Sunday, February 19, 2017

Life: It Goes On - February 19

That picture there, on the left? Nothing whatsoever like the weather we have had for the past week. It has been gloriously sunny and warm here. Record high temps warm. Cocktails on the patio warm. Doors and windows open warm. Not that I'm for losing the polar ice caps or for having deathly heat waves in the summer, but it's hard not to be a fan of global warming when you have a week in February like this one! Next weekend I'll be talking about snow again; but, for now, I'm a happy girl!
This Week I'm:

Listening To:

Watching: I finally started watching The Crown on Netflix and I'm really enjoying it. Poor Elizabeth - she lost her beloved father and had this great pressure put on her all at once. Can't wait to find time for some more episodes.

Reading: I'm setting aside The Girl In The Garden for a couple of days to read Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of The Team That Barnstormed Its Way To Basketball Glory. I downloaded it from Netgalley but also had been sent a ARC of it. I put the ARC in the hands of my brother-in-law who used to coach women's basketball and he is really enjoying it.

Making: We grilled several times this week so I haven't really "made" dinner too much; I did make up a delicious beef stroganoff one night. Best thing I made this week was lemon martinis I made Friday night when we had cocktails on the patio.

Planning: On a home repair of my washing machine. Paid a guy to come out because it was leaking like crazy. He gave us an estimate of $400+. That wasn't happening so we tried a couple more things ourselves and it is hardly leaking at all any more. Then we discovered we can get the part for a fraction of what the guy wanted and there are YouTube videos for the repair itself. What could go wrong?!

Thinking About: Oh, let's be serious. You already know the answer to this one.

The Big Guy's brother & his wife and the view from their deck of Lincoln
Enjoying: Time with The Big Guy's brother and sister-in-law, especially getting to sit on the deck of their condo building on February in nothing more than a cardigan!

Miss H
Feeling: Happy to see my girl so happy in her life these days. Seriously, how great is that smile?!

Looking forward to: Book club this week. We all reread a childhood favorite and I can't wait to see what people chose and how it held up to their memories of the book.

Question of the week: Do you ever go back and reread childhood favorites? If so, how did they compare to your memories of them? I've read Little Women a couple of times as an adult and I still adore Jo March

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders
Published February 2017 by Random House Publishing
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher, thru Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.

My Thoughts: 
When I started to see this one around, I knew I wanted to read it. Not because I was interested in the summary (I hadn't even read it), but because I have heard so great things about Saunders' Tenth of December. I sort of love going into a book completely unprepared, only expecting that the writing would be very good.

If you've read this blog for long, you know that I'm not one for books with ghosts and other such supernatural doings. So when I tell you that this book, largely told by spirits caught in limbo, will almost certainly be on my top ten list at the end of the year, you'll begin to understand how impressed I was with Lincoln In The Bardo.
"What I mean to say is, we had been considerable. Had been loved. Not lonely, not lost, not freakish, but wise, each in his or her own way. Our departure caused pain. Those who had loved us sat upon their beds, heads in hand; lowered their faces to tabletops, making animal noises. We had been loved, I say, and remembering us, even many years later, people would smile, briefly flattened at the memory.
the reverend everly thomas 
And yet.
roger begins iii 
And yet no one had ever come here to hold one of us, while speaking so tenderly. 
hans coleman 
roger begins iii"
Bardo, a Tibetan word, literally means "intermediate state" or "in-between state." In Lincoln In The Bardo, young Willie Lincoln has just been "laid to rest." But he is not at rest. Nor are the denizen's of the cemetery whose own stories are woven in with Willie's. Along the way Saunders intersperses nonfiction passages (which may or may not be actual nonfiction) about the last days of young Willie and the toll it took on his parents. We're all familiar with Mary Todd Lincoln's profound grief, but Saunders shows us the quiet, profound grief of a many who is not just carrying the weight of his own grief but that of the families whose sons he has sent to war to be killed.

In lesser hands, the multitude of story tellers and the mixing in of the nonfiction into the story could have been a mess. In Saunders' hands, for my money, it was brilliant. I loved this book from the first sentence "On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen" to the devastated father riding away from the cemetery in the end.

Now I need to go find a copy of Tenth of December...and maybe everything else Saunders has ever written.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud
Narrated by Suzanne Toren
Published August 2006 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: my audiobook purchased at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
Friends at Brown University, Marina, Danielle, and Julius are still looking to make their marks as they approach their 30s. Marina lives with her celebrated parents on the Upper West Side while trying to complete her book. TV producer Danielle's success is due to the puff pieces she churns out. Freelance critic Julius can barely make ends meet. Into this mix comes Bootie, Marina's college dropout cousin, who is just the catalyst the three friends need to start making significant changes in their lives.

My Thoughts: 
I'm always interested looking back at the summaries of books once I've finished them and seeing how they match up to the book I've just finished. This one is as remarkable for what it leaves out as for how accurately it explains the book right up to the last sentence. While Bootie certainly a catalyst for change, he's not the only person who comes into the lives of Marina, Danielle, and Julius who causes upheaval. Ludovic Seeley, ambitious Aussie, comes to New York City to launch a revolutionary new magazine and Murray Thwaite, Marina's famous father and, essentially, the emperor here, will both come between the friends.

Because my thoughts are never far from politics these days, I couldn't help but think, as I listened to this, that The Emperor's Children is exactly the kind of book Trump's fans would enjoy, a book about intellectual elitists who are failing spectacularly. I so often find myself lumped into the category of "intellectual elitist" (you know, because college degrees seems to equal intellectual elitist in some people's minds), but these characters are what I think of when I think of that term, people who expect, because of their education, that life will just fall into place for them. People who continue to believe they are entitled even when life works to push them down.

I don't know many Ivy League educated people but I certainly know people who feel entitled and people who think that they are above others because of their backgrounds or where they come from. So I could certainly recognize people I know in these characters. Fortunately, I couldn't actually relate to them. That didn't stop me from finding them interesting but it also meant that I sort of hoped that they'd all fail spectacularly. Messud seems to hope so, too, which makes things fun. But she doesn't hold much fondness for small towns or their morals, either, nor for those who think they are above higher education.

The narration, for the most part, was good, although Toren's voice for Bootie made him sounds like a prepubescent child which made it hard for me to buy into his character as well as might have in print. And the ending? It was one of those that made me say "that's it?" It's one of those books that just kind of ends. The book may also have suffered in following immediately on the heels of The Interestings, another book about entitled New Yorkers, that also incorporated the 9/11 tragedy.

In the end, I did enjoy the book quite a lot. Messud writes smart, witty stories with intelligent, interesting characters and she makes me think.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Life: It Goes On - February 12

Books have always been my way to escape when things got too stressful or hard. Now I find I can't focus when I sit down to read. It's so all consuming that I even forget to do the things I love, including keeping up with my blogging. The other day I found I was several weeks behind on my blog feeder. I've entirely missed readathons, including Diversathon which I'm so disappointed about.

Keeping my resolution for February in mind (focus), I'm going to work this week to find a balance, one that brings some focus back to the things that I can control.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: The Baroque composers: Handel, Bach, Vivaldi, Pachelbel, Albinoni - guys that give me all of the feels but in an ordered way that smooths my jangled nerves. And when I'm ready for something a little more upbeat, the Incubus station on Spotify for the energy to get things done.

Watching: I'm finally all caught up with Orange Is The New Black! Do you watch it? Do you want to talk about it? Because I need to talk about it! Also, loads of episodes of Flea Market Flip and Fixer Upper to inspire me around the house. I'm wondering if The Big Guy could learn to weld - so many things I need metal work for!

Reading: I finished Lincoln In The Bardo during Friday night's #LitsyPartyofOne (it will almost certainly still be in my top ten books of the year come December) and now I've started Lisa Jewell's The Girls In The Garden. I also finished The Emperor's Children and started Mr. Rosenblum Dreams In English which is a nice break from back-to-back audio books about friends in New York City.

Making: Pork tenderloin, chicken ticoritto (if you've lived in Lincoln, Nebraska you'll know what I'm talking about), grilled bratwurst (why yes it was nice enough to grill, thank you very much!), chili, cinnamon monkey bread. Dinners during the week are so much easier when you've done prep work on Sundays!

Planning: Wedding stuff. Getting things ordered, planning set up, hiring people, finding the fun extras that will make it "their" day.

Thinking About: After all of those episodes of Flea Market Flip, I'm thinking about ways I can use what I've got to make new end tables in my family room. Also, I'm feeling the need to paint - I took Wednesday off work and got my powder room painted and now I'm ready for the next project.
Robin's Nest - Springfield, NE

Enjoying: A little retail therapy with a friend. Yet another way I was planning wedding and getting my creative juices flowing!

Feeling: Better after a relaxing weekend, largely spent paying no attention to politics.

Looking forward to: Spring. Did I already mention that? I am so ready to start eating on the patio!

Question of the week: Do you shop flea markets? If so, what are your favorite things to look for or are you just looking to be surprised?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit Of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
Published February 2017 by Atria
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
When George Washington was elected president, he reluctantly left behind his beloved Mount Vernon to serve in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of the nation’s capital, after a brief stay in New York. In setting up his household he took Tobias Lear, his celebrated secretary, and nine slaves, including Ona Judge, about which little has been written. As he grew accustomed to Northern ways, there was one change he couldn’t get his arms around: Pennsylvania law required enslaved people be set free after six months of residency in the state. Rather than comply, Washington decided to circumvent the law. Every six months he sent the slaves back down south just as the clock was about to expire.

Though Ona Judge lived a life of relative comfort, the few pleasantries she was afforded were nothing compared to freedom, a glimpse of which she encountered first-hand in Philadelphia. So, when the opportunity presented itself one clear and pleasant spring day in Philadelphia, Judge left everything she knew to escape to New England. Yet freedom would not come without its costs.

At just twenty-two-years-old, Ona became the subject of an intense manhunt led by George Washington, who used his political and personal contacts to recapture his property.

My Thoughts:

What I Didn't Like: 
Never Caught, sadly, suffers from coming in my reading directly on the heels of Victoria: The Queen, a subject of which there is so much information it took 600 pages to include it all. Of course, much less is known about the life of a slave in 18th-century America; it stands to reason that the book would be much shorter but it also stands to reason that much would have to be inferred about Judge, rather than based on known facts about her.

Throughout the book, Dunbar tended to use phrases like "we can assume that" or "she would probably have." It's a small thing but, for me, the book would have been stronger if Dunbar had simply given us the facts that led her to those conclusions then let readers draw their own inferences or simply said something like "this being the case, it's possible that" or "given those circumstances, this might be why..."

What I Liked:
I learned a tremendous amount about George and Martha Washington when I read Ron Chernow's Washington so I was not under any illusions that the Washingtons were progressives when it came to matters of slavery. But, let's face it, the majority of  people are not delving into that 900 page behemoth; a bite-sized lesson like Never Caught is far more likely to be the way they will find out that although Washington treated his slaves better than many slaveholders, they were still his property and he was acutely aware of their value and his reliance on them.

When Ona Judge dared to leave them, they knew they ran the risk that if they did not capture her, their other property might get ideas into their heads as well, something they couldn't tolerate. Furthermore, they were the most famous couple in this new country and their reputation was at stake, both in the eyes of other slaveholders and in those of the people already fighting against slavery. Once Judge made her escape, Dunbar had much more information to base the book on, the ads the agents for the Washingtons posted, the letters Martha wrote, and Judge's own story which she told to a couple of reporters late in her life.

I had not been aware of how many people were already opposed to slavery eighty years before it was finally abolished, particularly in the city of Philadelphia. It would have been difficult for slaves to make the acquaintance of free blacks, but it was not impossible. The free blacks had a good system in place for assisting runaways and, although it was still not easy and extremely dangerous for all involved, many slaves made their way to freedom this way.

That guy we grew up believing was so honest he could not tell a lie? Yeah, he wasn't above using illegal methods to try to bring Judge back to Virginia. Fortunately for her, her own quick wits and some luck in the people that were hired to help Washington, Judge managed to elude her would-be captors. Even so, life for a free black was extremely difficult. This might go without saying; still, I learned a lot about the lengths they had to go to just to stay alive.

In the end, despite the terrible poverty she suffered most of her life after her escape, Judge still felt it was preferable to having remained a slave. That's a statement about slavery that's hard to ignore.