a few other things, too.

“How about a cup of coffee?”

“I had one on the ferry. ”

“Doesn’t mean you can’t have another.”

“With me it does, actually.” In fact, it was distinctly possible the near-constant state of gastric distress Lincoln suffered these days was a symptom of an as-yet-undetected ulcer traceable to the 2008 financial meltdown. On the other hand, it might be nothing more than acid reflux, which came with the territory of getting old. His wife, being a woman, wanted clarity on this issue, whereas Lincoln himself, not being one, was content to dwell in uncertainty a while longer.

I don’t think I even really looked at the blurb for this, I just knew it was a new Richard Russo novel that didn’t feature Sully. That was enough for me to put it on reserve at the library weeks ago, so I could be one of the (possibly the) first to get my hands on it. As no two of his books are really the same kind of thing, it made for a pleasant surprise that way.

I don’t know that I was captivated from the get-go, but these three (and poor Jacy) grew on me, each had a story that was familiar, yet felt fresh. These were complicated me with complicated feelings—well, you’re never sure about Mickey, he seems pretty straightforward. We spend most of the novel seeing things (past and present) from Lincoln and Teddy’s perspectives—which helps us see everything going on with them, and primes us to pay close attention when it shifts for Mickey’s perspective.

I’m ignoring most of my notes now because I think I’ve really said everything I needed to say. Russo’s about as close as you can get to a sure thing in writing today and he brings that skill to these pages and these characters. Chances Are . . . is not something I’ll look forward to rereading like Straight Man, or as powerful as Empire Falls or as moving as Bridge of Sighs, but more interesting—and with more staying power—than That Old Cape Magic or anything published before Straight Man (not that any of those were bad, they just don’t appeal to me the way his latter works do). Still, there’s an ineffable quality to this work that will make me keep thinking about it—the power of friendship, lost love, how our youth controls our futures, and what really anchors us to this world.

I liked the story, I liked the characters, Russo can’t write a bad anything—there’s a lot to commend this book, and little to discourage a potential reader. Russo’s one of the best America has to offer right now, and this is further evidence of that.

—–

4 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

Reposting Just ‘Cuz: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

The second re-run from 5 years ago this week is from Rainbow Rowell, before she discovered she could make a lot more money on the YA market than she can with “Commercial Women’s Fiction” or whatever silly marketing label this got. I miss that Rowell, oh well.

LandlineLandline

by Rainbow Rowell

Hardcover, 310 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2014
Read: August 13, 2014

If the last few years have taught us readers anything, it’s that if you want quirky, honest, heart-felt romance with real (and usually moderately overweight) people and solid laughs, Rainbow Rowell will consistently deliver for you. And if you don’t think you want that, after you read her, you’ll realize that’s just what you wanted after all. She has two YA books and now two Adult books to her credit. Her latest, Landline delivers the typical Rowell magic in her story, but this time she included something else: actual magic. Sort of.

Georgie McCool is half of a pretty successful TV writing team who are thiiiiis close to being much more successful, all they have to do is crank out a handful of scripts in the next couple of weeks and they’re in a great position to sell their first series. The catch is, this involves working over Christmas — despite Georgie’s plans to go to her mother-in-law’s in Omaha with her husband, Neal and their two daughters. Georgie says that she can’t pass up this opportunity, so Neal and the girls go off without her.

Georgie sees this as a regrettable occurrence, but one of the sacrifices she has to make to get her dream show made. Her mother, step-father and sister see it as her husband leaving her, and Georgie ends up staying with them. Which gets Georgie to worrying — especially when she can never seem to reach Neal on the phone during the day. At night, however, when her iPhone battery is dead, she has to resort to the landline in her old room and she ends up talking to Neal back before they got engaged.

Don’t ask. It makes no sense. She never bothers to explain. And it doesn’t matter. Georgie eventually figures out that’s what’s going on and she rolls with it, and the reader does, too.

These conversations, as well as the absence of her family, lead Georgie on a path down memory lane, reflecting on the beginning of their relationship and how it changed as they did. Maybe Neal had made a mistake choosing her. Maybe she’d ruined her life (and his) by choosing him. Would they have both been better off going their separate ways? Or was there something worth fighting for now? Would that matter? The clock is ticking — for Georgie’s marriage (both now and then) and her career. Is she up for it?

The tension is real, the apprehension, fear, and self-doubt (for starters) that Georgie is wrestling with is very obvious and palpable. Yet while focusing on this, Rowell’s able to create a believable world filled with a lot of interesting people. There’s Georgie’s partner/best friend, Seth and another writer on their current (and hopefully future) show — and Georgie failing to hold up her end of things there, as much as she tries.

Then there’s her sister, mother and step-father. They’re much better developed (probably only because we spend more time with them). Her mother’s a pretty implausible character, yet not a cartoon, she’s a pug fanatic, married someone much younger than her, and generally seems really happy. Her sister’s about done with high school and is figuring herself out (and mostly has) — she’s a hoot, and my biggest problem with the book is that we don’t get more of Heather. Not that there wasn’t plenty of her — and it’d require the book to take a far different shape. We get whole storylines about all the non-Neal people in her life, little vignettes showing us their character, giving us smiles in the midst of Georgie’s crisis, like:

“Kids are perceptive, Georgie. They’re like dogs”–she offered a meatball from her own fork to the pug heaped in her lap–“they know when their people are unhappy.”
“I think you may have just reverse-anthropomorphized your own grandchildren.”
Her mom waved her empty fork dismissively. “You know what I mean.”
Heather leaned into Georgie and sighed. “Sometimes I feel like her daughter. And sometimes I feel like the dog with the least ribbons.”

Not only do the supporting stories, or even the little moments like this fill out Georgie’s world and make it more interesting, they provide a breather for the reader from having to deal with the disintegrating marriage.

I know some people think we spend too much time in flashbacks, where Georgie’s remembering how she and Neal met, got to know each other, and started seeing each other, etc. But we need that. If all we get is Neal in the present, or past-Neal on the phone, we’re not going to care enough. Especially in the first couple of scenes we get with Neal, it’d be real easy to see him as unsympathetic — the guy holding Georgie and her career back. We need these flashbacks so the reader can sync their feelings about Neal with Georgie’s, so that when we read something like:

Georgie hadn’t known back then how much she was going to come to need Neal, how he was going to become like air to her.
Was that codependence? Or was it just marriage?”

or

She needed him.
Neal was home. Neal was base.
Neal was where Georgie plugged in, and synced up, and started fresh every day. He was the only one who knew her exactly as she was.

find ourselves agreeing with her, or at least seeing why she says it.

At the end of the book, there’s a lot of plot lines dangling — some very important ones, actually. Enough so, that normally, I’d devote a paragraph to complaining about it. But I won’t this time — it works for Landline. There’s a lot for Georgie to work out herself, she’s really only settled on the one most important thing, leaving the rest to be resolved another day. And that’s got to be good enough for the reader.

Not her best, but Rowell on an off day is still really, really good.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Classically Cool—Let’s Talk Classics!

Last week, Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub posted Classically Cool- Let’s Talk Classics!, and it got me a-thinkin’, what Classics would I mention as faves?

Dickens doesn’t do anything for me, ditto for the overwhelming amount of Shakespeare I’ve read, Hawthorne makes me angry, I don’t get Melville’s appeal (but I also kind of do…I just don’t want to put in the effort)…but by and large “The Classics” (aka the Canon) are Classics for a reason (not because some nameless, faceless group of (now-)Dead, White Males exercised hegemonic powers to impose their tastes, either).

Still, there are some favorites:

Starting with The Oresteia (for chronology’s sake), this is the only existing example we have of a Greek dramatic trilogy. This series showing the fall-out of the Trojan War for Agamemnon and his family/kingdom and is pretty impressive.

Call me silly, but Beowulf has always really worked for me. I don’t know how to rank the various translations, I’ve read a handful and don’t think I ever knew a single translator’s name. I’ve meant to try the Haney translation since it came out, but haven’t gotten to it yet—the same goes for Tolkein’s. From about the same time (a little later, I believe, but I’m not going to check because if I start researching this post, it’ll never get finished) is The Dream of the Rood, a handly evangelistic tool (one of the better written ones) in Old English.

Moving ahead a couple of centuries (I’ll pick up the pace, don’t worry, the post won’t be that long) and we get Gawain and the Green Knight, which is fun, exciting and teaches a great lesson. Similarly, we have that poet’s Pearl, Patience, and Purity. I don’t remember much about the latter two, beyond that I liked them, but the Pearl—a tale of a father mourning a dead child and being comforted/challenged in a dream to devotion—is one of the more moving works I can remember ever reading.

I want to throw in Tom Jones (technically, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling) by Henry Fielding here, but I’ve never actually completed it. Which says more about my patience and how distracted I can get than the book—which is an impressive work. I’ve gotta get around to actually finishing it at some point.

I can’t remember the titles for most of the Robert Burns poems I’ve read—”A Red, Red Rose” and “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785” (one of the best titles in history) are the exceptions—but most of them were pretty good. And I’m not a poetry guy.

Skipping a few centuries and we get to Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. If all you know is the story from movies, you’re in for a treat when you actually read this thing. I’ve read it a few times, and each time, I’m caught off-guard at how fast-moving it really is, how entertaining and exciting it can be. It’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but I feel compelled at this point to mention that the book about Dumas’ father, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss is a must-read for any fan of Dumas.

I don’t remember how Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott ended up on my bookshelf (I think whatever relative took me to the bookstore said I could get something silly and trashy (in their view) if I got a Classic, too). But a few years later, I finally got around to reading it at about the same time that another kid in my class (we were High School sophomores) was reading it—both of us talked about how it was pretty good, but too much work. Until we got to a point somewhere in the middle (he got there a day before I did, I think) and something clicked—maybe we’d read enough of it that we could really get what was going on, maybe Scott got into a different gear, I’m not sure—and it became just about the most satisfying thing I’d read up to that point in my life.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is one of my favorite books, probably belonging in the Top 3. Go ahead and roll your eyes at the idea of me saying that about a romance novel, that just means you’ve misread the book. This tale about integrity, about staying true to what one holds dear, what one believes and to what is right despite everything and everyone around you is exciting, inspiring, fantastically-written, and so-memorable. And, yeah, there’s a nice love story to go along with that 🙂

Speaking of love stories, we now get to my favorite, Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. I steadfastly refuse to learn anything about the actual figure, because I don’t want anything to ruin this for me. When I first read the play in junior high, I considered the best parts the lead-up to the duel in Act I, and Christian’s trying to pick a fight with Cyrano the next day. Now I know the best parts are Christian’s realization in Act IV and Cyrano’s reaction to it and then, of course, Cyrano’s death (I’m fighting the impulse to go read that now instead of finishing this post). And don’t get me started about how this play’s balcony scene leaves any other romantic balcony scene in the dust.

I can’t pass up an opportunity to praise, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain’s tour de force. Satire, social commentary, general goofiness and some real heart. This book has it all.

I’m not sure that Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictdionary is technically a “Classic.” But I’m counting it as one. It’s hilarious, it’s incisive, it’s a great time for those who like to subtly (and not-so-subtly) play with words. Yeah, it’s cynical—but it’s idealistic, too (as the best cynics are). If you haven’t sampled it yet, what’s wrong with you?

I feel strange dubbing anything from the Twentieth Century as a Classic, so I won’t talk much about The Old Man and the Sea, The Great Gatsby, Winesburg, Ohio or Our Town (the best way short of having a dog die to make me cry is get me to read/watch Act III). But I do feel safe mentioning To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the ground-breaking, thought-shaping, moving, inspiring, and (frequently) just plain fun look at a childhood in the south.

When I started this, I figured I’d get 4-5 paragraphs out of the idea. I guess I overshot a little. Anyway, that’s what came to mind when I read W&S’ post—maybe other works would come to mind if I did this another time, but for now, those are my favorite Classics. What about you?

The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion: The Last Volume of the Trilogy Recovers most of the Magic of The Rosie Project

The Rosie ResultThe Rosie Result

by Graeme Simsion
Series: Don Tillman, #3Hardcover, 376 pg.
Text Publishing, 2019
Read: July 16 – 19, 2019

So I loved The Rosie Project Simsion’s tale of a geneticist who is probably on the Autism spectrum, but has never been diagnosed, setting out to find a romantic partner in the most scientific way he can. It was charming, funny, and hit all the right emotional notes. If you haven’t read it, go do so now. The sequel, The Rosie Effect, about the early days of Don and Rosie’s marriage had a lot of the same traits but fell short on the story and heart. Which gave me a lot of pause when I saw a third volume was coming out a few months ago. But curiosity got the better of me, and I picked up a copy from the Library.

Phew! Simsion’s remembered what made Project so successful. It’s not quite as good, but it’s close enough for me.

Don and Rosie move back to Australia after a decade-plus in NYC. He’s returned to his university, Rosie’s got a major research position. They didn’t consult their son about the move, that’s causing all the problems associated with someone on the verge of adolescence being moved thousands of miles away from everything he’s ever known. To complicate things, Hudson’s a lot more like his dad than even Don realized. Incredibly intelligent, opinionated, precise, overly literal, socially awkward and stubborn. Throw a kid like that into a new school, new country, with no friends or teachers who know him—especially when he’s unhappy—and you have a recipe for disaster.

Which is precisely what Don and Rosie have on their hands. Hudson’s school is on the verge of expelling him but is willing to make allowances for someone diagnosed with Autism—while taking them out of the mainstream classes and educational path. Neither of his parents are all that interested in that course and begin working with Hudson on ways to fit in.

To add to that, Don’s fallen victim to the outrage culture of contemporary universities by answering a question about skin tone straight-forward and matter-of-factly with no thought of political/social connotations of his words. It was, of course, caught on video and has put his entire career in jeopardy. Rosie is dealing with a boss who seems to favor another member of the team she’s nominally leading and blatant misogyny from the boss and that team-member.

Don decides to take a leave of absence from his job (handing a victory to those wanting his head, but protecting his job so he can return after the dust settles) and sets out to help Hudson in a strategic fashion like he had done for himself on various fronts. With help from family and friends, he sets out to help Hudson gain some friends, become able to participate in group sports, dress like a normal kid, and essentially fit in.

There are lots of ups and downs along the way—Hudson does grow, but not in all the ways Don wants or expects. Don does, too—even making a friend who’s into homeopathy and against vaccines (even if he’s committed to showing her the error of her ways).

I do wish Rosie had been a bigger presence in this book, that’s my biggest complaint, really. Not just because her name is in the title, but she’s Hudson’s mom and Don’s wife. She should’ve had more to do in the story rather than being relegated (for reasons the story allows for) to a supporting character.

The basic theme of the book is about embracing who you are and finding a balance between fitting in with society and compromising who you are—if you’re on the Spectrum or not. In addition to having a lot of humor and heart, the overall tone is hopeful, oddly optimistic. It’s a great, heartwarming read that will remind readers why they loved the character of Don Tillman and will provoke a lot of thought while providing a great amount of entertainment.

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4 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge Humor Reading Challenge 2019