Thursday, October 18, 2018

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler
Published October 2018 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Alva Smith, her southern family destitute after the Civil War, married into one of America’s great Gilded Age dynasties: the newly wealthy but socially shunned Vanderbilts. Ignored by New York’s old-money circles and determined to win respect, she designed and built 9 mansions, hosted grand balls, and arranged for her daughter to marry a duke. But Alva also defied convention for women of her time, asserting power within her marriage and becoming a leader in the women's suffrage movement.

My Thoughts:
Alva Vanderbilt
Kirkus Reviews called this one “mesmerizing.” That’s not the word I would choose, but I did enjoy this book a lot. Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont was a fascinating woman who lived her own advice, “First marry for money, then marry for love.” In the end, she truly found her own path.

William K. Vanderbilt
First marry for money: Alva was desperate and William was willing. His family needed the social cache her family name brought. Both of them got what they wanted. Sort of. William is well aware of his wife’s worth (she did, after all, find the ways to bring the Vanderbilt family into high society), but he is so self-absorbed that he didn’t think to do the things that would truly make Alva happy. Instead he showers her with jewelry and then is off again to do his own thing. William was far more interested in boats and horses than in his family or the family business. He comes off as a grown up little boy.

The Fifth Avenue house
In Fowler’s hands, Alva vacillates between kowtowing to society standards and standing firm for her beliefs. She convinces her father-in-law to foot the bill for magnificent mansions for all of his children on the pretense that it will benefit society at large as these will be works of art. Yeah, right. But she also insists on working closely with the architect, shocking society matrons by being so closely involved. I vacillated between really liking Alva and really believing she was all about the Benjamins. This is the bulk of the story and Fowler really makes the Gilded Age, and the gilded cage, come alive.

Then marry for love: Alva harbors the hots for one of William’s friends for decades; her back and forth got a little old, sometimes. But she’s far too virtuous and far too aware of what’s at stake, especially for her children if there were to be a scandal, to ever act on it. Until at last she is a free woman. As the wife of Oliver Belmont, Alva finally gets to be loved and to be understood for who she is. She cuts loose and does what she wants, society be damned. You can’t help but be happy for her.

Alva Vanderbilt
Find her own path; In her later years, Alva became a very active suffragette. She’d long championed women’s rights and, at last, she could be part of a group advocating for women. Unfortunately, there’s not much of that in this book. Fowler has, instead chosen to make the book about Alva’s life with the men in it. She does include an afterward that brings readers up to speed with Alva’s life on her own.

Two last things:
This is one of my favorite book covers in a while. It’s perfect for the story. It’s the little things, sometimes.
Gratuitous picture of Hugh Grant
Also, Is it wrong that I thought of the Wade brothers from Two Weeks’ Notice when Fowler was writing about William and his brother, Corneil, William being the Hugh Grant character of the Vanderbilt family? I mean, Corneil was serious about the work and maintaining the family business, William was the social one, more interested in the ladies and fun. To be fair to Grant's character, George Wade, George spent more time in the office than William apparently did.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Narrated by Mohsin Hamid
Published March 2017 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through. . . .

Exit West follows these remarkable characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are.

My Thoughts:
Mohsin Hamid is always inventive with his writing, with a singular voice. He tells stories about people most Americans don’t know about, lives we can’t imagine. There is always something to be learned from his books, a new way to look at the world. In Exit West, Hamid focuses on the lives of refugees in the various places they find themselves, not on their journeys, which we know are perilous. What is life like in the camps? How does life change depending on the country they find themselves in? What changes when the refugee community starts to change the balance in the areas where they're located? I seriously always feel smarter when I finish one of Hamid's books.
“It might seem odd that in cities teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class—in this case an evening class on corporate identity and product branding—but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are puttering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does.”? 
One of the things that really got me thinking in Exit West was Nadia's wearing of an abaya, despite being an independent, modern woman who isn't religious. Nadia doesn't wear an abaya for religious reasons, nor for modesty. She chooses to wear an abaya as a barrier, particularly to keep men from bothering her. It's her choice. Which makes me wonder how many of the women I've seen wearing abaya's are doing less because it's required and more because it is their choice. In this day and age of #MeToo, it's interesting to consider that some women may just decide it's easier to hide from men.

Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist blew me away. I wanted this one to do the same. It did, after all, appear on many "best of" lists for 2017. But, whereas Fundamentalist built to an ending that left me sort of stunned, this one  just left me sad. Hamid doesn’t do happy endings; I’ve certainly learned that by now. So I suppose I might have suspected where this book was going and I'm not sure where I wouldn't have wanted him to go with the story. Still...

Hamid always narrates his books and his reading style mirrors his writing style perfectly. I’ve grown used to it; but, when I tried to listen to the book with my husband, he found the book really odd which I felt was mostly due to Hamid’s detached, flat style. Listening may not be for everyone. But books like Exit West should be.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Life: It Goes On - October 14

If only it actually looked like the picture at the left today! Instead, it's snowing. After three weeks of grey, cold, wet days, we come to this. Ugh. Fingers crossed that next week's forecast for drier, warmer days is right but it's almost too late for a proper fall. So many trees have dropped their leaves before they even changed colors. I feel like I'm living in Westoros - I just keep thinking "winter is coming!" At least yesterday was warmer and sunny and I was able to get some stuff done outside.

Today I'm doing meal prep for the week so there'll be a crockpot and oven on. I'll light plenty of candles and plan some time to curl up and read and watch some football and try to ignore that white stuff falling from the sky!

Last Week I:

Listened To: Hamilton: The Revolution and I'm back to Love and Ruins now that it's available again. I did finally manage to figure out how to change the length of my check out from seven days to fourteen days so I can actually finish books before my loan expires.
Eric Francis/Getty Images

Watched: Football, baseball, volleyball, and Terence Crawford defending his welterweight boxing title. We aren't boxing people, hardly ever watch it. But Crawford is an Omaha guy who promotes the city and state of Nebraska tirelessly. It was nice to watch at least one Nebraska "team" win yesterday!

Read: The Library Book, which I reviewed on Thursday and I'm about half way done with A Well-Behaved Woman. I'm seriously on a reading jag lately, having given up playing games on my phone.

Made: Chicken and corn tortilla soup, chili, chicken noodle soup - that pretty much tells you what the weather's been like, doesn't it?!

Enjoyed: Sunday evening with Mini-me and Ms. S. They are in such a good place now and we had a great time going out for dinner and drinks with them. It's so nice to have them so much closer now!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: A quick weekend trip south. Sadly, this will mean I'm missing Dewey's Readathon. Again.

Thinking About: I'm in a strange "spring cleaning" mood. I have other things I need to do, but I'm thinking that reorganizing and decluttering is on the agenda!

Feeling: Accomplished. I managed to, for the first time in ages, get through all of the posts on my blog reader (except event posts I wanted to keep). It won't last long, but maybe I can try to keep up now.

Looking forward to: A quiet week. Hopefully this will mean it will be productive around the house.

Question of the week: Obviously I've been in a soup mood lately. What's your favorite soup?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Published October 2018 by Simon & Schuster
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual false alarm. As one fireman recounted later, “Once that first stack got going, it was Goodbye, Charlie.” The fire was disastrous: It reached 2,000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 more. Investigators descended on the scene, but over thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

[Orlean] investigates the legendary Los Angeles Public Library fire to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives. To truly understand what happens behind the stacks, Orlean visits the different departments of the LAPL, encountering an engaging cast of employees and patrons and experiencing alongside them the victories and struggles they face in today’s climate. She also delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from a metropolitan charitable initiative to a cornerstone of national identity. She reflects on her childhood experiences in libraries; studies arson and the long history of library fires; attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; and she re-examines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the library over thirty years ago. Along the way, she reveals how these buildings provide much more than just books—and that they are needed now more than ever.

My Thoughts:
In April, Entertainment Weekly said “Susan Orlean’s next book will be a passionate love letter to libraries.” Indeed it is.

Orlean grew up with a love of her mother and her weekly trips to the library.
"Together we waited for the librarian at the counter to pull the date card out and stamp it with the checkout machine - that loud chunk-chunk, like a giant fist of time thumping the card, printing a crooked due date underneath a score of previous crooked due dates that belonged to other people, other times.
Our visits to the library were never long enough for me. The place was so bountiful. I loved wandering around the bookshelves, scanning the spines until something happened to catch my eye. Those visits were dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than I arrived."
But, like so many of us, as she got older, she stopped going to the library. She had a burning (no pun intended) desire to own books, not just read them and give them back. "I wanted to have my books around me, forming a totem pole of narratives I'd visited." When her son was young, though, she found herself rediscovering libraries when she began taking him to them; and when she learned about the fire at Los Angeles' Central Library her love of libraries and her investigative journalism career made the perfect match.

I would imagine my husband is very happy that I’m finished reading this book, given the number of times a day I interrupted whatever he was doing to read him passages. I read to him about Ray Bradbury, who never got a college education but read his way through the Central Library. I read to him about the number of books and libraries destroyed during World War II, including the German group which was tasked with burning dangerous books and which inspired Bradbury. I read to him about some of the real characters who have headed the Los Angeles library, including Charles Lummis who walked from Ohio to Los Angeles when he accepted the job. And I read to him about Bertram Goodhue, who designed both the Central Library and the Nebraska State Capital, a building we both love. Being so familiar with the Capital building gave me a good idea of what the Central Library building looked like even before I looked up pictures.

There is nothing dull or dry about this book. Orlean's writing is vivid, bringing history to life.
"Usually, a fire is red and orange and yellow and black. The fire in the library was colorless. You could look right through it, as if it were a sheet of glass. Where the flame had any color, it was pale blue. It was so hot that it appeared icy."
"In the building, the air began to quiver with radiant heat. Crews trying to make their way into the stacks felt like they were hitting a barricade, as if the heat had become solid. "We could only stand it for ten, fifteen seconds," one of them told me...The temperature reached 2000 degrees. Then it rose to 2500. The firefighters began to worry about a flashover, a dreaded situation during a fire in which everything in a closed space - even smoke - becomes so hot that it reaches a point of spontaneous ignition, causing a complete and consuming eruption of fire from every service."
Did you know that fire could be colorless, that it could become so hot it cause spontaneous ignition, and have you heard of a stoichiometric condition (when a fire achieves the perfect burning ratio of oxygen to fuel)? I'm sure I would not have believed I could be so interested in reading about fire.

Although, The Library Book is never heavy handed, Orleans touches on the ways libraries have had to deal with homelessness, immigration, and politics in order to remain relevant and to achieve their missions. Reading this book is about learning about so much more than just one fire in one library. Through it all, though, books remain at the heart of any library and their value is beyond measure.
"Book are a sort of cultural DNA, the code for who, as a society, we are, and what we know. All the wonders and failures, all the champions and villains, all the legends and ideas and revelations of a culture last forever in its books. Destroying those books is a way of saying that the culture itself no longer exists; its history has disappeared; the continuity between it's past and its future is ruptured."
This book makes me happy that I'm again a card carrying library patron.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Listen To The Marriage by John Jay Osborn

Listen To The Marriage by John Jay Osborn
Published October 2018 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Publisher's Summary:

Gretchen and Steve have been married for a long time. Living in San Francisco, recently separated, with two children and demanding jobs, they’ve started going to a marriage counselor. Unfolding over the course of ten months and taking place entirely in the marriage counselor’s office, John Jay Osborn’s Listen to the Marriage is the story of a fractured couple in a moment of crisis, and of the person who tries to get them to see each other again. A searing look at the obstacles we put in our own way, as well as the forces that drive us apart (and those that bring us together), Listen to the Marriage is a poignant exploration of marriage—heartbreaking and tender.

My Thoughts:
At only 140 pages, this was a quick read with much to recommend it. But I found myself wanting both more and less from it.

What I Liked:
Osborn has taken nearly a year of a marriage on the brink of divorce and narrowed it down to just the time the couple  spends in the office of their marriage counselor. The reader never really leaves the office and yet Osborn manages to bring in the couple's children, friends, and lovers. I enjoyed the tight focus on  Steve's and Gretchen's emotions, reactions, interactions, and perspectives.

I have to say that both the title of this book and the cover are perfect. Those might seem like little things, as though I'm scraping for things to like but I actually very much appreciated the fact that both  tell the reader a lot about the story up front.

What I Didn't Like:
Osborn works to make the counselor, Sandy, a full person in the story but it didn't work for me. While her thoughts and guidance are important, her back story is not relevant. If Osborn intended for it to be relevant, he needed to have included more of it, made is so. I haven't been to marriage counseling, so I can't speak to the reality of how Sandy handles this couple. But it didn't feel terribly professional for Sandy to divulge details about her personal life, either.

Likewise, I can't speak to Sandy's methods. But when Osborn even has Gretchen questioning Sandy's method, it did make me wonder. And I'm not sure about being so in Sandy's head. If we hadn't been, I wouldn't have gotten so tired of Osborn's use of trains on tracks as an analogy for the way the counseling sessions were going.

In the end, I would have liked the book to have less about Sandy and more about Steve and Gretchen.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday - The Longest Books I've Ever Read

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, Jana (That Artsy Reader Girl) is asking us to list the longest books we've ever read. I'll be honest, in the past nine years, since I started blogging, I've sort of shied away from long books. Long books mean you might not have any books to review for two or three weeks. Even when I'm in a blogging or reading rut, I generally don't go that long without a review. But I've managed to read quite a few long books in my lifetime. Now if I can just remember which ones...

Oh yeah, I've read:

1. Under The Dome by Stephen King - 1088 pages

2. The Stand by Stephen King - 1472 pages

3. Bleak House by Charles Dickens - 912 pages

4. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell - 983 pages

5. Chesapeake by James Michener - 1024 pages

6. Space by James Michener - 808 pages

7. Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow - 904 pages

8. I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb - 897 pages

9. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens - 882 pages

10. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - 850 pages

Well, that was easier than I thought (thanks, Goodreads, for letting me sort books by page count!). Turns out I've read quite a lot of books over 700 pages long. I've been such a reading fiend of late (and hence will have a lot of reviews up through the end of the year), I think I'm going to pick something big for December. Maybe Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy, which has been languishing on my shelves for some years because it's scary big. Or Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and The White which is sort of titled to match the colors of the season? I'm loving this idea and the possibilities!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Life: It Goes On - October 7

I'm off to my sister's this weekend so this will be a short post. We're enjoying lovely fall colors and the company of my sister and her husband, my niece and her fiancee, and, later today, we'll head back south to see Mini-me and Ms. S. Now if it weren't so bloody chilly instead of the beautiful weather we should be getting this time of year, it would be perfect! Pics to come later.

Last Week I:

Listened To: Help! How the heck am I supposed to finish an 11 hour audiobook in 6 days? Even given the 50-60 minutes a day I'm listening while I'm driving, I have a hard time working in another hour of listening every single day. So I keep getting part way through a book and then it has to be returned and I have to put it on hold and hope I can remember the book by the time I get it again. So I got 25% of the way through Love and Ruin before it was returned. Luckily that timed out just as The Hate U Give was available and I'm trying like crazy to finish it in before my time is up. But it's kind of, sort of, rude to put on headphones and listen to a book while you're in the car with someone.

Watched: The Voice, football, and the Yankees-A's wildcard game. Miss H is a rabid Yankees fan so I'm sure she'll be commanding the television as far into the post-season as their journey takes them.

Read: I read When The Men Were Gone and now I'm back to The Library Book, which I'll finish this weekend and then I think I'll pick up Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis. Or Bellman and Black. You know I have them both with me!

Made: Lots of salads to use as many of the fresh-picked tomatoes as we can, fajitas, and gingerbread which I've brought with me to share with Mini-me and my brother-in-law.

Enjoyed: See first paragraph.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: A possible mini-weekend trip later this month.

Thinking About: Putting on my political big girl pants this week and getting out to register people to vote and getting to some rallies.

Feeling: Happy.

Looking forward to: It should be a quiet week which is always something I need after time away from home.

Question of the week: I've been looking at a lot of home decorating bloggers and Instagram accounts lately and so many of them add very little color to their decor and call it fall decorating, just a bit of nature and some white pumpkins. How about you? Do you load up with the fall colors and is your style more subdued?

Friday, October 5, 2018

When The Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis

When The Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis
Paperback Published October 2018 by William Morrow Paperbacks
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Football is the heartbeat of Brownwood, Texas. Every Friday night for as long as assistant principal Tylene Wilson can remember, the entire town has gathered in the stands, cheering their boys on. Each September brings with it the hope of a good season and a sense of unity and optimism.

Now, the war has changed everything. Most of the Brownwood men over 18 and under 45 are off fighting, and in a small town the possibilities are limited. Could this mean a season without football? But no one counted on Tylene, who learned the game at her daddy’s knee. She knows more about it than most men, so she does the unthinkable, convincing the school to let her take on the job of coach.

Faced with extreme opposition—by the press, the community, rival coaches, and referees and even the players themselves—Tylene remains resolute. And when her boys rally around her, she leads the team—and the town—to a Friday night and a subsequent season they will never forget.

My Thoughts:
When I was offered this book for review, I only read far enough to know it was a book about a woman coaching football. That's all it took to get me interested and I never read the summary until just now as I posted it.

Initially I wasn't sure I'd post the full review; after all, doesn't knowing up front that the boys will rally around Tylene and that she will actually get to coach sort of ruin the book. Then I realized that as I was reading, there was never any doubt in my mind that this is how the book would end. Why else would you tell the story, especially when you know that it's based on a true story. All of which brings to me one of the things I really liked about this book - Lewis has managed to keep up a level of tension you wouldn't expect when the outcome of the book is a foregone conclusion, but in a way that never feels overly manipulative.

And what else did I like about this book? The football, of course! Lewis had a long career as a sportswriter; in fact, she was assigned to cover the Dallas Cowboys football team for three decades. To say the lady knows her football is an understatement.  Sure, Lewis might have done plenty  of research about football and probably have made the book work. But Lewis clearly knows the game; she knows the roles of the various positions, she knows the strategy, she knows the plays. Even more impressive is that Lewis has included plays that are true to the time period of the book.

There's a lot of emotional stuff going on in the book - the war, of course, Parkinson's disease, alcoholism, PTSD, the death of children. Lewis could have dialed some of that back a bit but I never really minded it. With a book this short, the focus was always squarely on Tylene's coaching story and Lewis didn't have room to get carried away. Perhaps that harkens back to her days a sportswriter - keep the reader emotionally involved but know your story. Lewis knows her story.

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

Marjorie Herrera Lewis knew early on she wanted a career related to sports. After several years at small newspapers, at age twenty-seven she began working at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Soon after, she was named a beat writer for the Dallas Cowboys and eventually joined the Dallas Morning News sportswriting staff. While writing When the Men Were Gone, she became inspired to try her hand at coaching football and was added to the Texas Wesleyan University football coaching staff. She presently teaches media ethics at the University of North Texas.

Find out more about Marjorie at her website, and connect with her on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Task It Tuesday

I've been reading a lot in the past few weeks; but the more I read, the less time I have for blogging. I have been getting reviews written and have at least one review scheduled each week for the next three weeks. So it's time to add some blogging work into my next couple of weeks and get things caught up. My list of things to do in the next couple of weeks is:

1. Catch up with blog reader.

2. Clean up email.

3. Respond to comments from my September Sunday posts and keep current with responding to comments in October.

4. Set up schedule for November and December.

5. Write up Top Ten Tuesday posts for October.

It's a short list but includes some pretty time-consuming tasks and I want to make sure I'm still remembering to keep blogging fun!

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher

The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher
Published October 2018 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
London, 1938. The effervescent "It girl" of London society since her father was named the ambassador, Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy moves in rarified circles, rubbing satin-covered elbows with some of the 20th century's most powerful figures. Eager to escape the watchful eye of her strict mother, Rose, the antics of her older brothers, Jack and Joe, and the erratic behavior of her sister Rosemary, Kick is ready to strike out on her own and is soon swept off her feet by Billy Hartington, the future Duke of Devonshire.

But their love is forbidden, as Kick's devout Catholic family and Billy's staunchly Protestant one would never approve their match. When war breaks like a tidal wave across her world, Billy is ripped from her arms as the Kennedys are forced to return to the States. Kick gets work as a journalist and joins the Red Cross to get back to England, where she will have to decide where her true loyalties lie--with family or with love . . .

My Thoughts:
The Kennedy Debutante is, first and foremost, a love story. But it is a love story featuring a largely unknown member of the most famous family in America. It is a Capulet/Montegue love story with it's battle between the Irish-American Catholic Kennedys and the English Protestant Hartingtons. It's also a love story set during a time of world war. Most importantly, it's the story of a young girl coming of age and spreading her wings in extremely unusual conditions.

Fans of historical fiction are going to enjoy this book with its blend of American royalty and old school artistocracy. Those wanting to learn more about the Kennedy family will find plenty to learn here (Maher has hewed closely to the facts as they are known). Kick, as portrayed by Maher, is a young woman yearning to make her own way in life but one who is also deeply fond of her family and of her faith. Maher focuses on six years of Kick's life, from her debut in front of the Queen of England at age 18 until her return to England after the death of her husband when she was only 24 years old. My, but did she live a full life in those six years. In addition to making her mother happy with her "duties," Kick volunteered prior to the war and returned during the war to work with the Red Cross to provide comfort to soldiers. During her time in the U.S., she lived on her own and worked at a newspaper, rising to become a reporter.

While Maher does a good job of showing Kick's full life in this time period, her focus throughout is Kick's love of Billy Hartington. It was a complicated relationship, what with their different backgrounds, different religions, and his desire to serve his country. But I did feel that Maher could have made the love story a bit tighter. It sometimes felt, to me, like a lot of handwringing and unnecessary back and forth.

Still, Maher kept me entertained and made me want to learn more about Kick. If you look up Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy (and you know I did!), you will most often find her referred to as the "forgotten" Kennedy or the "rebellious" Kennedy. Maher wants readers to know and understand Kick, how love drove her to marry outside her faith (something that was unheard of in 1944), how constricted she felt playing the traditional socialite female roles. Considering the life she lead, it's hard to believe that Kick came to be forgotten. Until you remember her last name and the tragedy of her three older siblings (Joe Jr., Rosemary, and Jack) and her younger brother (Robert) and that she died when she was only 28 years old.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Life: It Goes On - September 30

Welcome to rainy, dreary, cold Omaha. Seriously, it's only 51 degrees.

So sad I forgot to go back for
this set!
That didn't stop Miss H and me from going to Junkstock this morning and browsing in and out of the buildings for a couple of hours. It's gotten to be an enormous event; but I really miss the days when there was actually "junk" at Junkstock, when I could find things like architectural pieces, ceramic insulators, and the handles off outdoor water faucets. But I got to spend a couple of hours with my girl which is always a good time.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Mohsin Hamid's Exit West and M. C. Beaton's A Highland Christmas and started Paula McLain's Love and Ruins. I am loving having access to the library's digital audiobooks but sometimes it's hard to find anything that's readily available.

We weren't allowed to take photos
in the event.
Watched: Ron Chernow speak on Monday. While I was racing home from work, changing clothes as fast as I could, and getting only two bites of dinner before it was time to learn to the event, I wondered if it was worth it. It was. Chernow is a fantastic speaker and I highly recommend making the effort to hear him speak if you get the chance. He spoke about working with Lin-Manuel Miranda to turn his book Alexander Hamilton into Miranda's smash Broadway hit, Hamilton, as well as about his most recent book, Grant. Super excited to know that both the Broadway show and the book Grant are being made into movies.

Read: I finished The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher, read John Jay Osborn's Listen To The Marriage, and started Susan Orlean's The Library Book. I've been a reading machine as of late.

Made: It's been a pretty dull eating week, hasn't it, when you can't remember anything you made all week.

Enjoyed: Last Sunday Miss H had I spent the whole afternoon eating and shopping in the Old Market area of Omaha. Seems like we're getting into a Sunday Girls' Day habit that I'm loving. Also enjoyed the wedding, yesterday, of the son of some of our oldest friends.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Some small projects around the house. We've got some things we want to get painted while the weather is still nice enough to get them outside (assuming this weekend was a fluke!) and I would love to get my office painted yet this fall.

Thinking About: Getting some voter registration events set up. A friend and I went through training this week to be official deputy voter registrars and I'm itching to get out and empower people. Of course, the next step is to sign up to drive them to the polls in November.

Feeling: Excited for and proud of Mini-him who accepted a new job this week. He's been with Apple for five years and we are really going to miss having our Apple expert (and that discount!) in house. But he will get a chance to travel all over the country, learn so many new things, work regular people hours, and do the things he does best.

Looking forward to: A trip to my sister's and brother-in-law's which will include a trip even further north to see their daughter and her fiancé. Making my list of things from here to take to them (runzas, my sis' fave popcorn) and things to bring back (cheese curds, cheese curds, cheese curds!).

Question of the week: We both grew up having popcorn for our Sunday evening meal so that's The Big Guy and I had tonight (along with some apples and some killer cheese). Do you have any meal like that during the week, a meal where you eat the same thing every week?

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Published September 2015 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: checked out through my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a 'social experiment' offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their 'Alternates,' the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.

My Thoughts:
A few years ago, I finally read Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I think I’d find it even scarier now. I was fairly well convinced Atwood was a genius based on that book alone. This book, though, is not helping that impression.

Yes, the initial premise of the book is intriguing. The economy has gone to hell, there are millions of people without work, many are homeless and living out of their cars. Many others are roaming the streets looking to steal whatever they can or assault whomever they can. Into that situation comes the promise of a job, a place to live, and three meals a day. The catch? Every other month you’re “job” is to act as a prisoner so that other people can have jobs operating the prison or working in the adjacent town. Desperate people are willing to make that bargain. So desperate that they don’t really stop to think exactly how the company that is operating this scheme is making money to pay them or to make a profit. Ok, I’m in, even though I really, really don’t like the main characters.

Jump ahead one year. Our main characters have settled into their new lives, but there are starting to be cracks in the façade. Oh, did I mention, they cannot leave the town/prison? That constraint is starting to take its toll as well. Still along for the ride, especially considering some of the things I’m learning along the way about the prison.

And then…

It all got really gimmicky and farfetched. I don’t want to tell you too much but Elvis impersonators, Marilyn impersonators, and Elvis and Marilyn sex robots are involved. And teddy bears. And teddy bear sex. Yeah, Atwood goes there.

As for the title, believe it or not, after all of that, Atwood has a story to tell her about love and the choices we make for love. Which, despite the title, is not at all what I was expecting as I got into the book. I suppose that's part of the reason I was disappointed. I was expecting to find myself truly frightened by the goings on in this book; but, just when I thought we were getting there, comedy ensued and a love story of sorts evolved. Honestly, and this is unusual for me to say, I wanted something darker out of this one.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday - Books By My Favorite Authors I Still Haven't Read

Well, there you go, the list that could go on and on. So many authors I love; so many books they've written that I haven't read yet! Here are just a few of the books I'm hoping to get to sooner rather than later!

  1. Year of Wonder by Geraldine Brooks
  2. Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
  3. Wintering by Peter Geye
  4. Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
  5. The Secrets Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
  6. How To Be Famous by Caitlin Moran
  7. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  8. A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
  9. Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner
  10. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
What books would you put on your list? 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters In the End by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters In The End by Atul Gawande
Narrated by Robert Petkoff
Published October 2014 by Holt, Henry and Company Inc.
Source: borrowed from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot.

Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering. Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession's ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person's last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.

My Thoughts: 
This one's been on my radar since it came out but somehow it was just never the book I picked up when I was actually paying for a book. Now, even though I've listened to it for free, I absolutely will be paying for this book. This is a book that every adult should read, particularly if you have aging parents.

Gawande has included both the stories of those who have worked to make changes in the way we deal with people as they age and personal stories of the ways systems have worked for or failed those who can no longer live on their own or are battling a terminal illness, including his own father's story. These serve to make the ideas he's exploring very approachable and easy to understand but he backs up his assertions with facts and data, as well.

Being a doctor, Gawande can speak to the fact that doctors are doing what doctors are trained to do and what the families of their patients demand be done. He recognizes that we've come a long way in the ways we care for our elderly and the infirm but wants readers to consider that there are still better ways to be considered and questions that need to be asked.

Two big takeaways for me were:

  • People are happiest when they can retain as much independence as possible. But this creates problems with being able to prove to the government (and families), that people are safe and being well cared for. As my parents are getting older, it's been my goal to try to keep them in their home as long as possible and this book confirmed that my siblings and I are doing the right thing in encouraging this. 
  • Doctors and family members need to be able to face the reality of impending death. Most importantly, we need to ask our loved ones the tough questions: what are their biggest fears and concerns? What goals are most important to them? What trade-offs are they willing to make and which ones are they not willing to make? This allows them control and helps all of us to make the right decisions. 
Gawande says this:
"Technological society has forgotten what scholars call the "dying role" and its importance to people as life approaches its end. People want to share memories, pass on wisdoms and keepsakes, settle relationships, establish their leagues, make people with God, and ensure that those who are left behind will be okay. They want to end their stories on their own terms."
In this day and age when we are able to keep people alive so much longer than we used to be able to, when there are so many more options for care, it's important to remember that, as the second chapter is titled, things fall apart. 
"There is always some final proximate cause that gets written down on the death certificate - respiratory failure, cardiac arrest. But in truth no single disease leads to the end: the culprit is just the accumulated crumbling of one's bodily systems while medicine carries out its maintenance measures and patch jobs...the curve of life becomes a long, slow fade."
That being said, doesn't it seem like we should be more ready for it when we get to the end, more prepared to make the best of the time we have? Gawande seems to think so and I agree.

By the time I finished this book, I was ready to go back to school to get a degree in gerontology and make a difference. Then I remembered that I could well be looking at assisted living facilities for myself by the time I could finish medical school at my age! Still, I'm going to do my damnedest to learn as much as I can so that I can be the greatest help to those I love (and myself) when the time comes to face these tough decisions. 

I suppose it would just have been easier to say to you, "You have to read this book." I would definitely encourage you to do so; it's important reading.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Life: It Goes On - September 23

Oh my goodness, what a beautiful day we're having today! The Big Guy and I had breakfast on the patio and ended up sitting out there for more than an hour. I may seriously have to consider taking this day as a "read all day on the patio" day! It's not like there's anything I need to get done around the house (snort!).

Last Week I:

Listened To: Margaret Atwood's The Heart Goes Last, which I'll finish today. The jury's out on this one, but it's gone a little weird for me. Not quite living up to what I expected early on.

Watched: Football, the finale of America's Got Talent, and more football.

Read: I finished Killers of the Flower Moon for book club and now I'm reading The Kennedy Debutante. It's not really grabbing me, but I'm hoping it will pick up.

Made: Pancakes with rhubarb sauce for breakfast this morning, snickerdoodle cookies, chocolate bread pudding, which I served for book club.

Enjoyed: So many things (book club, an evening out with friends to wineries) but mostly a wonderful twenty-four hours with a friend from Australia we haven't seen in 36 years. I picked her up from the airport Friday morning and took her to Lincoln, where she had spent a year when she was in high school, and then back to the airport she went early Saturday morning. It was not nearly long enough!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Miss H and I have a major task ahead of this week, reorganizing her things in her room, in my office, and in the guest room. We keep working on things and it just never seems to get to the point things really work well for her.

Thinking About: How busy the next six weeks are going to be!

Feeling: Lazy (see desire to read all day on the patio).

Looking forward to: Seeing Ron Chernow (Hamilton, Grant, Washington) tomorrow night, training to become a voter registrar, and the wedding of dear friends' son on Saturday.

Question of the week: What are you looking forward to doing this autumn?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
Published April 2017 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: bought my copy for book club

Publisher's Summary:
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes such as Al Spencer, “the Phantom Terror,” roamed – virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.

My Thoughts:
People! How have I never heard about this before? And how many other amazing stories about our history have we never heard of until an author chances upon a fragment that tweaks their interest? And do you think that David Grann thanks Truman Capotes in his prayers at night for inventing narrative nonfiction? Oh, sorry, I got carried away there. About the book...

Because the U. S. government, and white people in general, hadn't done enough to harm the Native Americans, after the government had settled the Osage onto a piece of land in Oklahoma, they decided each person should have only a small allotment of that territory and that the government would give away the rest to white people. The Osage had learned from the Oklahoma land rush and negotiated wisely, giving each of them each more land than was originally planned and, most importantly, allowing the Osage to retain the mineral rights to all land in their territory, no matter who owned the land above them.

Then it turned out there was oil under that land. A lot of oil. And the white men, who were already treating the Osage like small children and already unbelievably corrupt, got even worse. If all of that weren't enough, this all happened during Prohibition. We all know what that did for crime in this country and the Osage territory was no exception.

And J. Edgar Hoover? Also, not the nicest guy in the country. But the case of the Osage murders happened just as he rose to power, determined to turn the Bureau of Investigation into an efficient crime-fighting machine. Without him, and his dogged insistence that these crimes be solved, these people's murders would likely never have been solved.

The story of these murders and the attempt to solve them is fascinating and Grann keeps things moving along at a pace that should keep even those most leery of nonfiction interested. I couldn't put it down once I got started. I'm still just astounded at the level of corruption and incompetence and wondering how many more stories there are out there like this one that have yet to be unearthed.

I could have used a cast of characters list that I could refer back to throughout the book. There were so many people involved in the corruption on this area and in these crimes that it was often hard to remember who was who. If decide to read this, I highly recommend making your own as you go along. That goes along with my strong recommendation that you read this book; it's quite the eye-opener and, heaven knows, we could all use to have our eyes opened to the past because it has so much to do with the present.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday - Fall TBR

This week Jana, of That Artsy Reader Girl, is asking us to make a list of our books we're hoping to read this fall. My fall TBR is a monster list of books (for me) and I will be stunned if I actually get to them all; but a girl can dream. I have so many books I already wanted to read that I am skipping out on my annual Fall Feasting reading. My category of why I'm reading them, here is my list:

Book Club:

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
The Wangs Versus The World by Jade Chang

R.I.P. *:

Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfeld
The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins
We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson

TLC Book Tours:

When The Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis
Apollo To The Moon (also counts toward Nonfiction November) - National Geographic

Netgalley Reviews:

The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher
The Library Book by Susan Orleans
Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan
Spark of Light by Jodi Piccoult
Heirs of the Founders (also counts toward Nonfiction November) by H. W. Brands

Nonfiction November:

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Lost City of Z by David Grann
How To Be A Bawse by Lilly Singh
Charles Dickens In Love by Robert Garnett

Yep, that's more than ten. But there are just too many books I want to read soon to limit myself to ten!

*If I’m really reading like a fiend, I’d also like to squeeze in Dracula.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Tin Man by Sarah Winman
Published May 2018 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
 This is almost a love story. But it's not as simple as that. Ellis and Michael are twelve-year-old boys when they first become friends, and for a long time it is just the two of them, cycling the streets of Oxford, teaching themselves how to swim, discovering poetry, and dodging the fists of overbearing fathers. And then one day this closest of friendships grows into something more. But then we fast forward a decade or so, to find that Ellis is married to Annie, and Michael is nowhere in sight. Which leads to the question, what happened in the years between?

 My Thoughts:
That’s not quite right. This is absolutely a love story. It’s just an unusual love story, complicated by loss, thwarted desire, and sacrifice.

The Guardian says Tin Man “is a story about alternative lives that might have been lived had circumstances been different.” Agreed. What if Ellis had been allowed to study art instead of being forced by his abusive father to work in a car factory? What if both Michael’s and Ellis’ mothers hadn’t died? What if Michael and Ellis had stayed abroad instead of returning to Oxford? What if there had been no Annie?

In just over 200 pages, Winman illustrates the many ways our lives could be different “if only” and how many ways there are to love someone. The first half of this book is told from Ellis’ perspective, looking back on his life with Annie and Michael. Ellis is a man so filled with sadness it is palpable but he is finally trying to work his way back to a better place when he is hit hard with the past. The second half of the book is Michael’s story which is filled with loss, fear, and longing.

Winman has written her story in such a way that it evolves something like a mystery, so it’s hard to say much about the book without giving away too much. This is unlike any book I’ve read before but I can’t help but think that it’s a story that’s been lived by too many people which is part of what makes it such a poignant story.

*On a side note, this is the second book I’ve read recently that involves gay men. I haven’t gone out of my way to look for them which makes me hope that their stories are starting to be considered “mainstream” and no longer a separate category of books.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Life: It Goes On - September 16

Fall? Are you sure? Yesterday my outdoor thermometer reached 99 degrees. The actual temperature wasn't that high but in the sun, at least, that's what it felt like and that's all that matters to me. The cat doesn't even want to be outside and she loves to bask in the sun. It's making it hard to get too excited about decorating for fall and I'm not even thinking of pumpkin foods or soups yet.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I raced through Atul Gawande's Being Mortal. Loved. It. I'll likely pick up a physical copy of this book. I think it's truly a book every one should read.

Watched: Football and our full Sunday morning routine. I'm not sure why we watch the Sunday morning political shows - it just gets both of us all riled up.

Read: Tatjana Soli's The Removes and I, finally, started this month's book club selection, Killers of the Flower Moon, which I'm fascinated by.

Made: Taco pizza (I'll use a different crust when we do this again but it was delicious), apple crisp, caramel sauce, and strawberry shortcake.

Enjoyed: Two fun things this week: one evening The Big Guy and I went to hear Julia Alvarez (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents), which was so inspiring and dinner out with friends last night to one of our favorite places in town. The restaurant wisely stuck the six of us off in a corner to ourselves so that we didn't have to worry about how long we stayed or how loudly we laughed.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On building some wall shelves for Miss H's room and doing some painting in her room.

Thinking About: How I'd like to take a couple of days off to really do a purge and reorganization of all of the paper in my house. I like to think I have a handle on things; but some of the calls I get at work make me wonder if I've set my kids up to handle things if something happens to us. Which are the current life insurance policies, what are the passwords to get into online accounts, and do they have the right authorizations to talk to lenders or get medical records? You'd be surprised how hard it is to get some of this even with a will.

Feeling: The sun is shining and my hair doesn't have any grey today, so I'm feeling good!

Looking forward to: Book club this week, even if I sort of jacked everyone by changing the book last minute so I don't know if any of them will have even finished it!

Question of the week: I have really gotten into a bad habit of going to bed later and later this week. How do you make yourself go to bed at night in time to get a good night's sleep? I need all of the helpful hints!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) Thirteen

It’s that time of year again, the time when everyone gets all excited about reading scary books and watching scary movies and getting to do it as part of a huge group celebrating Readers Imbibing Peril. Also known as that time of year when Lisa thinks she will participate and immediately remembers that she doesn’t watch scary movies and even has a hard time with scary books. I’m a wimp; I’ll admit it.

Still I want to be part of the fun and this year I’ve actually got a number of books ready to go (although when I’ll start them I have no idea and R.I.P.’s already been going on since September 1). This year I’m going to really push to read three books, maybe even four, time permitting. I’ll be shooting for Peril the Second but hope to reach Peril the First for the first time ever. On my list:

Diane Setterfeld’s Bellman and Black

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived In The Castle

Wilkie Collins’ The Woman In White

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (this will be my final read if there is time)

As for Peril the Screen, I’m in for that one as well; I just need to decide what movie to watch. I mean, technically Beetlejuice qualifies. Even better, Coco, which I haven’t seen yet. Or maybe I’ll go really old school and watch The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Or I could watch one of the genuinely scary movies I have managed to watch (even if it was through my fingers!) again, maybe Fallen or The Others.

What about you, are you joining the fun this year? If so, what’s on your list?