Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin
Published January 2013 by Random House Publishing
Source: purchased my copy from my local indie bookstore at the Omaha LitFest where Benjamin was speaking

Publisher's Summary:
For much of her life, Anne Morrow, the shy daughter of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has stood in the shadows of those around her, including her millionaire father and vibrant older sister, who often steals the spotlight. Then Anne, a college senior with hidden literary aspirations, travels to Mexico City to spend Christmas with her family. There she meets Colonel Charles Lindbergh, fresh off his celebrated 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Enthralled by Charles’s assurance and fame, Anne is certain the celebrated aviator has scarcely noticed her. But she is wrong.

Charles sees in Anne a kindred spirit, a fellow adventurer, and her world will be changed forever. The two marry in a headline-making wedding. Hounded by adoring crowds and hunted by an insatiable press, Charles shields himself and his new bride from prying eyes, leaving Anne to feel her life falling back into the shadows. In the years that follow, despite her own major achievements—she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States—Anne is viewed merely as the aviator’s wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life’s infinite possibilities for change and happiness.

My Thoughts:
It's a little hard for me to have an opinion of this book as a novel independent of the story of the Lindberghs. Having listened to Benjamin talk about her writing process, and doing some research myself as I read the book, I know that the book is largely based on the facts for the famous couple's lives. That may be what also helps draw readers in - the line between what is fact and what is fiction blurs and that's always a good thing in a work of fiction based on fact, in my opinion.

Charles Lindbergh not does come off well here. Cold, manipulative, single-minded. He was a needy husband who managed to find the perfect girl to be his literal and figurative co-pilot. In a family where much was expected, Anne Morrow was struggling to chart her life course until she met Lindbergh. In Charles, Anne found both the man who would allow her to become something more than just "the little woman" but also the man whose shadow she would always walk in. The first licensed female glider pilot in the United States was also a woman who, even when Charles was almost never home any more, allowed herself to be ruled by her husband, keeping meticulous records of money spent, making home repairs he required, holding her children to the strict schedules he wrote. Life with Charles meant grand adventures but also a life that allowed for almost no privacy for decades.

Benjamin does a wonderful job of allowing Anne to tell her own story, from the shy girl who lived in the shadows of the Morrows to the woman who wrote best-selling books and finally became her own person. Benjamin does not paint her a saint - she was a woman who had affairs and, at least on paper, defended Hitler's regime. The book is largely told in flashbacks, Anne recalling their lives as Charles nears death. The through line is a series of letters outing his affairs that come into Anne's possession. It's a literary device that allows readers to see a part of Charles Anne did not actually discover until after his death. But it was good to see Anne really and truly get angry at that man who demanded so much of her and had, in fact, given her so little.

The Omaha Bookworms read The Aviator's Wife this month and can highly recommend it as a book club selection, not just because of its famous characters. Benjamin has pulled in from their lives themes including the cost of fame, mental illness, homosexuality, parent/child relationships, marriage and infidelity, abuse, and grief.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Life: It Goes On - August 23

Well, then. I don't suppose I can pass today off as Sunday, can I? Oh my, what a busy weekend we had and I'm still playing catch up. Which, you may have noticed lately, is going to be a big job!

Friday evening was prep for the bridal shower for my niece and, literally, all of Saturday was devoted to the actual event. It was a lot of fun and she got some great gifts for helping with entertaining. Sunday we were back in the car to head to The Big Guy's hometown for a baby shower and got home eight hours later. Fun to celebrate the impending grandparenthood of some of our oldest friends (in fact, the wife introduced BG and me!).

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Nearly finished with And The Mountains Echoed. It's really less a novel than a collection of tightly woven short stories which makes for an interesting listen.

Watching: I may have teared up a little as the Olympics came to an end the other night. The only thing that makes it okay is that The Voice is starting again. Although, I'm a little leery about Miley Cyrus as one of the judges.

Reading: Finally, finishing Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. Let me just say this - all of the hype is true. I've also started Greg Iles' Natchez Burning which is really interesting following on the heels of Whitehead's book.

Making: Shortbread cookies (that recipe never left the house) and two kinds of sangria (which did). Because you can never have too much sangria, I made quadruple batches of both the red citrus and the peach basil.

Planning: A going away party for Mini-me, who leaves for a trip to California in a week and then is back for one night before his adventure in Milwaukee begins. Trying to spend as much time with him as we can get before then!

My mom, me, the bride, Miss H, my sister
Thinking About: 
How funny this pic of the hostesses of the shower with the bride looks. Miss H is already nearly 5'10" and then threw on some tall wedges. She makes the rest of us look like hobbits!

Enjoying: An unexpectedly rainy August. We have hardly had to water all summer. We get a few hot, dry days then a heavy rain that saturates everything. Of course, this means that it's more humid than usual this time of year which means my hair is a hot mess.

Feeling: A little overwhelmed. I really should have gotten more done while I was watching the Olympics the past couple of weeks!

Looking forward to: More family time this weekend. You know how much I love that!

Question of the week: What's your best tip for keeping all of the plates spinning at once?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

Girl Waits With Gun  (Kopp Sisters Series #1) by Amy Stewart
Published September 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Publishing
Source: my copy purchased for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared.

My Thoughts:
I've seriously wanted to read this book since it came out just because I love that cover. I downloaded it a few months ago but decided it was time to read it when I downloaded the next book in the series, which will be published next month (Lady Cop Makes Trouble).

The Kopp sisters are all great fun - Constance who has no interest in traditional feminine roles, Norma who'd prefer to hide away from the world, and Fleurette who yearns to let the world she imagines become reality. The sisters have been living in isolation for more than 15 years but Henry Kaufman destroys their buggy with his automobile, Constance will not let it go. When her letters requesting damages go unheeded, she marches into his office, demanding he respond. His response lands him pushed up against a wall by the much taller Constance, embarrassing him in front of his less than respectable friends. Their threatening response leads Constance to call in the sheriff and his deputies as they try to catch Kaufman and his crew.

Girl Waits With Gun is filled with interesting characters, brings the time and place to life, and has, for much of the book, a tension that makes the book fly along. Unfortunately, about two-thirds of the way through the book, that tension all but disappears and a secondary story line takes center stage. That secondary story line, that of one of Kaufman's female employees whose child by him disappears, offers Constance the chance to stretch her wings and appears to be the springboard for the next book. It's an interesting enough story line, I just wish it hadn't overwhelmed the primary plot. The book is solidly based on fact and it may have been that, in sticking with the known facts of the case, Stewart was left with a gap and without a real climax to the battle between Kaufman and the Kopp sisters.

Still, I enjoyed the book and it's characters enough that I'm looking forward to the next book in the series. I hope that Norma's love of newspapers and their headlines carries over, that Fleurette continues to push the sisters to let her out more into the world, and that Constance's relationship with the Sheriff continues to develop.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Published August 2016 by Amistad
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
Running into a long-ago friend sets memory from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything—until it wasn’t. For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them. But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.

My Thoughts:
170 pages. Spare, airy pages. Just 170 pages.

That's all it took for Woodson to undo me. That's all it took for Jacqueline Woodson to bring back my own adolescence and friendships in much the same time period but in a place as different as possible.
"...I had Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi, the four of us sharing the weight of growing up Girl in Brooklyn, as though it was a bag of stones we passed among ourselves saying, Here. Help me carry this."*
From the opening paragraph, I wanted to wrap August into my arms. I never once wanted to let her go.
"For a long time, my mother wasn't dead yet. Mine could have been a more tragic story. My father could have given in to the bottle or the needle or a woman and left my brother and me to care for ourselves - or worse, the care of New York City Children's Services, where, my father said, there was seldom a happy ending. But this didn't happen. I know now that what is tragic isn't the moment. It is the memory."
August's father moved August and her brother to Brooklyn in 1973, leaving their beloved Southern farm and their mother. He tried to shelter them from the outside world and keep them inside their apartment. But every parent knows you can't protect your children from everyone forever.
"We had blades inside our kneesocks and were growing our nails long. We were learning to walk the Brooklyn streets as though we had always belonged to them - our voices loud, our laughter even louder. But Brooklyn had longer nails and sharper blades. Any strung out soldier or ashy-kneed, hungry child could have told us this."
In the 1970's, America was a country at war in Vietnam, New York was suffering from blackouts, starving children in Biafra were in the news, Son of Sam was killing young people in the boroughs of New York, white people were fleeing Brooklyn, and drugs were destroying lives in greater numbers than ever. It was a tough time and place to grow up. It was even harder being a girl. Sylvia, Angela, Gigi and August formed a barrier against the world around them. But barriers can't always hold up against parents, boys and sexual desire, and loss.

Woodson's writing is spare but impactful and vivid. Emotionally hard to read but even harder to put down.

I chose to read this book because I have been wanting to read Woodson's National Book Award winning book, Brown Girl Dreaming, and want to give myself a better understanding about what it's like to be black in the United States. Coming just after I read Jesmyn Ward's Salvage The Bones, Another Brooklyn stands as an emotional lesson about how different and difficult growing up as a young black woman is in this country. It is a lesson that makes me know I have much more to learn.

Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other opinions, check out the full tour.

Jacqueline Woodson is the bestselling author of more than two dozen award-winning books for young adults, middle graders, and children, including the New York Times bestselling memoir Brown Girl Dreaming, which won the 2014 National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor Award, an NAACP Image Award, and the Sibert Honor Award. Woodson was recently named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York. Find out more about Woodson at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

*all quotes from an uncorrected proof and may not appear as quoted here in the final product*

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Top Ten Books Set In The U.S. Midwest

This week the ladies at The Broke and The Bookish challenged us to pick a setting and then chose our ten favorite books from that setting. I had a hard time narrowing this one down - the American South? Africa? New York City? I toyed with the idea of an island theme but would have had to leave England off because it would have overwhelmed the list and since I just had to do that recently, I didn't want to do it again. So I started looking at my books read on Goodreads and got to thinking that maybe books set in the U.S. Midwest don't get enough love.

In no particular order, here are actually eleven of my favorite books set in the U.S. Midwest:

1. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather - or any Cather for that matter; they're all great and so beautifully paint this part of the country as the pioneers settled in the Plains.

2. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick - dark, oh so dark. The isolation of rural turn-of-the-last-century Wisconsin and the decadence of big city Chicago all wrapped up in one novel. Plus, great characters and lots of surprises.

3. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - Rowell's books all have a Midwest setting and she brilliantly portrays the people I'm surrounded by everyday and the cities I've lived in. This one is my favorite.

4. Some Luck by Jane Smiley - This one's the first of a trilogy I'm still on the fence about but I definitely appreciated Smiley's grasp of this part of the country and its people - the beauty and the minutiae of everyday life.

5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote - in the 1950's, unless you lived in a city, you felt safe enough in your own home to leave the doors unlocked at night. Until one night two men changed all of that. Capote, who was most definitely not a Midwesterner, buried himself in the story and really captured the feelings of the people most closely impacted.

6. The Man Who Ate The 747 by Ben Sherwood - quirky and fun and heartfelt and utterly unique.

7. The Magician's Assistant by Ann Patchett - this was my second book by Patchett (following on the heels of Bel Canto). So unexpected different and such a nice surprise to find an appreciation for small town middle America.

8. The Round House by Louise Erdrich - you could, of course, include all of Erdrich's books here. She shines a light on a place and people that the rest of the country is all to ready to turn their backs on. Erdrich makes readers remember those whose ancestors were here first.

9. Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert - Rotert is a local writer who set this book in Chicago. She catches that balance between big city life and midwest values.

10. The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert - Schaffert understands small town Nebraska, the good, the bad, and the hopeful.

11. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - twisty, dark, terrible people. Not everyone in the Midwest is midwest nice. Although, Amy is a New Yorker.

I'd include all of Kent Haruf's books except they're set in the plains of Colorado and I don't really consider any part of Colorado as midwestern. Likewise, I consider Mark Twain's books, although set in Missouri, to be more Southern than midwestern.

If I'd included children's books, of course you'd also see the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder and L. Frank Baum on this list.

Book Riot has put together a list of 100 Must-Read Books of the American Midwest you might like to check out if you'd like to learn more. Not all of the books they have included are set in the Midwest so I wouldn't have included them on my list. But there are a lot there that I need to get to someday.