REVIEW: HILLBILLY ELEGY, BY J. D. VANCE

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Growing up as a member of the white working class from Appalachia, the author speaks candidly about the chaos of his childhood: the revolving door of his childhood home, with numerous partners assuming the role of father figure; his mother’s addiction and her efforts through various rehab centers to overcome these issues; and how his primary form of stability came from the regular presence of his grandmother (Mamaw), who was there as an encouraging role model.

Her methods and her language might have been harsh at times, but beneath the surface was a strong woman who could show him the way out by her encouraging words and actions.

From Jackson, Kentucky to Middletown, Ohio, the family had migrated, but they never really assimilated into the middle class, even when finances improved. The hillbilly thoughts, values, and behaviors continued to set them apart from those who had taken on the values of those who were claiming the American Dream.

What the author learned years later—after serving in the marines and then attending Ohio State College, followed by Yale Law School—was that getting ahead required a form of networking he had to learn, and social capital he required in order to achieve his goals. He found mentors and advisors to help him accomplish these goals. But even after college, law school, and a wonderful woman to marry, he still heard the internal voices that urged him to escape when conflict presented itself. An ongoing battle against his Adverse Childhood Experiences would keep him unsettled from time to time.

A stunning, yet unsurprising (for me) journey of life battling the odds, Hillbilly Elegy kept me glued to the pages. Definitely well worth the read. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE GUEST COTTAGE, BY NANCY THAYER

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Zach and Sophie Anderson have the perfect life in their gorgeous Boston home, with their two wonderful children, Jonah, 15, and Lacey, 10. Or at least it seems to be perfect on the surface.

So when Sophie finds a suspicious notation on Zach’s calendar, she has to confront him about it. And he is all too eager to share that he is in love with Lila, his associate, and wants a divorce.

Reeling from the news, Sophie decides to pull an “Aunt Fancy,” a term she uses to describe the wild and crazy ways that her now deceased aunt dealt with things: she took some money from her inheritance from Aunt Fancy and rented a guest cottage on Nantucket for the summer.

In nearby Cambridge, Trevor Black, who runs his own computer business from his rented apartment, and whose wife has tragically died, is raising his four-year-old son and facing some challenges with Leo’s behavior. He decides that a change will be a good thing. So off they go to Nantucket…to a cottage they have rented.

Imagine their surprise to discover that they have each rented the same cottage–from the Svenson cousins who are not big on checking what the other is doing–and will have to find some sort of compromise. After they each check the other’s references, they give it a try.

What follows is an intriguing adventure that leads the adults and the children on an unexpected summer of discovery and a big start toward healing and starting over.

But there will also be lots of visitors to the cottage for each of them, from Sophie’s friend, the aggressive Angie, who makes a play for Trevor…and then tries to reel in Hristo, the wealthy Bulgarian who has his own yacht.

Then comes the mother of one of Leo’s friends, Candace, who boldly announces to Sophie that she and Trevor “belong” to each other. But is that the truth, or wishful thinking on her part?

Right away, I was intrigued and found The Guest Cottage: A Novel a lovely mix of nostalgic moments, possibilities of new love, and a wide variety of adventures that were fun to read about. What happens by summer’s end is the stuff of romance and the unexpected treasures of life. I enjoyed this one a lot, despite its predictability; it felt like a true comfort read that left me smiling. 4.5 stars.