Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Talented Ribkins by Ladee Hubbard

The Talented Ribkins by Ladee Hubbard
Published August 2017 by Melville House
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
At seventy-two, Johnny Ribkins shouldn’t have such problems: He’s got one week to come up with the money he stole from his mobster boss or it’s curtains for Johnny.

What may or may not be useful to Johnny as he flees is that he comes from an African-American family that has been gifted with rather super powers that are rather sad, but superpowers nonetheless. For example, Johnny’s father could see colors no one else could see. His brother could scale perfectly flat walls. His cousin belches fire. And Johnny himself can make precise maps of any space you name, whether he’s been there or not. In the old days, the Ribkins family tried to apply their gifts to the civil rights effort, calling themselves The Justice Committee. But when their, eh, superpowers proved insufficient, the group fell apart. Out of frustration Johnny and his brother used their talents to stage a series of burglaries, each more daring than the last.

Fast forward a couple decades and Johnny’s on a race against the clock to dig up loot he’s stashed all over Florida. His brother is gone, but he has an unexpected sidekick: his brother’s daughter, Eloise, who has a special superpower of her own.

My Thoughts:
This is one of those books that I thought sounded interesting when it was pitched to me then completely forgot what it was about by the time that I started reading it. I'm so glad I did - going into the book completely unaware meant that it was an even bigger treat than it might otherwise have been.

Inspired by W. E. B. Dubois' essay "The Talented Tenth," Hubbard has crafted an utterly original novel full of heart, hope, and, dare I say it, fantasy. Is it possible that I have actually enjoyed two books already this year with a fantasy element? The Talented Ribkins is also something of a reverse graphic novel - rather than taking a story and turning it into an illustrated work, this feels like an illustrated work that's been translated into novel form. I don't read many graphic novels, either so this one would really seem to be out of my wheelhouse.

Maybe what I've learned from this book is that those genres, fantasy and graphic novels, might actually not be that far distant from my usual fare. Because this book is filled with interesting characters I grew to care very much for, there is an interesting family dynamic, there are complicated relationships, and there is a depth to the story I wasn't expecting. Perhaps I've been giving those genres short shrift. Or perhaps Hubbard is just that great at storytelling, which makes this debut novel all the more impressive.

Once in a while, things got a bit muddled, but Hubbard pulled things back together and wove the various threads she'd been developing throughout into a very satisfying ending. Although she relies on the fantastical gifts of the Ribkins to drive the story, the clear lesson here is that people need to make the most of the gifts they are given. Oh yes, and that no matter what our issues are with our family (however we define that), family is everything. I like that, I like that a lot.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for introducing me to this book and to Hubbard. I look forward to reading more of her work. For other opinions, check out the full tour.

About Ladee Hubbard:
Laddee Hubbard is the winner of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition for the Short Story. She holds a BA from Princeton University, an MFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University, an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin, and a PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Talented Ribkins is her first novel.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Nasty Women: A Collection of Essays and Accounts On What It Is To Be A Woman In The 21st Century

Nasty Women: A Collection of Essays and accounts On What It Is To Be A Woman In The 21st Century
Published March 2017 by 404 Ink
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

With intolerance and inequality increasingly normalised by the day, it's more important than ever for women to share their experiences. We must hold the truth to account in the midst of sensationalism and international political turmoil. Nasty Women is a collection of essays, interviews and accounts on what it is to be a woman in the 21st century.

People, politics, pressure, punk - from working class experience to racial divides in Trump’s America, being a child of immigrants, to sexual assault, Brexit, pregnancy, contraception, identity, family, finding a voice online, role models and more, Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, Zeba Talkhani, Chitra Ramaswamy are just a few of the incredible women who share their experience here.

Keep telling your stories, and tell them loud.

My Thoughts:
If you'd titled your book "Nasty Women" a year ago, you'd have been putting together an entirely different kind of book. Since last year, though, if you give your book that title, there's a good chance I'm going to pick it up. And I'm going to know exactly what I'm going to get.

This collection, largely written by women in the UK, covers the gamut of issues women have, from birth control to sexual orientation, from a woman's place in predominately male venues to race. Every one of these women is tired of having to fight but inspired to keep up the fight, to be a nasty woman. Given the number of authors not from the United States, I was more than a little surprised to see the current U. S. president come up again and again. But it's not just the political climate in the U. S. that has these women concerned; it's the political climate in their own countries, as well. These women understand that's it's taken a long time for women, particularly those of color or of the LGBTQ community, just to get where we'd gotten. Now many feel that we will fall back.

As with all collections, some of the writing are stronger than others and some of the writing really stands out. I particularly liked "Independence Day," about a woman who was forced to face the bigotry of a family member after the 2016 election in the U.S.; "Lament: Living With The Consequences of Contraception," which mixes a letter to "D" with a story about the author's ordeal with Depo-Provera injections; "The Nastiness of Survival," the author's story of being a rape survivor; and "These Shadows, These Ghosts," in which the author talks about the generations of nasty women in her family and the ways that stereotypes and expectations damaged them.

I read this collection straight through but I wish I had read it an essay at a time and let myself have time to really consider each essay before moving on to the next. It can get to be a little much read straight through. But as a collection, it's well worth reading. Particularly if you proudly call yourself a nasty woman.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Life: It Goes On - August 13

We've had a quiet week which skidded into a very busy weekend. Friday night was dinner with friends on their deck, last night was all of the in-laws on our patio and today we are headed off to The Big Guy's aunt's 88th birthday party. Not looking forward to the three hour drive there and the three hour drive back except that it will give me a lot of reading time. Because it's HIS aunt so he has to do all of the driving, right?!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Nerdette, Stuff You Missed In History Class, Futility Closet, Stuff You Should Know, and 10 minutes of an episode of Slate Audio Book Club. I've about decided to be done with that podcast - I swear those people have never read a book they really loved. In this episode, they were not impress with The Handmaid's Tale, particularly compared to the television adaptation, calling it dated. Well, duh, it was written more than twenty years ago. I'm on the fence with whether or not I'll just delete all of the other episodes I've downloaded.

Watching: Everything I could find about Princess Diana, lots of baseball and some soccer, and last night Bridget Jones' Diary. Which suddenly I found, as a feminist, a little appalling. And that made me sad, because, dammit, I love that movie!

Reading: I raced through Ruth Ware's The Woman In Cabin 10 and then B. A. Paris' The Breakdown. Which makes two books over 300 pages I managed to read in one week. I'm getting back into the groove! I did realize that, right now, I need to read print books and nothing that makes me think too hard.

Making: Caprese salad for Friday night. Actually, a lot of salads this week. Also, BLTs!

Planning: A re-do of the "kids" bathroom. Several years ago, I neutralized it from the undersea adventure it had been for nearing twenty years. But now that it's really just Miss H who uses it, I thought she might like something that's a bit more girly and soft.

Thinking About: Our great-nephew who is headed off to boarding prep school today. Dinner on the patio was a going away party for him. Wishing him much success and hoping his mom doesn't have too hard of time leaving him this afternoon.

Enjoying: See that face in the middle. Golly I love my great-nieces and nephews!

Feeling: Better this week.

Looking forward to: Getting to bed tonight - it's been a busy weekend!

Question of the week: We are blessed to enjoy being with both sides of our families and food so often seems to be involved. What are some of your family favorites for summer get-togethers?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Two DNF's - The Locals by Jonathan Dee and Once, In Lourdes by Sharon Solwitz

The Locals by Jonathan Dee
Published August 2017 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

Mark Firth is a contractor and home restorer in Howland, Massachusetts, who feels opportunity passing his family by. After being swindled by a financial advisor, what future can Mark promise his wife, Karen, and their young daughter, Haley? He finds himself envying the wealthy weekenders in his community whose houses sit empty all winter.

Philip Hadi used to be one of these people. But in the nervous days after 9/11 he flees New York and hires Mark to turn his Howland home into a year-round “secure location” from which he can manage billions of dollars of other people’s money. The collision of these two men’s very different worlds—rural vs. urban, middle class vs. wealthy—is the engine of Jonathan Dee’s powerful new novel.

Inspired by Hadi, Mark looks around for a surefire investment: the mid-decade housing boom. Over Karen’s objections, and teaming up with his troubled brother, Gerry, Mark starts buying up local property with cheap debt. Then the town’s first selectman dies suddenly, and Hadi volunteers for office. He soon begins subtly transforming Howland in his image—with unexpected results for Mark and his extended family.

My Thoughts:
Well, I suppose the DNF (did not finish) in the title pretty much gives away what my thoughts were about this book. You all know how rare it is for me to give up on a book.

I keep wondering if maybe what I downloaded isn't even the right book. It has the same cover. It even has a character named Mark Firth who is a contractor in Massachusetts. But the page for the book on Barnes and Noble's website says this is a 400 page book - the book I downloaded is just 284 pages. I could understand a difference of a few pages but more than 100? And the book I downloaded opens in Manhattan the day after the 9/11 attacks, not in Massachusetts, with an unnamed first-person narrator who is an extremely unlikable character. By the time I got to the actual first chapter, I was no longer interested.

George Saunders (Lincoln In The Bardo) calls the book "bold" and "vital." Mary Karr (Lit) called it "moving." The New York Times reviewer, on the other hand, didn't love it. And I can't tell whether Ron Charles (The Washington Post) liked it or not. So I'm not saying don't read it. Although I might be saying borrow it from your library if you're interested. There's a good chance you won't want to have paid good money for it.

Once, In Lourdes by Sharon Solwitz
Published May 2017 by Penguin RandomHouse
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review, through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:

As the Vietnam War rages overseas, four friends make a vow. For the next two weeks, they will live for each other and for each day. Then, at the end of the two weeks, they will sacrifice themselves on the altar of their friendship.

Loyal Kay, our narrator, dreams of being an artist and escaping her stifling family—the stepmother and stepsister she gained after her mother’s early death, and the father she no longer feels she knows. As she struggles with her weight, her schoolwork, and her longing for her mother, she feels loyalty only to her three friends, determined to keep their group together at any cost. Brilliant, charismatic CJ appears to have everything—though even those closest to him can’t see him as he really is. Steady, quiet Saint wants to do right by everyone, trying not to let his emotions destroy himself and those around him. And beautiful Vera’s family secrets are too dark to share, even with her closest friends; caught in a web of family dysfunction, she can only hope the others won’t get tangled up in the danger she senses around her.

In the two-week span in which the novel takes place, during the summer before their senior year of high school, the lives of Kay, CJ, Saint, and Vera will change beyond their expectations, and what they gain and lose will determine the novel’s outcome.

My Thoughts:
Perhaps this one follows too closely on the heels of The Girls for me, another book set in the same time period also about teenagers struggling with family problems and secrets and looking for a family of friends. Perhaps I just had a hard time believing that friends would all have kept so much from each other (with the exception of CJ's secret which would have been something he would have wanted to hide even from his closest friends in the late 1960's).

Solwitz moves the story between the four characters, Kay's in first person and the others in third person. The changing narrative, particularly the changing point of view, just didn't work for me. I gave it 50 pages before I gave myself permission to stop. Sometimes you need to push through, and if other people who generally like the same books as I do told me it was well worth reading, I might have done that. But no one had. And so I gave up.

My not finishing this book probably has as much to do with it being the wrong book at the wrong time as it does with the book itself, in the end. It hit on too many triggers for me just now. That being said, I also don't see myself going back and picking it up any time. Unless one of those friends can convince me to do that. You never know.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking
Published January 2017 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: Bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Embrace Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) and become happier with this definitive guide to the Danish philosophy of comfort, togetherness, and well-being.

Why are Danes the happiest people in the world? The answer, says Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, is Hygge. Loosely translated, Hygge—pronounced Hoo-ga—is a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being. "Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience," Wiking explains. "It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe."

Hygge is the sensation you get when you’re cuddled up on a sofa, in cozy socks under a soft throw, during a storm. It’s that feeling when you’re sharing comfort food and easy conversation with loved ones at a candlelit table. It is the warmth of morning light shining just right on a crisp blue-sky day.

The Little Book of Hygge introduces you to this cornerstone of Danish life, and offers advice and ideas on incorporating it into your own life, such as:

Get comfy. Take a break.
Be here now. Turn off the phones.
Turn down the lights. Bring out the candles.
Build relationships. Spend time with your tribe.
Give yourself a break from the demands of healthy living. Cake is most definitely Hygge.
Live life today, like there is no coffee tomorrow.

From picking the right lighting to organizing a Hygge get-together to dressing hygge, Wiking shows you how to experience more joy and contentment the Danish way.

My Thoughts:
In the English language, we seem to have multiple words for every thing but there is no word in English that hygge translates directly into. In fact, there doesn't seem to be a word in any other language that means exactly the same thing. Other Nordic languages have similar words but those words don't seem to convey quite the same spirit. Hygge is a concept, but it is also a verb. The Danes live their lives around the idea of hygge and compound words have grown around it.

This is a little book that made me want to pull out blankets, candles, and put a stew on to simmer. So, yeah, maybe a book to study in the fall or winter, rather than the summer. In Denmark, of course, they don't get summers like we have in Nebraska so I'm not sure what they would do to introduce hygge on a day when the temps are in the 90's.

Or do I? After reading this book, I sat and pondered how I can make the ideas work for me this time of year and I came up with some ideas that I think are hygge, summer style - comfy cushions on the patio furniture, a table full of candles, soft light-weight cotton blankets for the evenings when it gets cool, blooming plants, friends around a fire, and summer comfort foods ( you know, strawberry shortcake and s'mores). Yep, I think I've got this. This quarter Danish girl has got this.

There's nothing in this book that anyone can't do. It's largely a matter of putting it all together and getting yourself in the right frame of mind. For an introvert like me, the hardest part will be making myself spend time with my tribe. Not that I don't enjoy that, I just have to remind myself of the happiness it brings me and make it happen. If the Danes can be the happiest people in the world with their weather, I think this might just be my ticket to survive Nebraska's winters.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Life: It Goes On - August 6

Guys - I have book reviews written for the next two weeks! I'm reading again! Truth be told, many of the books weren't that long but if that's what it takes for me to get back in the swing of things, I'm good with that. Today I was rearranging the book shelves in my office and began gazing longingly at A Suitable Boy and other such chunksters there and it occurred to me that I might just be ready to dive into one of them.

But, people, this is how flighty my mind is of late - I went off to have a happy hour therapy session with my girlfriends and completely forgot that my niece (from Wisconsin) and parents were coming for dinner! That is so not me! I hadn't even written it in my bullet journal. That is the whole point of the bullet journal - so you don't forget things!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Yep, still podcasts. This week it was lots of "Stuff You Should Know" and "RadioLab." Sometimes you don't even know how interesting those shows will be until you just let one run into another one.

Watching: Comedians In Cars Drinking Coffee (Jerry Seinfeld's web show - we watched episodes with Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah), Game of Thrones, Westworld. Oh yeah, and yesterday an episode of Wild, Wild West; how I loved this show growing up!

Reading: I finished three books in eight days! I'm caught up for scheduled reviews and Netgalley requests and now I get to read something just because I feel like it. Because Miss H's best friend read The Woman In Cabin 10 last week, I'm reading that now so I'll be able to talk with her about it.

Making: Grilled chicken salad, grilled chicken with black bean and roasted corn salad, grilled steaks (well, The Big Guy actually grilled the steaks), S'mores - you get the idea, we're eating summer foods.

Planning: On going to protest the Keystone Pipeline this afternoon. Assuming I get the energy to drive to Lincoln. I feel like I need to go but I'm on both a reading and an organizing kick lately and I kind of want to keep at both of them.

Thinking About: Ways to pick myself up - Friday night it was a bonfire on the patio with friends, last night it was delicious pizza and this morning it was great coffee and pastries.

Enjoying: My brother sent the pictures he took the weekend of the wedding. He was the official photographer for the actual wedding. He's never taken pictures at a wedding before and we are so impressed with the pictures he took!

Feeling: Down; thus "Thinking About."

Looking forward to: Lots of family time next weekend - a going away for our great-nephew who is headed off to boarding school and a birthday party for BG's last member of the older generation.

Question of the week: What do you do to cheer yourself up?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Time again for the periodic "Lisa needs to clean up her saved links on Facebook" post. Let's see what I've got, shall we?

First up, a fun look at children's picture books from The Millions: Are Picture Books Leading Our Children Astray?  When I first saw the link, I wondered if someone seriously thought I'd screwed my children up by reading them Ferdinand The Bull and Caps for Sale!

Had you heard that PBS has ordered a new series called The Great American Read? It will feature people from all over the country talking about their favorite books and will culminate with a vote to choose American's best-loved books. Sadly, we have to wait until spring 2018 for it to start.

From Penguin Random House comes this list of 40 Books To Read Before You're 40. This poses a bit of a problem for me since I'm well past 40. Also, quite a lot of these books weren't even published before I was 40. Still, it's a good list to look at and maybe there's still time for you.

From The Man Book Prize page, comes the long-list of finalists for the 2017 prize. As usual, there are books on the list I haven't even heard of; but, unlike some years, I've actually read at least a couple of them.

Book Riot has given us their list of best books of 2017, so far (and looky, there are a couple of my faves so far this year) and The Millions has given us a list of books to look forward to in the second half of the year. I need to get over to Netgalley and see what I can pick up from this list.

From Literary Hub comes a list of 10 Famous Book Hoarders. Karl Lagerfeld, with his 300,000, might actually have a problem. Otherwise, I think these are just famous people who really like books. It does make me feel better about the number of books I have.

Riot New Media gives us a list of 25 Nonfiction Favorites Out Now In Paperback and Electric Lit gives us a list of 34 Books by Women of Color To Read This Year. Definitely adding at least a couple of these to the bookshelves. Quite a lot of these will be coming to my house sooner rather than later.

Books that actually did get added to my shelves last week:

Of course, I want to read all of them right now. Which would you read first?

Oh, yeah - guess what I did? I actually DNF'd another book. At better than 20% into The Locals by Jonathan Dee, the book didn't remotely seem to be about what I thought it was going to be about and I really, really did not like the narrator. I've already quit more books this year than I did in the five years before this. Pretty proud of myself!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

An Exact Replica Of A Figment Of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken

An Exact Replica Of A Figment Of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
Published September 2008 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: bought through Better World Books

Publisher's Summary:
A prize-winning, successful novelist in her 30s, McCracken was happy to be an itinerant writer and self-proclaimed spinster. But suddenly she fell in love, got married, and two years ago was living in a remote part of France, working on her novel, and waiting for the birth of her first child. This book is about what happened next.

In her ninth month of pregnancy, she learned that her baby boy had died. How do you deal with and recover from this kind of loss? Of course you don't--but you go on. And if you have ever experienced loss or love someone who has, the company of this remarkable book will help you go on.

My Thoughts:
I'm fairly certain that this book has been on my radar since I heard Maureen Corrigan review it on NPR shortly after it was published. It's a shame that it languished on the TBR list for so long; it might not have if it were still getting the kind of notice that other books about loss, such as Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, do. But maybe, sometimes, books fall into our hands at just the right time. For me, losing a child has always seemed like the worst thing that could possibly happen. What's going on in my life is not that. Other people are dealing with so much more.

"This is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending," McCracken writes, early on in the book. That is after she wrote:
"A child dies in this book: a baby. A baby is stillborn. You don't have to tell me how sad that is: it happened to me and my husband, our baby, a son."
How can this possibly be the happiest story in the world, then, I wondered. McCracken's story does begin with a woman who had resigned herself to a happy life alone. No, that's not right. She hadn't resigned herself; she was perfectly fine with the idea that she would be, as she called it, a spinster. But then Edward came into her life, adding a new layer of happiness and they created a life that included time in Europe between teaching gigs in the U.S. In her late 30's, McCracken became pregnant while they were living in France; she was the poster child for happy, healthy pregnancies. She did everything right - she ate healthy, she kept active, she shopped around for the medical professionals she felt were best for her.

Then one day she realized that her baby, a son they had taken to calling Pudding because they didn't want to give him his name until he was born, had become very inactive. By the time they got to the hospital, it was too late. How do you get over that?
" goes on but that death goes on, too, that a person who is dead is a long, long story. You move on from it, but the death will never disappear from view. Your friends may say, Time heals all wounds. No, it doesn't, but eventually you'll feel better. You'll be yourself again. Your child will still be dead."
As with all grief, I'm sure the grief of losing a child, in particular a stillborn child, is unique to every person. McCracken is incredibly honest with her grief, from her own guilt, to the need to escape everything that reminded her of her son, to the ways in which the people surrounding her helped her through the worst of it (and, in some cases, the ways in which they made it so much worse).

As much as the book is about losing Pudding (because they had not decided on a name before he was born and couldn't bear to give him a name that would only be a death name, their son's birth and death is recorded in French paperwork was Pudding Harvey), it's about the ways in which that loss affected her second pregnancy. McCracken and her husband never gave the second baby a nickname, they didn't prepare a nursery, they went to multiple classes to make sure they were doing all of those things the right way but she didn't worry about what she ate the same way she had in her first pregnancy.

There is never a point in the book that doesn't feel sad but it is also filled with hope (McCracken became pregnant with her second child only three months after losing her first), and even humor. It is, simply, a beautiful book and it taught me so much about the way to help someone who is grieving. I don't know that I will ever be able to read it again (which is usually the criteria for me keeping a book); but, for now at least, I'm not ready to part with it. I think I'm going to want to revisit it.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Aunt Dimity and The Summer King by Nancy Atherton

Aunt Dimity and The Summer King by Nancy Atherton
Published April 2015 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

It’s June, the roses are in bloom, and the small English village of Finch may be in big trouble. Two cottages are for sale, but something—or someone—is driving buyers away. Has a developer targeted Finch? Will property values skyrocket? Will a wave of wealthy weekenders drive out the longtime locals?

Lori Shepherd has a lot on her plate—a brand-new baby daughter, her father-in-law’s impending nuptials, and a visit from her dreaded aunts-in-law—but she refuses to stand back and watch while big money destroys her beloved village. Lori sets her sights on the local real estate agent, but finds herself sidetracked by a chance encounter with an eccentric inventor. Arthur Hargreaves, dubbed the Summer King by his quirky family, is as warmhearted as the summer sun. With him, Lori forgets her troubles, until she makes a series of unsettling discoveries. An ancient feud between his family and the town comes to light. And then there’s Arthur’s connection to the local real estate firm. Is the Summer King as kind as he seems?

With Aunt Dimity’s otherworldly help—and her new baby girl in her arms—Lori fights to save her village from the Summer King’s scorching greed.

My Thoughts:
There are cozy mysteries and then there are Aunt Dimity mysteries, which, if this book is anything to judge by, are lite cozy mysteries. No dead body. Heavy on the local color and the baby poop (I wish I were kidding about that last thing - I have no idea how often that baby had her diaper changed in this book).

This is Nancy Atherton's twentieth Aunt Dimity mystery. I'm not sure how often she appears in the other books, but she really wasn't all that much of a presence in this book. Which is just as well because I seemed to have missed that word "otherworldly" when I read the synopsis. Aunt Dimity is deceased. Her death is the whole reason Lori and her family live in Finch. So how does she play a part in the books? She magically writes from the other side in a blank journal while Lori talks to her. And then the writing disappears. I'm still not sure what I think about that device.

The book is sweet and you know from the beginning that everything will end up just fine in the end. Which is, honestly, exactly what I needed right now. Even though I get twitchy just thinking about living more than five miles from a Target store and I'm very private, Finch is a village I sort of wanted to move into, even though it's filled with busybodies and doesn't even have a gas station or a school. It feels charming and just happens to have two empty cottages.

Would I read more Aunt Dimity books? I might just - sometimes you just need something light that requires absolutely no trigger warnings.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Life: It Goes On - July 30

I contemplated not doing this post this week. It's been a tough week and I am not feeling like very good company, even through the interwebs. It was brightened last night by time with great friends, today by time with my parents, Friday by an hour and a half phone call with my sister, and today by book mail and a card from Care. It's always good to be reminded that your team is much bigger than you think it is.

On the plus side, my gosh have I been reading. I've been sticking mostly to short books, even though they aren't exactly light reading. 250 pages seems to be about the length of my attention span these days. I did DNF'd Once, In Lourdes; I just couldn't make myself care about the characters which seems wrong because they were all characters that needed people to care about them.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: For the same reason that I can't seem to get into books that are longer than 250 pages, I've decided to continue to stick with podcasts for the time being.

Watching: Game of Thrones - getting my popcorn ready to settle into tonight's episode. The Big Guy actually put on the new Pete's Dragon the other night. Why, I have no idea. Another night it was Westworld. Now that is a show we'll continue with, very intriguing.

Reading: I'll finish Nasty Women this week; it's a collection of essays by women which was funded through Kickstarter. Then I'm on to Jonathan Dee's The Locals. Which I can't remember anything about as I'm about to pick it up. Seems to be my usual state of late.

Making: Um. Nothing? I did throw some potatoes in the oven to bake. That's about as close to making anything as I've gotten this week unless we count throwing together some salads or some quick pasta w/ tomato, basil and cheese as making dinner.

Planning: Nothing at the moment. We're in limbo for the time being. Although trips to Milwaukee and my sister's new place are on the horizon.

Thinking About: A fitness center strictly for people 55 and older. Yep, that's how my mind is working these days; things are weird.

Enjoying: Wedding pictures! We got the pictures this week from the photographer who took pictures at the reception and I am so enjoying revisiting that night. I'm enjoying even more seeing the look my son had on his face that day. He was so in love and so happy! Makes a mom's heart happy, too.

Feeling: Loved.

Looking forward to: Putting out the Halloween and fall things I bought today. If only fall could get here and it could still be warm and light late into the evenings at the same time.

Question of the week: What's the greatest thing a friend has ever done for you?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris

Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris
Published August 2016 by St. Martin's Press
Source: I bought it for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You might not want to like them, but you do.

You’d like to get to know Grace better. But it’s difficult, because you realise Jack and Grace are never apart.

Some might call this true love. Others might ask why Grace never answers the phone. Or how she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn’t work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. And why there are bars on one of the bedroom windows.

My Thoughts:
So it was time to mix things up a little for the bookclub, throw some different kinds of books into the mix and this one had gotten great reviews. People really seem to like this book.

I don't get it.

I don't know that I would go so far as to say I hated this book. I thought the ending was well done and I did like the way Paris took the story back and forth in time; those things saved this one a little bit for me. But I didn't buy the set up, I didn't buy the "always one step ahead" premise. Mostly I had a really hard time with the treatment of women. It may be where my head's at right now.

In the blogosphere, I feel pretty lonely in my opinion. But only one person in my book club liked the book, so I don't feel entirely wrong in my assessment.

And that's about it, folks.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Life: It Goes On - July 23

It's been a tough week with no end in sight; but we have managed to find some fun here and there, all while continuing to battle the relentless heat. You know the heat's been bad when you're excited for a cloudy day and a high of 92 degrees sounds like relief.

Mini-him had his wisdom teeth removed Monday and I took the day off to mother him. He'd long thought that he wouldn't have them removed (and we've read that it's ok to leave them) but then they started to crowd his other teeth. Let's just say that it's a whole lot easier to have wisdom teeth removed when you're ten years younger; Thursday he was finally able to "chew" macaroni and cheese!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: More podcasts - History Chicks, Stuff You Should Know, Happier, and Stuff You Missed In History Class.

Watching: "The Boys of 36," which was a PBS show that I found on Netflix that tied in, for me, to the book The Boys In The Boat. It was fun putting faces to the names of the people I'd "met" in the book and being able to actually watch them race. I also watched the movie "Lion" starring Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel, which is based on a heartbreaking true story.

Reading: I'll have read two books in three days by the time today is over, thanks to the 24 in 48 readathon (even though I'm not going to come anywhere near to 24 hours of reading). I've read The Little Book of Hygge (celebrating my Danish heritage) and Aunt Dimity and the Summer King. There are a whole series of Aunt Dimity books which are cozy mysteries but with a fantasy element which will likely keep me from reading any more of them. Still, it was light and fun. Up next is Nasty Women: A Collection of Essays and Accounts Of What It's Like To Be A Woman In The 21st Century.

Making: Meals for Miss H. We've been doing meal prep for her on Sundays. Last week she tried two new recipes. One was a hit, the other not as much. We did learn that you don't want to make full recipes when you are doing meal preps for one person because it means you'll be eating the same thing over and over and over for days. She didn't mind so much when it meant lots of buffalo chicken but even that she began to tire of eventually.

Planning: Nothing at the moment. The trip to Milwaukee is on hold for the time being; too hard to get everyone off work at the same time. Much sadness.

Thinking About: We toured the newest mosque in town yesterday. I've never been in one before and we learned so much. It's actually called the American Muslim Institute and is as much a community building as a religious one. Our guide told us that all four of the other mosques in town have been vandalized but that, thanks to the amount of community support they receive, they are able to focus on the good.

Enjoying: Book club and a new (to us) brew pub.

Feeling: Like I need at least one more day to the weekend. Oh, wait. I feel that way every weekend!

Looking forward to: Celebrating Mini-him's birthday tonight, his last birthday in his twenties. How can one of my kids be almost 30?!

Question of the week: Have you ever heard of hygge? I can't wait to review the book and find out ways you are already incorporating it into your lives!

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Widow of Wall Street by Randy Susan Meyer

The Widow of Wall Street by Randy Susan Meyers
Published April 2017 by Atria Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Phoebe recognizes fire in Jake Pierce’s belly from the moment they meet as teenagers. As he creates a financial dynasty, she trusts him without hesitation—unaware his hunger for success hides a dark talent for deception.

When Phoebe learns her husband’s triumph and vast reach rests on an elaborate Ponzi scheme her world unravels. As Jake’s crime is uncovered, the world obsesses about Phoebe. Did she know her life was fabricated by fraud? Was she his accomplice?

While Jake is trapped in the web of his deceit, Phoebe is caught in an unbearable choice. Her children refuse to see her if she remains at their father’s side, but abandoning him feels cruel and impossible.

My Thoughts:
The summary above gives away nothing - Meyers opens the book with Phoebe visiting Jake in prison. The question then is not what will happen but how have these two people come to this point in their lives.

Meyers has clearly built her novel around the story of Bernie Madoff, the man convicted of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. Like Madoff, Jake builds up his own company from nothing, seemingly better at working the stock market better than anyone else. But Jake's secret lies in the private piece of his company that pulls in the big money. Money that is essential to keep everything afloat because, as it turns out, Jake is spending that money instead of investing it for his clients. To keep the money coming in, Jake uses Phoebe to help win over new people. One can't help but wonder if Madoff did the same thing with his wife, Ruth.

When Madoff's scheme came to light, it was not clear exactly how much Ruth knew about what was really going on. It seemed impossible to me at the time that she could have been clueless. But the older I get, the more I believe that, in a marriage, spouses tend to turn over certain aspects of their lives to the spouse who is best suited to that piece. In The Widow of Wall Street, Meyer wants readers to believe that Phoebe was clueless about how the financial markets work (and, let's be honest, most of us really don't understand them) and that she believed that their rich lifestyle was the just reward of Jake's success.

The question is, how could a woman as smart as Phoebe, stay with a man like Jake, whose behavior becomes increasingly erratic as the stakes increase? How could she stand by him when it all comes crashing down. Meyers has that covered in a way that is very believable, from the initial reason they come together and the reasons she stays with him.

So of the writing seemed a little stilted to me. But there were also passages that really spoke to me, including this one that reminded me of going through my mother-in-law's things when she passed.
"Death taught you that souls lived in the ephemera once surrounding the ones you loved. Families fighting over ancient decks of cards and leaking teapots struggled to be keepers of the past. Now she understood. Possessions mattered because they held your history."
This book works for me in no small part because it explores, in a fictional way, the Madoff story. Meyers gives readers a look into what life might have been like for Madoff, his wife and their families and friends after it all came crashing down. What was life like when everything you own is suddenly under government control, including the things your mother handed down to you? What's it like for the children of a man that did these terrible things who also have to live with people wondering how much they knew? What's it like to have to face family who've been hurt by your husband? What's it like to be under siege by the media, to be considered a pariah wherever you go, to be torn by your loyalties? And what's it like to go from having the best of everything to having almost nothing? It's in the aftermath of Jake's downfall that this book really shone for me.

As with all of Meyer's books, this one would make a good book club selection with themes of loyalty, marriage, family ties, parental relationships, grief, corruption, ethics, fidelity, and multiculturalism.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Life: It Goes On - July 16

🌞🔥🌞🔥🌞 I had this whole piece written about how I needed a row of burning hot sun emojis but didn't know how to make that happen on my keyboard. Then I looked at my screen a realized there was an icon right on my system. I'm living the "you learn something new everyday" adage. Anyway, not as hot here as California and not as humid as Mississippi; but, still, 95 degrees with 65% humidity is damn hot and uncomfortable. And that's our forecast for at least another week. Makes it easy to convince myself to stay inside and read!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Podcasts still. Mostly Stuff You Missed In History Class and Happier. I would be knocking out more of them if I listened while I did stuff around the house but I tend to prefer quiet when I can get it.

Watching: All caught up with Game of Thrones now and ready for Season 7 to kick off tonight. Makes me think, again, about picking up the books. It might be easier to do if there weren't "books" and it was only the one giant book to consider.

Reading: Finishing Behind Closed Doors for this month's book club today. Can I just say how much I wish I hadn't recommended this book? I wouldn't even finish it except I always finish the book club books. I'm looking forward to getting back to Once, in Lourdes.

Making: In this heat, we've been keeping it light and easy this week - nachos, salads, light pastas.

Planning: All plans are up in the air at the moment. Not for any particular reason other than that trying to get my family all on the same page right now is like trying to herd cats. And I have cats, so I know what I'm talking about.

Thinking About: I'm watching This Is Us even as I type - it's got me thinking about family relationships.

Enjoying: Rhubarb Pear cider and truffle mac and cheese. Yum. Sometimes, it's the little things.

Feeling: Lazy but there's too much to be done.

Looking forward to: Book club this week.

Question of the week: How do you get yourself "up" when you don't have the ambition to do anything?

Friday, July 14, 2017

News Of The World by Paulette Jules

News Of The World by Paulette Jules
Published June 2017 by William Morrow Paperbacks
Source: my copies (egalley and print) courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: n the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

 In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

 In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

 Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

My Thoughts:
If that summary, on its own, convinced you to read this book, DO NOT read any other summaries of the book. There's a fifth paragraph I didn't include that pretty much gives away the ending. Why would a publisher do that??? The one thing that you absolutely do not want to do, is ruin this book for yourself in any way. Because this book, before I even started this review, was added to my favorite books of 2017 list; it will surely still be there at the end of the year. Trite as it sounds, I truly could not put this book down.

Paulette Jiles is, it turns out, a poet, which explains so much about the writing but not everything. Because not only is the writing in News Of The World beautiful, the story is, while not entirely unique (think Charles Portis' True Grit and John Wayne in The Searchers), engrossing, and Jiles uses her research remarkably well. She has clearly done her research but never gets mired down in it, giving readers just as much detail as they need to understand the time, a place, or the look of a thing. She also knows when the draw out a scene or a description and when to cut to the chase. There is a tension throughout the book but Jiles also makes time for sweet moments.

The last chapter is a bit jarring; it's one of those final chapters that spans many years to wrap everything up. The book is just over 200 page. One can't help but wonder if Jiles might have stretched that bit out a bit more; I would happily have read another 100 pages. But then, the story Jiles wanted to tell was told by the time she reached that last chapter. Maybe she should have left it there? Either way, Jiles would have left the reader wanting more and that's never a bad thing.

I'm just waiting now for the announcement that News Of The World has been optioned for a movie adaptation. I'm casting it in my head even now.

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

Paulette Jiles is a novelist, poet, and memoirist. She is the author of Cousins, a memoir, and the novels Enemy Women, Stormy Weather, The Color of Lightning, Lighthouse Island, and News of the World. She lives on a ranch near San Antonio, TX.

Find out more about Paulette at her website.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Readathon Time!

If I'm reading again, it's probably time to start readathoning again, right? I think I've earned the right to just sit and read as much as I want to for a couple of weeks. Who am I kidding? We've all earned that right!

First up is Michelle's High Summer Readathon. Michelle's readathon's are always very relaxed and last a while so it's usually pretty easy to find time in that two week period to sit down and read. Never as much as I want there to be but given that my calendar for the month is pretty empty (other than just  spending as much time on the patio as possible), it might just work this year.

Tucked right into the middle of the High Summer Readathon is the 24 in 48 Readathon, hosted by Rachel, Kristen, and Kerry. The idea here is to read for 24 of the 48 hours of the weekend of July 22 and 23. Rachel created this readathon because she could never handle reading the full 24 hours of Dewey's readathon but liked the idea of cranking out that many hours of reading in one weekend. Since I can never seem to get more than a few hours of Dewey's in either, I think this might just work for me. If I can get my family to play along better for this one. That's a big "if."

Because I couldn't really think much past the wedding for the past two months, my reading commitments are minimal this summer. Which means that I can pretty well read whatever catches my fancy during the readathons. I'm ridiculously excited to just grab a big pile of books and go to town!

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
Published June 2013 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: bought for my Nook to read with my book group

Publisher's Summary:
Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years—forty years since he slipped off her first wedding ring and put his own in its place. Delphine has seen both sides of love—the ecstatic, glorious highs of seduction, and the bitter, spiteful fury that descends when it’s over. James, a paramedic who works the night shift, knows his wife’s family thinks she could have done better; while Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, has seen every kind of wedding—beach weddings, backyard weddings, castle weddings—and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own.

As these lives and marriages unfold in surprising ways, we meet Frances Gerety, a young advertising copywriter in 1947. Frances is working on the De Beers campaign and she needs a signature line, so, one night before bed, she scribbles a phrase on a scrap of paper: “A Diamond Is Forever.” And that line changes everything.

My Thoughts:
I picked The Engagements for last month's book club selection for a couple of reasons: I'd read and really enjoyed Sullivan's Maine and I imagined a book that dealt with marriage from a number of points of view would make for a interesting discussion.

Coming at a book from five different story lines is tough to pull off and tough to read. Early on it felt like I was reading a collection of short stories. As so often happens when a book moves back and forth between story lines, the shift between stories sometimes felt abrupt and even frustrating when I had to try to get back into a different story line. Like a short story collection, some story lines here were stronger or more interesting throughout the line. The unifying theme throughout was marriage (and the role of those diamond rings that come with it) but Sullivan also touched on a lot of other themes as well - infidelity, women's role in the workplace, grief, parental relationships and expectations, financial hardship, divorce, and ethical dilemmas. There is a woman in this book that will probably speak to every woman who reads it.

By looking at women from several generations and walks of life, Sullivan is able to explore women's changing roles in society, to look at the ways society at large has changed, and also to look at the strength of women from many different angles.

Of Evelyn, who married in the 1930's and whose life's passion was teaching, Sullivan wrote:
"It was expected that she would quite her job after marriage, as most women did, and she did quit, for a while, to be with Teddy [Evelyn's son], and to open up a job for someone else during the later years of the Depression. There was real bitterness aimed at working girls at that time, especially the ones with husbands."
Through Kate, who abhors the idea of marriage, Sullivan gives us this:
"Through centuries and across cultures, women were intimidated and coerced into marriage, through horrible means - kidnapping, physical violence, even gang rape. In eighteen-century England, the doctrine of coverture dictated that a woman had no legal rights within a marriage, other than those afforded her by her husband. Early American laws replicated this idea, and did not change until the 1960's. Before then, most states had "head and master" laws, giving husbands the right to beat their wives and take full control of family decision making and finances, including the woman's own property."
An excellent reminder of why I marched in the Women's March back in January. We've come a long way, thanks to those who fought before us. It's easy to forget that, as Sullivan reminds us in Evelyn's story line, even in the 1970's there had to be cause for a divorce and the woman was often the party who suffered the most embarrassment even when it meant she had to accuse her husband of wrongdoing.

Frances Gerety was a real woman - the real person who came up with that iconic signature line for De Beers diamonds. Not long ago it was voted the best advertising slogan of the 20th century. Her life, and her storyline, are as interesting as any of the others in the book. In Sullivan's hands we see Gerety as someone who was married to her profession, never "had never wanted to marry or have children." Perhaps as a working woman who was always treated (and paid) as inferior to her male counterparts, Gerety didn't see any reason to seek that out in her personal life as well.

In a book titled The Engagements, I didn't expect to find feminism. But, as Sullivan follows the trail of a ring through the book, she also follows the trail of women finding their own voices and their own way.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Life: It Goes On - July 9

Life is returning to normal. I've begun selling off the wedding things I want to get rid of, borrowed things are mostly returned to their homes, and my dining room can finally be used for dining again. For someone who hates clutter, I must say I kind of miss it. But only because it means that the thing I was looking forward to for a year is over. See, I told you yesterday that I wasn't quite over the post-wedding letdown.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I listened to podcasts through last week, including Happier, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and Reading Women. I'm really enjoying catching up on them and may continue that for at least another week before I start another book.

Watching: Veep with The Big Guy, The Mindy Project and Orange Is The New Black with Miss H, Game of Thrones with BG and Mini-him, and I am now all caught up with Grace and Frankie which is just for me. I'm pretty sad that I'll now have to wait for the next season of that one. Obviously, the television has been back on in my house!

Reading: I'm starting Once, In Lourdes by Sharon Solwitz today and Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris for book club after that.

Making: So I listened to BG when we ordered food for the reception and we had a lot left over. A lot. By Friday, I was begging not to eat something that made use of the leftovers in any way. Which is to say that, mostly, I have not been making anything.

Planning: A trip to Milwaukee in August to see our kids. And that, folks, is how I'm getting over my blues!

Thinking About: Picking up some classes. I'd talked about it a while back but never figured out how I was going to make time for it. Mini-him will return to school this fall and I decided if he can figure out how to work full-time and carry three classes, I should be able to manage at least one. Now to figure out what I want to take.

Enjoying: Quiet. BG is a person who needs to go, go, go. Which is good, because as I have needed time to collect myself this week, he has been off finding ways to entertain himself and leaving me the house to myself.

Feeling: Better.

Looking forward to: Getting back to blogging regularly and visiting blogs. I miss my people!

Question of the week: My reading schedule will be pretty open this summer. What's the one book you are looking forward to reading that I should pick up?

Saturday, July 8, 2017


Since I tend to suffer from post-big event letdown in general, I should have seen post-wedding letdown coming. And I did... sort of. But, damn, I had no idea it would hit so hard and take almost a week for me to seriously start feeling like myself again. 

The most curious thing has happened this week, though. That reading slump I've been more or less mired in all year? Suddenly, I find it has lifted. Just like that, the thing that has always been my go-to when I needed a lift has come back to me - books.

Granted, that fog my brain has been in for months as I worked to plan, order and create, has lifted; and I have more free time again. Still, I was surprised when I found myself able to actually focus on a book for long periods. I started a book Tuesday that I will finish today and I'm eager to start a new one tomorrow. 

I suspect it will take a few days longer to completely get over the blues, especially as I continue to pull leftover tamales and tortillas out of the freezer and try to sell the wedding items we'll never use again (100 chair covers, for example). But, I'm happy to say that the therapy I've always counted on is, once again, working. I'm reading!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Life: It Goes On - July 4

Happy Fourth of July to my U.S. readers! We are celebrating in the most quiet way possible, still recovering from the past week. My neighbors are giving me all of the celebration I need; any window I look out of is giving me a great fireworks show.
photo taken by my brother
at the wedding reception

My kiddos got here last Saturday night and we went non-stop through this past Sunday night. My scheduled plan for the week sort of went out the window when they showed up a projects yet to be completed. But it all got done and the things that didn't happen weren't noticed by anyone else Saturday. We had a wonderful weekend that was everything my son and his bride wanted it to be. We even had our own fireworks show!

With company just all leaving on Monday, I'm only now able to finish putting my house back together. Needless to say, my week below will mostly be a recap of the wedding week. Next week, it will be back to business as usual. I'm sad it's all over but also really needing to get back to my routine.

This Week I'm:

Reading: Not one word from the Saturday before last until today. Might be the longest I've ever gone without reading a book. I did start The Widow of Wall Street today.

Listening To: Songs from the wedding playlist. The bride and groom put together all of the music for the reception, with lots of input from their siblings and parents. We had a glorious evening last week singing together and driving Mini-me crazy as we threw out ideas faster than he could decide on them and add them.

Watching: This will come as a shock, particularly to those who know The Big Guy, but I'm not sure the television was on anywhere in my house for an entire week. It was kind of wonderful.

Making: In the kitchen - runzas, manicotti, and we grilled. Mostly we made decorations for the wedding reception, including a fabric letters that spelled out the kids' names, Just Married, and the date that we mounted to barnwood. I also made the boutonnieres for all of the guys and put together the fresh flower bouquet for the bride as well as nosegays for the moms and my mom.

Planning: Nothing in the planning stages at the moment. Thank heavens!

Thinking About: My head is filled with memories from the past week. Time spent getting to know Ms. S's mother better, hearing all four of my kids out on the patio laughing and singing together, seeing my son's face as he saw his bride for the first time at the wedding, watching my parents dance at the reception.

Enjoying:  See pic. Bottom left is at the reception on Saturday night; bottom center and left are at the post-wedding dinner held by my parents in their backyard. You may notice the bridal pup curled up at their feet. He's a great dog but a constant "what do we do with Jasper" conundrum last week!

Feeling: So many emotions. I'm prone to crying at any moment. So happy for the kids, sad it's all over, sad to have them gone.

Looking forward to: A long weekend in Milwaukee. I don't know when it will be but I'm going to need one soon!

Question of the week: How to you get over the letdown after a big event?

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!