the hearts of men

I’ve had my eye on Nickolas Butler ever since reading his debut, Shotgun Lovesongs, a couple of years ago, and put The Hearts of Men on my list as soon as it came out. And of course I’m going to read another book set in Wisconsin! From Goodreads:

Camp Chippewa, 1962. Nelson Doughty, age thirteen, social outcast and overachiever, is the Bugler, sounding the reveille proudly each morning. Yet this particular summer marks the beginning of an uncertain and tenuous friendship with a popular boy named Jonathan.

Over the years, Nelson, irrevocably scarred from the Vietnam War, becomes Scoutmaster of Camp Chippewa, while Jonathan marries, divorces, and turns his father’s business into a highly profitable company. And when something unthinkable happens at a camp get-together with Nelson as Scoutmaster and Jonathan’s teenage grandson and daughter-in-law as campers, the aftermath demonstrates the depths—and the limits—of Nelson’s selflessness and bravery.

The Hearts of Men is a sweeping, panoramic novel about the slippery definitions of good and evil, family and fidelity, the challenges and rewards of lifelong friendships, the bounds of morality—and redemption.

I have some of the same feelings I had about Shotgun Lovesongs. I really like how Butler dismantles the stereotypical notions of manhood and masculinity in his stories. And he is a fantastic storyteller. I never felt the pace lagging or any unnecessary meandering in The Hearts of Men. Each section is purposeful to the overall story and message. That said, the beginning is stronger than the end, mostly because the main characters, Nelson and Jonathan, seemed so fully realized and lively as children but became flat and somewhat generic in later sections as adults. Perhaps that was intentional, though? Is Butler trying to make a point that we lose something, some spark, as we age? I’m not sure—possibly, or it could possibly have been the narrator’s interpretation didn’t handle the jumps forward in time so well for me. I liked Rachel, Jonathan’s daughter-in-law, but I would have liked her to have been more realistic and more three-dimensional—Butler had a similar issue developing women characters in Shotgun. In this story, women are central to the hearts of these men, after all.

Ultimately, The Hearts of Men is a story about boys becoming men, fathers and sons, bravery and decency, how both romantic and platonic relationships affect you, and the ubiquity of being a flawed human. Butler has a sensitive voice and his storytelling is immersive, and I’ll definitely look forward to his next book.

Listened to audiobook in May 2017.

a day in the life: 11 march 2016

A-Day-in-the-Life Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity is hosting her 2nd annual “A Day in the Life” series, where bloggers share a normal day outside of writing about books on their blogs. This is my Friday, March 11, 2016.

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First up, I had a normal workday. Here’s (one side) of my office—two screens means business, people! I keep it pretty colorful and busy on the walls, though. I have original art mixed with concert posters, painting poster-size prints, calendars, and a photo collage of family and my babies (niece and nephew) to get me through the day. Most of my job in the marketing department consists of making the printed programs for our music school’s recitals and concerts, and managing the social media. My office is adjacent to the large ensemble rehearsal room, so on Friday I would have heard conducting class, Wind Ensemble, Orchestra, and one of the jazz bands have class and rehearsal all day. It’s a normal soundtrack to my days. People seem to be split—either they don’t know how I get any work done with the constant action and “noise,” others think it’s super cool to hear live music all day long. It’s a little bit of both for me, but by and large I like the students being around and hearing rehearsals. I’m so used it that when I try to work at home I usually need to put on records or TV in the background!

dayinlifeerrands

I had a couple of errands to run after work. First, I submitted my completed challenge form to the KC Library, which has an adult reading program at the beginning of each year: read five books between January and March. There’s always a theme with suggested books on that theme, but you can read any five books and it counts. If you complete the challenge, you get a piece of awesome glassware (coffee mugs and an old fashioned glass in the past). This year I got a beer stein! Pic on the left above is the book circle sculpture at the entrance to the Plaza Branch.

After the library I swung by our favorite local vinyl shop, Mills Record Company in Westport, to pick up a record that I had on order that came in (Galactic’s Into the Deep). Of course while I was there I picked up another couple of records… Esperanza Spalding’s new one and The Band’s The Band.
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After these errands, I went over to P. Ott’s, a dive bar on the Plaza, where my husband and our friends were already celebrating one of our friend’s passing his dissertation defense that afternoon. We’re not a picture-taking group really, but I remembered to snap this one pic of a poster on the wall of the bar on my way out.

I left the party early because I was assigned to review the Alicia Olatuja Quintet at the historic Folly Theater in downtown Kansas City on its Folly Jazz Series. I love the Folly, it’s one of my favorite Kansas City venues.

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Olatuja was fantastic—she has a beautiful voice and a way of blending genres that’s both memorable and accessible to fans of all styles of music. I spent the weekend after the show writing up my review for KCMetropolis.org, Kansas City’s online journal of the arts, for which I’m also executive editor. Heres the review: Olatuja transcends the Spotlight

After the concert, I went BACK to P. Ott’s to rejoin the party! Nick and I were there until… I’m not even sure. After midnight, I think. I didn’t even read anything all day. Pretty typical!

IMG_1073This happened the next day (Saturday, March 12), but I thought I’d sneak it in this post since it’s a normal thing in my life! Saturday night I played a gig with one of my orchestras, Heritage Philharmonic, out in Blue Springs. We played Vaughan Williams’s Five Variants of “Dives and Lazarus” and Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite for String Orchestra. (There was more on the concert, played by other sections of the orchestra.) This is a selfie I snapped backstage waiting to go on. Fun times!

the silent wife

I received a copy of The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison from a friend several months ago (a year?) and finally decided to read it in March, being a perfect fit for the KC Library Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program. From Goodreads:

Jodi and Todd are at a bad place in their marriage. Much is at stake, including the affluent life they lead in their beautiful waterfront condo in Chicago, as she, the killer, and he, the victim, rush haplessly toward the main event. He is a committed cheater. She lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds. She likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps. She has nothing left to lose. Told in alternating voices, The Silent Wife is about a marriage in the throes of dissolution, a couple headed for catastrophe, concessions that can’t be made, and promises that won’t be kept. Expertly plotted and reminiscent of Gone Girl and These Things Hidden, The Silent Wife ensnares the reader from page one and does not let go.

I know I’m not the first to say it, and I totally agree—the comparisons to Gone Girl are way off. Sure, it’s a messed up marriage, like in Gone Girl. But The Silent Wife is less thriller than Gone Girl, for starters. While the final “act” is set up in the blurb above (and I kind of wish the blurb hadn’t given that away), Jodi and Todd are less conniving and sociopathic  than Amy and Nick, but still pretty awful to each other. Psychology is a huge element in this novel, with Jodi even being a psychologist herself. There were plenty of twists and turns in the story but I saw a few of them coming, and the ending wrapped up just a little too neatly for me.

This was deliciously dark fiction, though, with plenty of sinister moments, and Harrison’s writing style and pacing keeps you turning the pages for more. I loved how she made Chicago another character in the story, mentioning specific locations, however, the language wasn’t quite right for Chicagoans in spots. I didn’t grow up in Chicago but I’ve been many, many times to visit family there, and never once have I heard anyone I know from Chicago say “hell’s bells.” This would make a great book club choice, since there’s a lot to discuss: cheating and what you do or don’t do about it, what a marriage looks like after 20+ years, childhood trauma, and so on. The Silent Wife came out a couple of years ago so I’m sure many have read it already, but I don’t want to give out spoilers!

Basically it was a good book—not quite great, but still an enjoyable read if you’re into dark fiction about marriages and interpersonal relationships. I was sorry to find out later that Harrison died right before The Silent Wife was published, making it her only novel. I would have been interested to read more from her as she developed her style and voice past her debut.

The Silent Wife is my fifth book of five for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program.

Read from March 15 to 20, 2015.

shotgun lovesongs

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler made the rounds on book blogs last year, and it came up as available on audio through my library last month. I didn’t realize it until I was almost finished, but this book is a great fit for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks program. From Goodreads:

Hank, Leland, Kip and Ronny were all born and raised in the same Wisconsin town—Little Wing—and are now coming into their own (or not) as husbands and fathers. One of them never left, still farming the family’s land that’s been tilled for generations. Others did leave, went farther afield to make good, with varying degrees of success; as a rock star, commodities trader, rodeo stud. And seamlessly woven into their patchwork is Beth, whose presence among them—both then and now—fuels the kind of passion one comes to expect of love songs and rivalries.

There was a lot I liked about Shotgun Lovesongs. First, yay Wisconsin! It’s not everyday that you experience literary fiction set in Wisconsin (my home state), especially with it being another subtle, accurately portrayed character in itself. I’ve since learned that Butler is a Wisconsin resident, so that obviously makes the setting click, with its spot-on references. I was easily taken by the five friends and immersed in their world, as I have first-hand experience of small, rural Wisconsin towns myself. Their interpersonal relationships and struggles were realistic and easily relatable. Though Little Wing is fictional, I love the nod to Stevie Ray Vaughan (who died in a helicopter crash in Wisconsin) and Jimi Hendrix. Beyond that, with basing his main protagonist on Bon Iver’s leader Justin Vernon (a Wisconsin native), obviously music is a big inspiration for Shotgun and I loved that aspect of this book.

While I said the Wisconsin references were spot-on (and they were), occasionally they were a skosh heavy handed (John Deere and Leinenkugels [almost no one says the full name] and Carhartts oh my!), and the women didn’t feel fully fleshed out for me. Butler shatters some stereotypes with the men, but sadly plays right into others with the women of his fictional rural town (babies on the brain, frumpy clothes for farmer’s wives? come on). I thought it was great that on the audio each character was read by a different actor in the alternating-viewpoint chapters. The actors didn’t sound like they were from “up-nort” (forgivable) but thinking back, the characters all “spoke” in sort of the same voice… their inner monologues were rather similar.

I enjoyed Shotgun Lovesongs very much, though—it was just the right kind of escapism I’ve been needing lately. I’ve also found out that the movie rights have been secured; I can see this translating to film quite well!

Shotgun Lovesongs is my fourth book of five for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program.

Listened to audiobook from February 14 to March 15, 2015.

hmc + mafb

KCMetropolis.orgI can’t believe we’re halfway through December already! I’ve been wrapped up in holiday concerts for a couple weeks now, with two of my own via the orchestras I’m in and reviewing two for KCMetropolis.org. It just so happens that I ended up covering two of Kansas City’s major LGBT arts groups, Heartland Men’s Chorus and the Mid America Freedom Band. HMC is one of my favorite choirs in town—its shows are so much fun, with a lot of humor, heart, and awesome production value. MAFB is growing by leaps and bounds itself, adding shows and break-out factions of the group all the time. What I appreciate the most about these two shows I saw, though, is that while they were holiday concerts, the programming was adventurous and creative enough to warm even my semi-grinchy heart. As a musician, the performing arts offerings can become mind-numbingly repetitive this time of year—the same carols, the same arrangements, the same Handel’s Messiah, the same the same the same—so to hear some interesting, uncommon arrangements and programming themes that stray from the usual was the best, and these two groups didn’t disappoint on that front.

Read my full reviews at KCMetropolis.org:

driven

The paper book I decided to bring along with me on my trip to Wisconsin last month was Driven: From Homeless to Hero, My Journeys On and Off Lambeau Field by Donald Driver. What else! I was in the mood for something light and uplifting, and I was heading home for a long weekend, so it was a perfect choice.

In Driven, Driver recounts his family’s struggles with poverty during his childhood, his drug-dealing adolescence, and his career in professional football, as well as his winning turn on Dancing with the Stars.

Who doesn’t love Donald Driver? He has consistently been a fan favorite for years, and is definitely one of my faves. He just has a bright, good-natured persona, and is bursting with charisma, which was upheld in this memoir. I didn’t really know much about his past, especially the extent to which his family suffered and his drug dealing and car stealing days. Driver’s a very fortunate person and it’s clear he doesn’t take it for granted, and it’s wonderful his tenacity and patience has paid off.

It was a real thrill to read about a player’s view of some Packers games that I remember watching or attending, and I was touched by Driver’s close friendship with Brett Favre. This book made me super excited for football season to start up again! Every fan of the Packers would love this memoir. I think it would also be fantastic to experience on audio, if Driver was the narrator of course, because it reads very conversationally, like he’s just hanging out with you telling you about his life.

While I really enjoyed it as a Packers fan, as a reader it has its share of flaws, mainly in the editing. I did find a tiny handful of spelling errors, and there was much repetition. Every time Favre is mentioned, it is reiterated that they were close friends, or that he was the quarterback. (Not verbatim, but you get the idea: “Packers quarterback Brett Favre, my close friend…” “My close friend Brett Favre (who was quarterback at the time) and I…”) This also happened with mentions of his wife Tina. I found the writing during the football chapters much more exciting and engaging than other chapters, not that the parts about his personal life and Dancing with the Stars weren’t interesting, they just didn’t go as deep (ha! get it… he’s a WR…#nerd) as the football writing.

An absolute recommend for Packers fans! Driver’s memoir is heartwarming and truly conveys how much he loves Green Bay, the game, the players, the community, and the fans. (I will admit to tearing up during his retirement ceremony, which I watched live online at my work desk. My boss walked in and was like, “What’s the matt— oh! You’re silly!” haha)

Read from July 8 to 17, 2014.