The Incredible Winston Browne by Sean Dietrich

Read 10/22/21

Absolutely wonderful. It was like The Last Days of Summer + Field of Dreams + A Man Called Ove (with a splash of a fascinating religious cult for a little suspense.)

I really loved everything about this. It was super touching. Winston Browne is the sheriff of a very small town in Florida. It’s modern enough that women could (though don’t unless they want to shock people) wear pants, but also close enough to WWII that the adult characters have served in the war. So, it’s the early 50s in a very rural very small town. Kind of Mayberry like. And they all love baseball and the Brooklyn Dodgers and Winston doesn’t have much policing to do, he’s more like a kindly father to all.Alas, (not a spoiler, it’s in the blurg) he’s dying. It’s kind of nutty that everyone is sad he’s clearly dying of lung cancer, but they all smoke like crazy. Um…connection? Anyway, there’s love and new life and a runaway child from a weird cult and Jackie Robinson and Mark Twain and oh it’s just wonderful.

The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett by Annie Lyons

This had a strong Man Called Ove theme and feel about it-somewhat cranky old person perfectly willing to end her life. In this case Eudora would like to travel to a Swiss clinic for a physician assisted suicide. She insists she’s not depressed she just wants to end life on her own terms-she’s elderly and doesn’t want to end up on machines and such. It’s all very straightforward and practical but of course we come to find out why she doesn’t have anyone who will object and why she is so ready to end this life.
New neighbors and a sparkling interesting ten year old who butts into Eudora’s life suddenly turn her life upside down. It all seems very predictable and yet it was a joy to read. I loved watching Eudora’s hard shell crack, gaining insight into being elderly (I liked it when she said she understood how irritating it was to watch an old person walk because now that she was a slow walker she hated it, too!), and reading the flashbacks of her life (and wondering how different her life might have been had she lived in a different era.)
This was, not surprisingly, very heartwarming, but it was also very thoughtful and I found myself really thinking about death and how we approach it, well after I finished the book. And then, in a strange coincidence, a couple days after finishing the NYTimes had an article about death doulas, which had featured in the book.
Would love to read more by this author.

Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof

smallA charming feel good story. I think you can tell right from the get-go the happy ending this story is headed for, but how it gets there is a delight.  I very much enjoyed the style in which the story was told, though I’m hard pressed to put my finger on what exactly that style is. The setting is a small college town/campus (which was nothing like my college, but I kept picture it there anyway) with a few professors and their odd habits as colorful characters. Tom is an English professor who is well liked, quiet, ordinary, people speak nicely of him because he’s stuck with his completely crazy wife for 20 years. He lives with her and his mother-in-law and accepts that this is his life.  But then complications-welcome?-arise. First there is Rose, the new employee at the college bookstore. He feels an instant spark with her (and she with him), but even stranger is that his crazy wife Marjory seems to have a moment of clarity upon meeting her.  Then there’s the bombshell of a letter Tom receives.

Tom’s life is definitely upended, along with pretty much everyone around him.  This is a very warm story with lots of feel good moments.

Binny for Short by Hilary McKay

binnyEver since I read The Exiles I’ve been a fan of Hilary McKay. She’s such a good writer, so funny, heartwarming, refreshingly honest, and British. This is a kids’ book, but I assumed too old for my kids and thus I’d read it on my own. (Besides, we’ve recently discovered her younger chapter book series about Lulu and that’s just right for read alouds.)
I love the structure of this that makes you a little uncertain what’s going on. Occasional italic chapters showing scenes of Binny and Gareth in a dangerous ocean predicament. Is it a dream? Is this going to be a sad book where her friend dies? Heroic? Who knows what. Binny is 11 or 12 and when she was 8 her dad died. If she’s honest though, she’ll tell you that what was really horrible about that year was that her beloved dog, Max, whom she’d had for less than a year, was taken away from her. Due to the declining circumstances of the family after the dad died they’ve had to move around, stay in small apartments, and have the dog stay with the grandma. But he’s too wild for her and the nasty aunt whisked him away. Thus breaking Binny’s heart and cementing her hatred for her aunt.  Binny wishes she’d die. And she does. Which is horrifying for her. The aunt has left her small seaside cottage to Binny’s family and it is there that they rebuild their lives. I just loved the characters and their quirks, the warm family, and the whole thing. It’s hard for me to describe what it is I like so much about her style, it’s just the language she uses and maybe how upfront McKay is about people being horrid.

Anyway, I loved this!