Book Report: A Simple Favor

Rating: 2 out of 5.

It’s time to report on all the books I read while I was freezing or had no power. The first one, A Simple Favor, by Darcey Bell, is the next neighborhood book club selection, and was recommended by neighbor Ruth C’s daughter. It says it’s soon to be a major motion picture, and I can see why. It’s plot would be great for a movie.

Scary

A Simple Favor is written from the perspectives of the characters in the book, which mostly focuses on Stephanie, a “mommy blogger,” who, just like me, only shows the perky side of herself in her blog (ha ha ha). I immediately disliked her because she refers to mothers as “moms,” and was amused to find out it also bothered other characters. She is a person who operated based mostly on instinct, feelings, and hormones. She has a LOT of hormones. I’m glad at least she has all those juicy sexual memories to share (don’t worry, it’s not graphic, just frequent).

Another “character” in the book is Stephanie’s blog, which she uses in all sorts of ways to try to get things accomplished, send messages, and bias readers in her favor. That was something I enjoyed in Bell’s writing.

The other main focus of the book is on Stephanie’s “best friend,” Emily, who has “issues,” shall we say, but certainly dresses well. She’s not big on telling the truth, but she loves to ask Stephanie for “simple favors.” The glue that holds the two together are their children.

(Aside, the names in this book were not great. Stephanie’s late husband was Davis and her child is Miles. Who would name the child of Davis, Miles? All you’d do is think about jazz. And the English man married to Emily is Sean, who goes to “Ireland” in the “UK” at some point. I shall charitably assume he went to Belfast.)

Where was I? Anyway, the plot revolves around Emily’s sudden disappearance and how Sean, her husband, and Stephanie cope with it. Oh yes, even Sean gets a chapter or two to tell his perspective. Since the book is a murder mystery kind of deal, I won’t go into much more detail, other than that it involves a lot of descriptions of meals, meltdowns, and sex.

By the end of the book, you really aren’t fond of any of the characters, who are by turns gullible, cunning, slow, selfish, shallow, and deranged. I guess they’re human, huh? I know I gave it a 2-star rating, but it’s a good book if you are stuck in the house under many layers of clothing and blankets, and you want to take your mind off the lack of water and electricity.

PS: I hope you enjoyed my over-use of quotation marks as much as I enjoyed over-using them!

Book Report: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The book I’m talking about today is next month’s topic for the cul-de-sac book club in Austin. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep was Joanna Cannon’s first novel, which came out in 2015. Since I wasn’t reading novels five years ago, I’d never heard of it, but dutifully ordered it when it was decided upon by the group.

I even read a paperback. Wow!

I got it on Monday, and finished it last night. It was a nice respite from the more solemn reading I’ve been doing lately, but it doesn’t mean that Cannon didn’t sneak in some messages, some of which are quite current today.

I’d say almost anyone would enjoy reading this, though it helps a LOT to be familiar with the everyday items in England in 1976. I know what Fairy Liquid is, thanks to spending so much time in Ireland, but do you? (It’s dish washing soap.) And candies are very important, at least to the main characters, so it would help to Google those as they come up.

The fun thing about the book is that it’s about a cul-de-sac and the varied characters who inhabit it, which of course reminds me and my neighbors of OUR little Bob Cat Run, with its fascinating cast of characters. We will have to decide who is the “Walter Bishop” of our street (he’s the one everyone has a bad opinion of). Oh wait, I think I already know, ha ha. It’s not me or Anita, either!

Much of the story revolves around two young girls who are best friends, Grace and Tilly. They are the junior detectives in the mystery aspect of the book, who, after one neighbor disappears suddenly, decide to find God in the neighborhood. Eventually Jesus shows up, which is a fun twist (I won’t tell you how that happens). All the neighbors get their chance to shine, too, and you eventually learn all their secrets. That’s the fun of the book.

You’ll love the woman who wears a bikini and tans in her front garden every day, the couple with the very nervous wife, Grace’s parents (and her very odd mother), the guy who lives with his elderly mother well into his forties, the friendly widow, the refreshingly rational gardening guy, the exotic new family, etc.

What really makes the book special, though, is how gently Cannon weaves lessons about honesty and lies, ignorance and enlightenment, and most important to me, about how each and every one of us has secrets we think will be ruinous if revealed, but are probably worse being hidden. It’s a fun read with interesting characters, but it also makes you think about morality and judgment. That’s what elevates The Trouble with Goats and Sheep from a pleasant escape to a book that will live with me for a long time.

By the way, it’s also really funny. I had to read passages aloud to Lee. I think I laughed the hardest when Grace’s father tries to convince the new neighbor he’s a worldly, tolerant guy by repeating racist stereotype after racist stereotype. I was happy to see the two of them actually ending up talking to each other from the heart and becoming friends. That’s what we all need to do when confronted with “the other,” I think.

I have a nice stack of books on my shelf, so I’ll start another one while patiently reading a chapter a day in Caste.