Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Monticello by Sally Cabot Gunning

Monticello by Sally Cabot Gunning
Reprint published June 2017 by William Morrow Paperbacks
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
After the death of her beloved mother, Martha Jefferson spent five years abroad with her father, Thomas Jefferson, on his first diplomatic mission to France. Now, at seventeen, Jefferson’s bright, handsome eldest daughter is returning to the lush hills of the family’s beloved Virginia plantation, Monticello. While the large, beautiful estate is the same as she remembers, Martha has changed. The young girl that sailed to Europe is now a woman with a heart made heavy by a first love gone wrong.

The world around her has also become far more complicated than it once seemed. The doting father she idolized since childhood has begun to pull away. Moving back into political life, he has become distracted by the tumultuous fight for power and troubling new attachments. The home she adores depends on slavery, a practice Martha abhors. But Monticello is burdened by debt, and it cannot survive without the labor of her family’s slaves. The exotic distant cousin she is drawn to has a taste for dangerous passions, dark desires that will eventually compromise her own.

As her life becomes constrained by the demands of marriage, motherhood, politics, scandal, and her family’s increasing impoverishment, Martha yearns to find her way back to the gentle beauty and quiet happiness of the world she once knew at the top of her father’s “little mountain.”

Martha Jefferson Randolph
My Thoughts:
In the 1970's my family loaded up in the station wagon, hitched on the pop-up tent camper, and headed off on three-week vacations. One of the places we went was Monticello. Even then I was impressed with the unique home, beautiful grounds, and amazing innovations used by Jefferson.*

When I was asked to review a book called Monticello, I didn't even read the publisher's summary. Whatever the storyline was, I was in.

I was delighted to find that Gunning's story centers around Thomas Jefferson's eldest daughter. Martha has not just returned from France with a heart made heave, she has also returned with eyes opened to the realities of slavery. Not only that, but she becomes ever more aware of the relationship between her family and the slave family, the Hemings, particularly the beautiful Sally, who is actually Martha's aunt.

Martha is constantly reminded, though, that her very way of life depends on those slaves, both as the daughter of Thomas Jefferson and the wife of Tom Randolph. It is Martha's marriage to Randolph that forms the core of the novel, although Martha's father is never far from the story. While the two came from similar backgrounds and shared conflicted feelings about slavery, his volatility and bouts of depression, made their marriage often times very difficult for Martha. Gunning has combined the story of their very interesting life together, Martha's relationship with her father, and the slavery issue in a book that managed to keep my attention when very little else could.

As I always do when I'm reading fiction based on the lives of real people, I had to do some research to see how much of what Gunning wrote was based on reality. I was please to find that Gunning has based the book on Martha's own letters to her father and his to her and set those interactions into a story that's setting and other details have been thoroughly researched. If you're going to write about about real people, it's the only way to tell their story.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I'm looking forward to putting it into my mom's hands soon. For other opinions about the book, check out the full tour.

About Sally Cabot Gunning 

A lifelong resident of New England, Sally Cabot Gunning has immersed herself in its history from a young age. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Satucket Novels—The Widow’s War, Bound, and The Rebellion of Jane Clarke—and, writing as Sally Cabot, the equally acclaimed Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard. She lives in Brewster, Massachusetts, with her husband, Tom. Find out more about Sally at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

*I was also impressed by my dad's ability to convince a tour guide to allow him into areas that no other visitor is allowed to see, simply by telling her that he was an American History teacher. He may also have batted his baby blues at her.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Life: It Goes On - June 24

It's been a ride of emotions for me this past week and my friends have been the greatest therapy. I'm afraid I bored the heck out of my book club the other night as I turned them into my own personal psychologists. Then a Thursday night happy hour with a couple of my friends lasted seven hours - we may have reached the "I love you, dude" stage by the end of the night. I can't tell you how much better I felt after that. Well, after some Motrin, coffee, and McDonald's the next day.

Bracing myself for the coming week which is bound to be worse, emotion-wise.

I have no reviews written for this week, at this point, and I'm unlikely to get any written so the blog will likely go dark until the Fourth of July.

b>This Week I'm:

Listening To: Podcasts again this week, including episodes from Happier, Stuff You Should Know, and Futility Closet. I probably won't start another book for a couple of weeks until I'm back into a five-day work week routine. Then I'll start Middlesex.
Steven Branscombe, USA Today Sports

Watching: College World Series and The Mindy Project for the most part.

Reading: Not much between being busy during the evenings and being distracted.

Making: Shredded chicken for the wedding. Otherwise, the cooking around here has been pretty minimal, as befits summer.

Planning: See the past several weeks.

Thinking About: See the past several weeks.

Enjoying: My kids got home last night. We haven't gotten to spend much time with them yet because they are staying with a friend. They had to bring their dog with them and he can't stay at our house with our cats. I'm looking forward to spending a couple of days with them before the rest of the people start arriving.

Feeling: See first paragraph. Excited, happy, sad, angry (that's a long story), depressed, giddy. See, I told you I'm a roller coaster of emotions!

Looking forward to: The wedding on Friday!

Question of the week: Best tip for remaining calm - go!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon

The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon
Published June 2017 by Penguin Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

Both Cassie Hugo and Margaret Brickshaw dutifully followed their soldier husbands to the U.S. embassy in Jordan, but that’s about all the women have in common. After two years, Cassie’s become an expert on the rules, but newly arrived Margaret sees only her chance to explore. So when a fender-bender sends Margaret to the local police station, Cassie reluctantly agrees to watch Margaret’s toddler son. But as the hours pass, Cassie’s boredom and frustration turn to fear: Why isn’t Margaret answering her phone, and why is it taking so long to sort out a routine accident? Snooping around Margaret’s apartment, Cassie begins to question not only her friend’s whereabouts but also her own role in Margaret’s disappearance.

My Thoughts:
Fallon's You Know When The Men Are Gone, a collection of short stories about the people of Fort Hood (my review), was one of my favorite books of 2014. In her first novel, Fallon returns to what she knows, the people who live on the periphery of the action. In The Confusion of Languages, she draws on her own experiences as an Army wife in Jordan to craft her tale of friendship, marriage, and communication.

Fallon has managed to combine the intimate details of a friendship and two marriages with the tension of a mystery that builds throughout the book. This is a book about the little things we do and say but it's also about the things that are left unsaid and how those things can tear life apart.

Back and forth we go, between the minutes ticking off as Cassie waits for Margaret to return and the pages of Margaret's journal which Cassie begins reading while she impatiently waits. Back and forth we go, too, between the way we feel about these two women.

Cassie has longed to be a mother for so long that when she gets the opportunity to mentor Margaret, she treats her much more as a child than a friend. But is she right to insist that Margaret follow the rules just as she has, to stay in the safe places? Or, by following the U. S. Embassy's guidelines, are Americans living in Jordan missing out on the opportunity to connect with the people of Jordan, to create a greater bond? There is no easy answer, as it turns out.

The Confusion of Languages is not just about the confusion when people of two different languages try to communicate. It's the confusion caused by two cultures meeting and the confusion between people of very different backgrounds trying to build a relationship.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Narrated by Amy Poehler
Published October 2014 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: bought the audio version

Publisher's Summary:

In her first book, one of our most beloved funny folk delivers a smart, pointed, and ultimately inspirational read. Full of the comedic skill that makes us all love Amy, Yes Please is a rich and varied collection of stories, lists, poetry (Plastic Surgery Haiku, to be specific), photographs, mantras and advice. With chapters like "Treat Your Career Like a Bad Boyfriend," "Plain Girl Versus the Demon" and "The Robots Will Kill Us All."

My Thoughts:
Confession: I'm not necessarily Poehler's biggest fan and had never seen Park and Rec until Miss H made me watch on episode on Netflix recently. Amend that - I wasn't necessarily Poehler's biggest fan. After listening to this book, narrated by Poehler, I may not be her biggest fan, but I'm definitely a big fan.

Poehler is one funny lady, who has certainly paid her dues. She's done improv on the street, she's done improv in nearly empty studios. Making the cast of Saturday Night Life might seem like the greatest job on earth but Poehler is quick to remind listeners that finding your place there and living through the long hours and quick turnaround times is no glamour job. But it was that job that made Poehler a household name and gave her the opportunity to move onto film and Parks and Rec, And those jobs have given Poehler the opportunity to give back to other comedians as a member of the Upright Citizens Brigade which operates the only improv and sketch comedy training center in the country.

Poehler talks a lot about her career, but she is equally forthcoming with her personal life. She talks about her upbringing (her parents even both read portions), her marriage to actor Will Arnett and her divorce from him, her friendships, the famous people she has known, her pregnancies and her boys and her own self-image.

That last chapter, "Plain Girl Versus The Demon," really made me sit up and pay attention. "That voice that talks badly to you is a demon voice," made me want to put this book in every young girl's hands. Unfortunately you can't do that because this is a grown up book with cursing and sex and drugs. But, if you listen to it and also have a young daughter, you should absolutely take notes because Poehler things to say I wish I had said to my daughter as she was growing up. "The scary part is that the demon is your own voice," "You may even have days or years when you think the demon is gone but it is not." Be vigilant, in other words. But also this: "if you're lucky, there's a moment in your life where you have some say as to what your currency is going to be" and this "decide early on what your currency is going to be and let go of the rest."

Time travel comes up a lot in the book and it's not until nearly the end when Poehler really talks about what she means when she says she believes in time travel and it kind of makes sense when you think of it that way. I'd tell you the secret but you really need to discover it for yourself.

There's an entire chapter about Parks and Rec which includes run downs on all of the key actors in the series and convinced me that when this actor says the cast was like a family she really means it. The chapter about how robots are going to take over the world is hilarious. The chapter about books she would write about divorce is both hilarious and extremely sad.

Yes Please is probably perfectly funny in print. But in print you don't get narration by Kathleen Turner, Patrick Stewart, and an entire chapter written and read by Seth Meyers. You wouldn't get the cadence and intonation of Poehler's voice. Yes Please is not all hilarity and it's not perfect. But I highly recommend this book.

Also, there's a very high probability that I will soon start binge watching "Parks and Rec."

Monday, June 19, 2017

Life: It Goes On - June 18

Bottom: as the 80+ mph winds blew through and branches came
down and as the storm moved out
It's been a week. I'm glad to have over, capped by giant storms that moved through our area Friday night that resulted in tornadoes and a lot of damage from straight-line winds.

We were fortunate in only losing a couple of good-sized branches from one of our big trees and a lot of leaves and small twigs all over the yard, but it has meant The Big Guy has had to take time to chop the branches down and get everything cleared up and hauled off to the drop site.

We did enjoy spending yesterday at the College World Series. Miss H picked up four tickets for BG for Father's Day so she, he, Mini-him and myself soaked up the sun, the fun and the atmosphere. We don't have a dog in the fight but it's always a great place to mingle with new people from all over the country who have come to cheer on their teams. It's billed as the Greatest Show on Dirt and the atmosphere around the stadium is pretty great, too.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Podcasts, podcasts, and more podcasts. I've listened to episodes of Reading Women, Happier, You Must Remember This, and Get Booked.

Watching: Still Grace and Frankie, The Mindy Project, This is Us plus we started Veep. And, of course, CWS games.

Reading: I finally finished The Confusion of Languages and tried to get back into The H Spot but it's just too heavy for me right now. Not sure what I will pick up after I finish The Engagements for book club.

Making: Chicken, lots of chicken. Miss H is doing a kind of diet and chicken is on the menu for her a lot. Consequently, it's on the menu for BG and me as well.

Planning: We're almost there, folks, and the actual planning is basically done. Now the planning is all about making sure it all goes off without a hitch.

Thinking About: How much cleaning I'd still like to get done around my house that may, or may not, actually get done. Let's face it, I'm probably the only person that will notice if all of the door frames haven't been wiped down.

1st tomato of 2017!
Enjoying: An evening with friends from Arizona who used to live a couple of blocks away. We met at another friend's house and talked into the wee hours. It was just what the doctor ordered.

Feeling: Happy - harvested my first tomato of the season.

Looking forward to: My kids getting here on Saturday!

Question of the week: I'm headed off to book club this week. I'm still tweaking the schedule for the rest of the year. What book is the book you always recommend to book clubs?