Sunday, August 2, 2020

Life: It Goes On - August 2

August?? How did that happen already? I know those of you who have school-aged children feel like summer is over once they go back to work but I cannot emphasize to you enough that Summer. Is. Not. Over! We have another month. Heck, the calendar says we have seven more weeks but I'd rather think of September as fall so I'll go with four weeks of summer left. I got some landscaping stones from my parents today and I've started a new garden project so I'm going to need all of those weeks! This whole virus thing has given me entirely too much time to think of projects to do!

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I'm still listening to Bill Bryson's At Home and learning so much. Dad, you'll be interested to know that there is a part about Thomas Jefferson and Monticello. Bryson says that no visitors are ever allowed to the upper floors but we know differently, don't we?!

The landscape stones on the right are my new project. 
 Lots of HGTV (which doesn't help with me finding all kinds of new projects to do!), including Hometown and Good Bones and some a couple of episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Read: I finished Ron Rash's latest collection, In The Valley, and loved the novella at the end, in particular. Then I started The Mirage Factory by Gary Krist which I'll be alternating with Untamed by Glennon Doyle. 

Made: Pasta with fresh-picked tomatoes and basil, Austrian potato salad, fresh-picked green beans with bacon and purple onion, and, for Mini-him's birthday dinner, Asian chicken salad, red velvet cake, and homemade ice cream. 

One of Mini-him's birthday
presents when they were
nearly finished. 
 Mini-him's birthday dinner with his girlfriend, a six-hour happy hour evening with one of my besties and a visit with my parents and Miss H today. It was just what I needed to start digging myself out of the blues. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Continuing putting Miss H's room back together as a guest room (including painting a headboard) and organizing the things she left behind. 

Thinking About: What I can work on in the basement while I'm keeping Mini-him's cat company. We're cat sitting this week and his cat and our cat do not get along. So he has to stay in the basement for the most part when he's here and I like to turn on some bird videos and keep him company. Lord knows, I have plenty to do down there, as always. 

Feeling: Tired. I haven't been sleeping well. This tends to run in cycles for me so I'm hoping this passes soon. 

Looking forward to: Cooler temps for the next few days. This weekend has been glorious and we've enjoyed a lot of time outdoors. Looking forward to more dinners on the patio. 

Question of the week: What's your favorite quick and easy summer dinner? 

Friday, July 31, 2020

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Such A Fun Age
by Kiley Reid
Read by
Published December 2019 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains' toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store's security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right. 

But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix's desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix's past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.

My Thoughts:
I've been reading a lot of tough books lately about what it means to be black in the United States and I've grown to expect violence that is hard to read. So when the store security guard begins questioning Emira, I was braced for the worst. But this isn't that kind of book. Instead, Reid takes a look at the question of race through the lens of a coming-of-age story in a satirical look at race and class. 

Peter and Alix (pronounced A-leaks because Alex wasn't right for the kind of person she wanted to be) are an upper middle-class white couple who like to believe they are liberal folks. That is until Peter, who works for the local NPR station, says something on air that results in their house being egged. Then Emira is confronted at the grocery story and Alix worries that Emira might sue them or, even worse, quit. So you'll pardon the reader who doesn't quite buy into her vow to "wake the f*&^ up." While she sneaks peeks at Emira's phone and Googles things like "Is Childish Gambino a person or a band?," she tries to find ways to work things into their conversations that will make her look cool to Emira, like that she has a black friend. 

Alix is not a good person. But then, no one in this book is entirely likable or admirable. Emira is a 25-year-old college graduate who works part-time as a baby-sitter. I mean, she's truly good at it and you can't help but hope that she will finally find her way. But before she gets there, things are going to get really uncomfortable and we're all going to have to confront some uncomfortable truths. 

A couple of minor issues with the book: Briar, the Chamberlain's daughter, is a precocious, kind of odd little girl and Reid sometimes has her saying things that seem too old or out of place in the story. Also, I occasionally felt like Alix was a bit too much of a caricature (although I also recognize that there are probably women just like her out there). Small things in an otherwise impressive debut. Once again, a new author has me looking forward to what they'll do next. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander 
Read by Karen Chilton 
Published 2010 
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library 

Publisher’s Summary: 
Seldom does a book have the impact of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Since it was first published in 2010, it has been cited in judicial decisions and has been adopted in campus-wide and community-wide reads; it helped inspire the creation of the Marshall Project and the new $100 million Art for Justice Fund; it has been the winner of numerous prizes, including the prestigious NAACP Image Award; and it has spent nearly 250 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. 

Most important of all, it has spawned a whole generation of criminal justice reform activists and organizations motivated by Michelle Alexander’s unforgettable argument that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” As the Birmingham News proclaimed, it is “undoubtedly the most important book published in this century about the U.S.” 

Now, ten years after it was first published, The New Press is proud to issue a tenth-anniversary edition with a new preface by Michelle Alexander that discusses the impact the book has had and the state of the criminal justice reform movement today. 

My Thoughts: 
I have read books that have made me smile, made me laugh, even made me ugly cry, but it’s not often that a book has made me angry. In fact, it’s only happened once before, a month or so ago when I read Just Mercy. This book made me angry. So angry. Which is only made worse by the fact that this book was written ten years ago and the situation has not changed at all. To say that it is eye opening is an understatement. I took ten pages of notes as I listened. If I’d been reading my own print copy, highlighter in hand, there might well have been more I’d want to have noted. 

I’ve gone back and forth on this review. Nonfiction is always tough because I don’t necessarily want to get too much into the facts presented in the book; the goal is to focus more on the way the book is written. Is it well written? Is it well researched? Is it engaging? Does the author back up his/her assertions? Did it answer questions and, hopefully, raise others? Does the author have the credentials to be taken seriously? When it comes to The New Jim Crow, for me the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “yes!” 

Alexander is a civil rights litigator and legal scholar; she knows her subject and has clearly done the research, to say nothing of having lived the subject. She asserts that mass incarceration is the most recent of the systems white Americans have used to exert racialized social control, a “racial caste system.” Alexander explores the history of slavery (the first system), Jim Crow laws of the 19th- and 20th-centuries(the second system), and, finally, the policies that, Alexander contends, will result in one in three young black men being imprisoned if trends continue. 
"Race plays a major role—indeed, a defining role—in the current system, but not because of what is commonly understood as old-fashioned, hostile bigotry. This system of control depends far more on racial indifference (defined as a lack of compassion and caring about race and racial groups) than racial hostility – a feature it actually shares with its predecessors.” 
This latest form of racial caste system most notably began when President Ronald Reagan began the war on drugs, a “war” begun when crime was on the downward trend and primarily targeted at minority communities. How can Alexander be sure of that, you may ask. Well, the so-called war’s primary public relations target was crack cocaine, which was mainly found in urban, minority areas. Powder cocaine, which was no less potent or dangerous was primarily found in suburban, white communities. To convince local law enforcement sign onto their war, the administration began offering them surplus military equipment and cash incentives (the more people you arrest, the more money you get). Those practices continue to this day. Here’s the kicker – there is no evidence that drug use or trafficking is higher among persons of color than whites; but, according to Alexander, by far and away more persons of color than whites are stopped on the street, pulled over, or have their homes searched. 

If I hadn’t read enough information from other sources to know that Alexander is speaking fact, I would hardly be able to believe what I’d read. And if you don’t think this really affects you, think again. There is a tremendous cost to society to have all of these mostly young, black and Hispanic men arrested. There is the cost of the judicial process, the cost to imprison them, and then the cost to society to care for the families they may have left behind without a means of support and the families they will have once they leave prison and can’t get a job because of their felony record. Think this only happens to big dealers? That’s not true either. The vast majority of people imprisoned for drug offenses are imprisoned for relatively low quantities but will be punished the rest of their lives for a having a little weed on them. 

What’s more, the judicial system has wiped out many of our rights (primarily in regard to the Fourth Amendment) in their effort to justify police actions. That means you can be pulled over for the slightest reason and your vehicle can be searched based merely on the officer saying he/she say something suspicious. What’s more, they can seize your property and they don’t have to give it back…even if you are never convicted of a crime. So yep, I’m angry on behalf of the way our country has treated persons of color and the way our judicial system has made a mockery of our rights. Back off my soap box (although if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll find me up there a lot). 

The point is, this is an extremely important book that everyone should read. The better informed you are, the better able you will be to be an ally if you so choose and to make choices in elections. It’s fascinating history. I only wish that was all it was.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Life: It Goes On - July 27

Happy Monday, almost Tuesday. This week life goes on and on and on and I'm feeling a little bit like I'm not keeping up! How was your weekend? Mine was entirely consumed with moving Miss H and visiting family while we were in K.C. I came home yesterday spent physically and emotionally.
We couldn't entirely set her up, though, because the homeowner decided to put new flooring in her room last week...except the flooring didn't arrive in time. She can live with where it's at for this week and then the flooring will arrive and they will have to work around her stuff to put the floor down. Glad it's not me doing it because her room is TINY!

But no stopping to recover for this girl - yesterday was Mini-him's birthday and we'll be having his birthday dinner tomorrow night. So tonight I had to finish up his big gift, make his cake, and get prep for dinner. He picks the same thing for his dinner every year so while making it takes some time, I can make it all without thinking, which is a good thing at this point. 

Miss H's tiny new home
Last Week I:

 Listened To: I finished Such A Fun Age and listened to a  lot of music; I was bouncing around all over the place. Today I started listening to Bill Bryson's At Home. I honestly had no idea what it was about so it's an adventure. 

Watched: I really didn't watch much last week; I was spending most evenings finishing up work on a wall shelf for Miss H and wasn't even inside a whole lot. 

Read: I was reading Richard Power's The Overstory, which I was very much enjoying but it's, on my phone, almost 1000 pages long and I only got about half way through it before I had to return it to the library. I've got it on hold again and hope I can remember what it was about when I get it back. Today I started Ron Rash's latest collection, In The Valley, which includes a novella based on his book, Serena, which I still think about almost a decade after reading it. 

Made: Last week was all about making Miss H's favorites: goulash the way she likes it, cucumber dip and chips, grilled steaks, tacos and guacamole. 

Enjoyed: Getting to meet Miss H's friends I've been hearing about for years, seeing our niece and her family Saturday, and seeing The Big Guy's cousin and her husband yesterday. 

This Week I’m:  
Planning: After tomorrow night's dinner, the rest of the week will be filled with errands, putting the stuff Miss H left behind in some kind of order, and reclaiming my office for myself now that her stuff can be moved into the closet in her room. 

Thinking About: What project I'm going to work on next now that I'm done with the furniture refinishing and painting for Miss H and the game set (pics to come next week) for Mini-him's birthday. 

Feeling: Happy for Miss H and excited about what the future holds for her. But, if I'm being honest, really blue about her being so far away. No one makes me laugh harder than she does or thinks so much like I do. 

Looking forward to: I don't know. There's kind of a void after tomorrow night. After traveling this weekend, I can't say that I really feel comfortable traveling so I don't know that we'll be going anywhere any time soon. And there's nothing on the calendar at all. 

Question of the week: I feel like I've asked this before but I'm really needing it this week: if you're an empty nester, how did you adjust?

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Gods, Graves and Scholars by C. K. Ceram

Gods, Graves, and Scholars by C. W. Ceram 
Published 1949 
Source: ordered from Better World Books for a readalong 

Publisher’s Summary: 
C.W. Ceram visualized archeology as a wonderful combination of high adventure, romance, history and scholarship, and this book, a chronicle of man's search for his past, reads like a dramatic narrative. We travel with Heinrich Schliemann as, defying the ridicule of the learned world, he actually unearths the remains of the ancient city of Troy. We share the excitement of Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter as they first glimpse the riches of Tutankhamen's tomb, of George Smith when he found the ancient clay tablets that contained the records of the Biblical Flood. We rediscover the ruined splendors of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the wonders of the ancient wold; of Chichen Itza, the abandoned pyramids of the Maya: and the legendary Labyrinth of tile Minotaur in Crete. Here is much of the history of civilization and the stories of the men who rediscovered it. 

My Thoughts: 
This is absolutely one of those books I never would have picked up (heck, I never would have heard of) without someone else’s push. In this case, I read this one as part of a readalong once again proving that, sometimes, peer pressure is not an altogether bad thing. I’ve been reading more and more nonfiction over the years but I’d have to say that the chances of me picking up a book about archeology were slim. It’s not that I didn’t think it was an interesting subject but, like so many nonfiction subjects, I wasn’t aware that there were books that could make it interesting to the layperson. It turns out, there is at least one. 

  • I thought I would share some thoughts from our readalong group: 
  • “It’s kind of hard to believe it is translated from German and written in 1949. It is easy to read, and full of stories and anecdotes.” 
  • “I thought each part of Book 1 was compellingly told, a very well-woven tapestry of the adventure of archaeology, both the intellectual, physical, and financial challenges. I should add the emotional toll of such work, demanding a lifetime of commitment and a zealous interest in the lives and sufferings of people in the past.” 
  • “Some of Ceram’s language, especially about those building the pyramids, does seem to betray certain prejudices.” We agreed that Ceram was a “scholar/writer of his time and circumstance.” 
  • “I appreciate his dismissal of the fanciful and mystical, in favor or scientific (or at least empirical) evidence.” 
  • More than one of us commented on Ceram’s abundant use of exclamation points. Clearly a man who was excited about his subject. 
  • The book packs a lot of archeology history into a few hundred pages and, as so often happens with nonfiction, several of us turned to the internet to get more indepth with some of the history and the people Ceram highlighted. It was interesting to see how some of the information in the book has since been refuted as researchers have uncovered new information. 
  • There is a lot of historical information in this book that was new to me and more than once I read whole pages to my husband in astonishment. 
  • Understanding that this book was written from one man’s perspective on the historical events, nevertheless, I was amazed by the differences between the archeological facts and what I had previously understood to be the truth. And so angered by the destruction of so many sites that had stood for thousands of years for political/religious reasons. 
It should tell you something about this book that it has been published in 30 languages and sold more than 5 million copies and remains in print more than 60 years since it was first published. Ceram himself is an interesting story. C. W. Ceram is, in fact, a pseudonym for Kurt Wilhelm Marek. Marek chose to rebrand himself in an effort to distance himself from his past as a propagandist for the Third Reich. This book is going to remain on my shelves as a resource I will return to which should tell you something about the way I felt about the book, given how rare it is for me to hold on to books I’ve read.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Year of Wonder by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders
by Geraldine Brooks 
Published April 2002 by Penguin Publishing Group 
Source: finally pulled this one off of my bookshelf 

Publisher’s Summary: 
When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna's eyes we follow the story of the fateful year of 1666, as she and her fellow villagers confront the spread of disease and superstition. As death reaches into every household and villagers turn from prayers to murderous witch-hunting, Anna must find the strength to confront the disintegration of her community and the lure of illicit love. As she struggles to survive and grow, a year of catastrophe becomes instead annus mirabilis, a "year of wonders." Inspired by the true story of Eyam, a village in the rugged hill country of England, Year of Wonders is a richly detailed evocation of a singular moment in history. 

My Thoughts: 
I recently shocked a friend by confessing to not having read this book yet. She insisted that I needed to do so sooner rather than later. It just so happened that I had a break between library books and books I needed to read for review shortly afterward and decided it was time. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a book about the plague during a global pandemic? 

A couple of years ago, I went to hear Geraldine Brooks speak and I was so impressed with her and her desire to focus her writings on the people whose voices haven’t been heard. In this case, it was the people of the village of Eyams, England who self-quarantined themselves in 1665-1666 when the plague began to ravage their town. She came across the story, while out for a stroll while living in England, when she came across a sign to the “Plague Village.” Her research into the time period and what happened in Eyams is, no doubt thorough and she paints a bleak picture of the countryside and an even bleaker picture of how the village might have suffered. 

For most of the book, I thought Brooks did a fantastic job using her research to show us what life would have been like in late 17th-century rural England without overwhelming us with detail. There is one mining scene that I thought Brooks dragged out too long for dramatic purposes. Other reviewers felt like she might have done the same thing with descriptions of the dying, especially when she's writing about characters we hadn't yet met. But I felt that was necessary for readers to understand the horror of the disease and the toll it took on this particular village, and on Anna. The book is bleak, as it should be, and filled with the kinds of events you might imagine happening when uneducated people are under so much stress. 

But I have to agree with the reviewers that had major problems with the end of the book, specifically the last 50 pages or so. Suddenly characters we thought we knew are acting in ways completely out of character and Brooks includes events that truly do seem to have been added strictly for dramatic effect but which don't add to the story of what happened to the villagers. I certainly did want Anna to live happily ever after but the way Brooks got her there didn't seem to fit with the rest of the book at all. 

After I saw Brooks speak, I came away really wanting to love her books. I'd certainly been a fan of her People of the Book but I was kept from loving that one because the modern story line, that included a romance, just didn't impress in the same way that the historical pieces did. I'm not giving up on Brooks; even a book with issues is worth reading. But I so hope that one day she'll write the book that impresses all the way through. 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Happy Sunday - the sun is shining here and the temps are lower than they have been in the past few days so it's a good day to be outside. Which is a good thing because I have a lot of projects to finish up outside before Miss H's move next weekend. Yesterday it was so hot and humid that I looked like I had been swimming by the time I was done painting. Oops - sorry about that visual! Hope you have all had a good week and are staying safe!

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished The Vanishing Half and, finally, The New Jim Crow. I'm already going to apology for my review of that last one - I took ten pages of notes and I'm going to try to stick to talking about the book itself and not get too much into what I learned from it but I don't I'll be able to stop myself entirely. Then I started Kiley Reid's Such A Fun Age

Watched: The usual Rick Steve's on Saturday and CBS Sunday Morning today plus a lot of HGTV but nothing much of note that I recall. 

Read: I started Richard Powers The Overstory based strictly on the fact that I had heard it was great (it did earn the Pulitzer Prize, after all). It is not only really good but really different. I've already recommended it to Mini-me because I know he'll appreciate a book of short stories that are all tied together by a theme of trees. 

Made: I have been so lazy in the kitchen this week and trying to leave the oven off as much as possible. I did make that vegan chocolate pie last Sunday which was delicious. Otherwise, we've grilled and done salads. 

Enjoyed: Last weekend's visit with Mini-me and Ms. S plus a surprise extra night with them on their way back home from Colorado which was extra special because all six of us got to be together for the first time in six months. It was just what the doctor ordered. 

This Week I’m:  

This dresser is getting it's fourth
Everything this week is focused on getting Miss H moved this weekend. We've got a few things left to pickup, a shelf I need to get painted today, groceries to buy, and more sorting and packing to be done. 

Thinking About: Oh, you know this by now - global pandemic, systemic racism, the federal government kidnapping people off the streets in Portland...

Feeling: For some reason, it just finally hit me today that Miss H will be gone soon. And not just across town where she could pop in for dinner or we could have a girls' day (whenever people will be able to do those again!). So I'm feeling a little down today. 

Looking forward to: Even though it's one step closer to Miss H being gone, I'm looking forward to a trip to KC with her on Friday, just the two of us. We'll be taking a first load down which will give us lots of time to talk and laugh. 

Question of the week: Not gonna lie, I didn't handle it well when Mini-me moved out of Omaha but this is going to be even harder for me what with Miss H being my youngest and the last to leave. So this question is for those of you whose children have moved out of town - how did you find ways to make it ok?

Friday, July 17, 2020

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half
by Brit Bennett
Read by Shayna Small
Published June 2020 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it's not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it's everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. 

What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters' storylines intersect? Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person's decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

My Thoughts:
I've started this review four times now. Why is always the books you enjoy the most that are the hardest to talk about? It's somehow easier for me to put into words what I didn't like a book than why I did; and the more I like the book, the harder it seems to be. Not only am I having a hard time telling you about the book; but, for once, the publisher's summary does a marvelous job summarizing the book and I agree that the book is riveting and emotional. 

The summary is also right that The Vanishing Half is about the way the past shapes a person's decisions, desires, and expectations. Bennett also writes  about family, mother/daughter relationships, abuse, race in a way we don't always consider it, sexual orientation, truth, and love and she does it beautifully, in a way that never feels like she's forcing more issues into her story. The characters and relationships are complex and while I didn't necessarily like all of them, I certainly understood them. Because Bennett moves her story forward by telling it through multiple character's lives, we get the opportunity to really get to know them even as the book takes leaps in time. 

I have yet to read Bennett's debut novel, The Mothers. It certainly garnered a tremendous amount of praise and it's always hard for a sophomore effort to live up to a debut like that. I can't compare the two but I can tell you that this one deserves all of the accolades it's bond to earn and I can't think that anyone who read The Mothers will be disappointed. I'll be going back to The Mothers  while I look forward to Bennett's future writings. 

One last thing - this is a book that I would highly recommend listening to; Shayna Small does a marvelous job and I'll be looking forward to finding more of her work as well. 

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Life: It Goes On - July 12

Happy Sunday! It's a very happy Sunday at my house. Mini-me and Ms. S are here! Even though we can't hug them and have to try to stay six feet apart from each other, after six months, it's so good to have them here. We spent six hours sitting on the patio last night, talking and laughing and life felt almost normal (albeit with a lot of hand sanitizing and Lysol). Today will be largely the same and it's the best medicine for a pandemic (well, next to a cure or vaccine!). 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished Brit Bennet's The Vanishing Half and this weekend I'm finishing up Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. Ms. S happens to be reading The New Jim Crow so we're having a great time talking about it. 

Watched: We finally got back to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel this weekend. We're watching Season 3 and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. 

Read: I started Geraldine Brooks' Year of Wonders, after a friend was appalled that I had never read it. A book about the Black Plague sort of seems like rubbing salt in a wound right now but it's so good.

What the pie should
look like - we'll see!
 Mini-me surprised me this week by telling me that he's given up dairy products. It has meant a change in food plans for the weekend. He's always loved caprese salad so I tried substituting tofu for the mozzarella and he proclaimed that a success. Today we'll be making a vegan chocolate pecan pie; the friend who gave me the recipe raves about it. 

Enjoyed: See above - there's nothing I enjoy more than time with my kids. I only wish Mini-him had been able to be with us. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: After this weekend, it's all about planning for Miss H's move. She laughed at me when I did a scale drawing and cut out scale "furniture." But now we know what fits, what doesn't fit and what we need to get. This is the part of moving I love!

Thinking About: My next project once I finish the shelves I'm working on for Miss H. You know I always need to be working on a project!

Feeling: Blessed. 

Looking forward to: Nothing much this week. It'll be a quiet week, mostly involving getting Miss H packed and ready to move. 

Question of the week: What activity do you most miss this summer?

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Blue Ticket by Sophie MacKintosh

Blue Ticket
by Sophie MacKintosh
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Calla knows how the lottery works. Everyone does. On the day of your first bleed, you report to the station to learn what kind of woman you will be. A white ticket grants you marriage and children. A blue ticket grants you a career and freedom. You are relieved of the terrible burden of choice. And once you've taken your ticket, there is no going back. But what if the life you're given is the wrong one? 

When Calla, a blue ticket woman, begins to question her fate, she must go on the run. But her survival will be dependent on the very qualities the lottery has taught her to question in herself and on the other women the system has pitted against her. Pregnant and desperate, Calla must contend with whether or not the lottery knows her better than she knows herself and what that might mean for her child.

An urgent inquiry into free will, social expectation, and the fraught space of motherhood, Blue Ticket is electrifying in its raw evocation of desire and riveting in its undeniable familiarity.

My Thoughts: 
About a year ago, I read Mackintosh's debut, The Water Cure, and was impressed enough with her storytelling and writing to grab this one up as soon as it became available. 

As with that debut, Mackintosh drops readers straight into a dystopian world where women are once again the target of manipulation while being made to believe that what's being done is for their benefit. Once again, Mackintosh raises a lot of questions - why was the lottery instituted, why are the blue ticket girls sent off to make their own way to the city with almost no assistance and no transportation, how does the machine determine who should get white tickets and who should get blue, and, if this is such a great plan, why do the blue ticket women require regular visits with a doctor? 

As with The Water Cure, Mackintosh left a lot of my questions unanswered; but this time, knowing that she had done that in her previous book, I was surprised by it and it didn't bother me so much. I did get enough answers to make the story feel whole and to understand the choices that Calla made and why she spent so much of the book feeling so angry and questioning her own motives. 

There were some plot pieces I felt might have been left out, although they certainly underscored the risk that Calla was taking and the fear underlying her choice. A lot of time is spent in Calla's head which is often filled with quite violent thoughts. That might have been toned down but as the book developed I did begin to understand why she might feel that way. 

There is certainly an strong sense of The Handmaid's Tale here but Mackintosh takes that and makes it her own. It's a short book and a fast read, thanks it part to it's somewhat unique style and because Calla's journey is so compelling. Mackintosh has certainly found her niche and I look forward to reading more of her work. 

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Life: It Goes On - July 5

Happy Sunday! Anyone else happy that the Fourth of July is over? I feel like a cranky old lady these days about fireworks. In my defense, it was literally so loud for about an hour and a half last night that we could hardly hear the friends we were with as we sat on their deck watching fireworks; everyone seems to be trying to one up each other. On the plus side, I don't think that I heard sirens all evening (although, again, I might not have been able to over the noise!) so I'm hoping everyone survived the evening with all of their body parts intact. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I'm still working my way through The New Jim Crow and also started Brit Bennet's latest, The Vanished. And, of course, I had to listen to the Hamilton soundtrack to get ready for the movie. 

 Hamilton, twice, on Friday - once with Mini-me and his gf and Miss H, lights out, stereo at the highest volume I think it's ever been, and snacks. Loved, loved it and may well watch it again today. 

Read: I'm not reading much, to be honest. I finished Manderley Forever and started Blue Ticket (which I hope to finish today) but I can't really focus on reading right now (again). No idea what's up next to read in print.

Made: Steaks, sweet potato fries, and caprese salad for Hamilton viewing night dinner and an egg casserole for the annual Fourth of July breakfast. It's that time of year when you'll see caprese salad show up a lot on this weekly post!

Enjoyed: It wasn't the usual Fourth of July breakfast, only about 15 of us on my parents' neighbors' patio, but it was nice to just have people I know around and really get a chance to talk to people. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On doing some gardening today. My parents are reducing their garden beds so this gal, who can never saw "no" to something free, has quite a lot of peony plants to get in the ground.

Thinking About:
Thursday I watched the first episode of When They See Us, which is heartbreaking and made me so angry. I know that it's a dramatization but even taking that into account, it made me ashamed of our judicial system. If you're of at least a certain age, you'll remember the case of the Central Park Five, the five innocent black young men that were railroaded into prison for raping a white jogger in Central Park. 

Feeling: Relieved - Miss H hit a deer on her way home last night and, while her car will need some work, it is drivable and, most importantly, she is fine. But it was one of those calls you don't want to get late at night and it was hard to go back to sleep once I knew she was fine. I'll be dragging today!

Looking forward to: Mini-me's and Ms. S's visit next week. Can't wait to see them!

Question of the week: How are you holding up with all that's going on?

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Manderley Forever: A Biography of Daphne du Maurier by Tatiana de Rosnay

Manderley Forever: A Biography of Daphne du Maurier
 by Tatiana De Rosnay
Published April 2017 by St. Martin's Press
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
As a bilingual bestselling novelist with a mixed Franco-British bloodline and a host of eminent forebears, Tatiana de Rosnay is the perfect candidate to write a biography of Daphne du Maurier. As an eleven-year-old de Rosnay read and reread Rebecca, becoming a lifelong devotee of Du Maurier’s fiction. 

Now de Rosnay pays homage to the writer who influenced her so deeply, following Du Maurier from a shy seven-year-old, a rebellious sixteen-year-old, a twenty-something newlywed, and finally a cantankerous old lady. With a rhythm and intimacy to its prose characteristic of all de Rosnay’s works, Manderley Forever is a vividly compelling portrait and celebration of an intriguing, hugely popular and (at the time) critically underrated writer.

My Thoughts:
I love Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca; it's one of the few books I've reread. But, strangely, I've never read any of her other books, despite having a couple of them on my bookshelves. In fact, I had no idea how prolific du Maurier had been nor how versatile she had been, writing everything from her own autobiography and biographies to shocking short stories (she penned The Birds, on which the Alfred Hitchcock movie is based) and novels of all sorts. Rebecca is, of course, her most famous, the book that made her an international sensation. But it was also the book that she grew to regret writing. Her notoriety impinged on her wish for privacy and set a standard she was never able to reach again, despite having great success. 

If you've been here long, you'll have notice that when I reference Kirkus Reviews, it's generally because they tend to be so harsh on books and I rarely agree with them. This book is the except. To my opinion for their review, not their opinion of the book. I can't speak to how well researched this book is - certainly De Rosnay has amassed a lot of information about du Maurier and her life and I did learn a tremendous amount. But according to Kirkus Reviews, she hasn't broken any new ground, just reframed the information that was already available. De Rosnay writes the book in present tense, in an effort, she says, to make the book feel more intimate. But for me (and Kirkus Reviews), it didn't work. I found it really disconcerting. It also felt like De Rosnay wanted to cram in every detail she found about Du Maurier, often inserting details or paragraphs that added nothing to the topic at hand. For example, in Du Maurier's early life, she devotedly wrote in her journal and much of the early part of the book felt very much like De Rosnay was taking pieces straight from the journals rather than giving readers a full picture. 

Du Maurier did live a fascinating live and was surrounded by so many well-known people. The brothers Llewlyn Davies, the inspiration for J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, were her cousins and Barrie, himself, was an intimate of the family through both the theater (Du Maurier's father was a famous actor) and his role as guardian of the Llewelyn Davies brothers after their parents' deaths. Du Maurier's husband worked directly with both Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth and both visited Du Maurier's home. Du Maurier traveled extensively, most often to her beloved France which called to her because of her connection with the country through her ancestors. De Rosnay does best when she is describing Du Maurier's trips to France; other destinations are little more than a postcard home. And we are reminded, again and again, that Du Maurier preferred wearing slacks and a cardigan to dresses. Perhaps that was done as a reminder (although there were plenty of other, better, reminders) of the boy that Du Maurier felt lived inside her. 

To her credit, De Rosnay doesn't shy aware from showing Du Maurier's warts, including Du Maurier's failure as a mother to her daughters for much of their formative years and her selfishness in refusing to live with her husband most of their marriage as his career kept him away from the places she wanted to be.  Du Maurier was certainly a woman of passions. When she wrote, her passion for writing took precedence over all else and when she loved, she could think of little else. In the end, she died as much from an inability to find the muse any longer as she did from age or the depression that plagued her family. 

To be fair to the book, Kirkus Reviews and I seem to be in the minority; there are plenty of positive reviews for this book. Du Maurier's daughter, in fact, seems to feel De Rosnay has captured her mother. So take my thoughts for what their worth and, if you're interested in this one, look at other reviews before you write this one off. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Three Bodies Burning by Brian Bogdanoff

Three Bodies Burning: The Anatomy of an Investigation into Murder, Money, and Mexican Marijuana 
by Brian Bogdanoff
Published 2011 by Press, LLC at Smashwords
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
A haunting triple murder... the inside story of the investigation.When two worlds collide-the illegal transportation of tons of Mexican cartel marijuana to inner city gang members in a Midwestern city's "hood"-three bodies end up burning, caught in a web of greed as a major international drug deal goes very bad.The chilling trail of evidence from a remote wooded area where three bodies are set on fire leads homicide detectives across the country chasing down witnesses and conspirators in a two-year search for cold-blooded killers. This case has it all: murder, piles of cash stashed in the most unlikely of places, a blood-soaked crime scene, the remote dump site for bodies, luxury cars, flashy jewelry, and hundreds of pounds of illegal dope.An unbelievable break takes detectives down the rabbit hole where CSI meets Law & Order and where good old gumshoeing and meticulous forensic procedures bring down a mega-million-dollar drug conspiracy and lock up the bad guys for life.Follow the case through the eyes of the gritty homicide/narcotics detective. A handbook for the amateur criminologist, this book is for true crime fans, prosecutors and defense attorneys, and cops and robbers.Warning: This book contains graphic crime scene photos and adult language.

My Thoughts: 
In my previous job, we were required to have a certain number of hours of fraud training annually. To that end, we attending several lunches hosted by a fraud group every couple of months. Finding people who wanted to speak became difficult and the tie to fraud was often tenuous. For example, the lunch where the county attorney spoke, along with former police officer, who were, to the best of my recollection, talking to us about fraud caused by drug dealing. Completely irrelevant to my line of work but one of the most interesting lunches we ever attended as the former officer was Brian Bogdanoff who spoke about his work in the narcotics division and in solving the crime to which the book title refers. I had every intention of picking up a copy of the book shortly there after and thought of it again when my daughter began studying criminal justice. Eight years later I finally got around to reading it. My thoughts about this book would certainly have been different had I read it years ago. 

I can remember watching the morning news fifteen years ago and learning that three bodies had been found burning just on the edge of Omaha. It's frightening to think that you live in a city where that kind of thing happens. And then, as happens when something ceases to be a news story, I forgot about it. A year later, I recall the trial, in no small part because of the fact that my husband was serving jury duty at that time and, fortunately, was excused from this case. Five years after that, I had forgotten about it again until Bogdanoff talked about it at our lunch and I was fascinated about how the police managed to identify three bodies without identification on them and then track down their murderers. 

I'm still fascinated by that and by the amount of luck, tedious work, and detail it takes to solve crimes like this one. And how much the police rely on the criminals to screw up. Two pieces of paper were left in the pockets of the three men who were killed; had those not been overlooked when the killers emptied the victims' pockets, this case might never have been solved. Finding out who the victims were was key to solving the case - that led officers to their families who confirmed that the men were in Omaha on drug business and gave them the street names of the men the victims had been working with. Still, those were not names the police were familiar with and it would be some months before their identities were discovered. The amount of paperwork and the number of people involved in solving this case are staggering. The detail involved in putting together a case that won't be able to be overturned later due to some technicality is unbelievable. I 100% believe that the men who committed these crimes were terrible people who deserve to spend the rest of their lives in prison and I'm glad that Bogdanoff and the people he worked with were able to find them and get them off the streets of Omaha. 

That being said, in light of things I've learned in the past few years and of my new way of thinking about the way police departments work, I did have some problems with the book. For example, in the first chapter, Bogdanoff says, "...very few times do the good guys, the cops, catch a break or get lucky." It wasn't the only time he referred to the police as "the good guys," setting up "us versus them" mentality that I'm growing to believe is one of the problems with how our criminal justice system works. 

That's reinforced when he defends a practice the policy use known as a "bar check" which caused some problems for him once. He, of course, says he and the other officers involved did nothing wrong and that the leaders of the African-American community who "claimed they were threatened, harassed, and intimidated by officers coming into a celebration they were having" might have been doing so as a media ploy. I can't say for certain, but knowing what I know now, I'm guessing that these "bar checks" were more often done in neighborhoods were persons of color live. Bogdanoff says that they went into that particular bar because there was a "large volume of foot and vehicle traffic in the parking lot of a bar that was directly next to one of the housing projects." It clearly never occurred to him then, or in retrospect, that it might have been anything other than suspicious. Bogdanoff grew up in this town, he'd worked extensively in that neighbor, and I can't help but think that he surely must have recognized some of the people going into that bar. But he says "I...learned that I would face people...who have certain agendas, and to support those agendas, they will manipulate situations and facts." I'm sure he's not wrong, that he did encounter people who did that. Again, though, it doesn't seem to occur to him that he may have done the same thing. 

I wish Bogdanoff had had a better editor - I didn't need to know that the prosecutor from the county attorney's office looked like Diane Lane or that once he could "literally hear [another office] crap his pants." And perhaps a little less of the braggadocio. It's a book that could have been tightened up and more focused. Because there is a hell of a story here and an impressive job of bringing two murders to justice. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Life: It Goes On - June 28

Happy Sunday! Can you believe June is ending? It's been a strange four months that feel like they drag on and on but then suddenly we are to the Fourth of July. How has this virus affected your plans for the coming holiday weekend? We go, as you may remember, most years we go to my parents for the neighborhood Fourth of July breakfast which has been held every year except one (when it was rained out) since 1976. God love the ladies who have taken over the organizing - they have set up a Zoom breakfast so the event can continue. My dad will do his annual talk and then the neighborhood children will hold the first ever Fourth of July parade. I love the way people are finding ways to carry on even when everything has changed!

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I'm working my way through The New Jim Crow. It's slow going because, as my friend who's had to listen to my continual outrage can testify, there is so much here to learn. I do have about five hours left to listen to in the next couple of days so I'm going to have to just listen and stop bookmarking. Then I think it's time for something lighter for a bit. 

Watched: We watched the movie adaptation of Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy this weekend. I felt like they did a pretty good job of adapting a book that isn't just one story. One thing that did stand out to me, though, was that the movie actually made the prison guards look better than they did in the book. I wondered if that was to make the movie more palatable to a wider audience.

Read: I'm hoping to finish Manderley Forever in the next couple of days. Daphne du Maurier was certainly an interesting person who led an interesting life.

 Homemade ice cream for Father's Day and a new hot fudge sauce. I lost my ice cream recipe - it was nearly a disaster, especially since it came from, of all places, a Muppets recipe brochure I got more than 30 years ago. Miraculously, I found a copy on the internet and the day was saved!

Enjoyed: Father's Day with my daddy last Sunday. We had to eat in the garage but whatever it takes to be together I will do!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: For a visit in a couple of weeks from Mini-me and Ms. S! I must admit to be a little nervous about having people in my house but I know they've been taking care to be safe and I'm not willing to miss a chance to see them. 

Thinking About: What needs to be done before Miss H moves. The restaurant she was going to work at has permanently closed so she is job hunting now and will move as soon as she has a job, hopefully by the end of July. 

Feeling: Like I need a lazy day. It's not going to happen anytime soon though. Maybe I'll have time for that in August!

Looking forward to: I know that the Fourth of July is the highlight of the coming weekend for most but Mini-him, Miss H and I are most looking forward to Friday, a.k.a. Hamilton day. 

Question of the week: How will you be celebrating the Fourth?

Friday, June 26, 2020

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
Read by Richard Armitage
Published May 2020 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my audio copy courtesy of the publisher, through Austenprose, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England's finest novelists. Now it's home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen's legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen's home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

My Thoughts:
Here's the thing - you all know I love Jane Austen. Or have I not reread one of her books in so long that you don't, in fact, know that? Well, I do. For some fans of Austen, that means that they can't get enough of anything that has to do with her beloved story lines, characters, and personal life. For me, it's kind of the opposite. I often find myself getting annoyed when I pick up books that try to "cash in on" Austen. But, for some reason, I took a chance on this one. Maybe it's just the times we live in. There's a comfort to Austen that I needed right now.

In the spirit of Erica Bauermeister, J. Ryan Stradal, and J. Courtney Sullivan, Jenner introduces readers to an ensemble cast of characters. None are without their struggles. I went into this book expecting light fare but Jenner has touched on a number of deeper themes - death, addiction, homosexuality, the aftermath of war, and difficult family relationships. For a book set in a small town, this could have come off as forced to make the storyline more dramatic. But, given the time period and the way Jenner handled it, it felt entirely believable.

I loved the way Jenner tied Austen's work to these characters and made it relevant to their lives, made it feel perfectly natural that these people would love her books and want to honor her genius.
“No sooner had the words left his mouth than Dr. Gray realized that time was the one thing so many in their sleepy little village seemed to have. Jane Austen had used her time here for housework and visits and composing works of genius. That the population of Chawton had barely varied since then made Dr. Gray suddenly see each of the villagers as almost pure one-to-one substitutes for those of the past. If they weren’t up to the task of preserving Austen’s legacy, who on earth ever would be?”
You expect that you know how the book will end and you'll probably be right; the guy that feels like the bad guy turns out to be the bad guy, couples end up together, and the society is successful.'s not all happily-ever-after which actually made me a little sad but did keep it from being too saccharine.

Richard Armitage reads the audiobook and it seems to be tough for him to find enough women's voices for all of them to sound somewhat natural. It's a problem I've noticed in other books read by men; so often at least one of the female voices will sound like a little girl rather than an adult. Armitage, otherwise, does a marvelous job but I think this book would have made a wonder choice to have it read by a cast of readers.

Oh, and one last thing, can we just talk about that cover? It is both gorgeous and perfectly sums up the book. It's the kind of cover that jumps off the book shelf!

For other opinions about this book, check out the full tour here.

Natalie Jenner was born in England and emigrated to Canada as a young child. She obtained her B.A. and her LL.B. from the University of Toronto, where she was the 1990 Gold Medalist in English Literature at St. Michael's College, and was Called to the Bar of Ontario in 1995. In addition to a brief career as a corporate lawyer, Natalie has worked as a recruiter, career coach, and consultant to leading law firms in Canada for over two decades. Most recently Natalie founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. A lifelong devotee of all things Jane Austen, "The Jane Austen Society" is her first published novel.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators 
by Ronan Farrow
Read by Ronan Farrow
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In 2017, a routine network television investigation led Ronan Farrow to a story only whispered about: one of Hollywood's most powerful producers was a predator, protected by fear, wealth, and a conspiracy of silence. As Farrow drew closer to the truth, shadowy operatives, from high-priced lawyers to elite war-hardened spies, mounted a secret campaign of intimidation, threatening his career, following his every move, and weaponizing an account of abuse in his own family. 

All the while, Farrow and his producer faced a degree of resistance they could not explain — until now. And a trail of clues revealed corruption and cover-ups from Hollywood to Washington and beyond. This is the untold story of the exotic tactics of surveillance and intimidation deployed by wealthy and connected men to threaten journalists, evade accountability, and silence victims of abuse. And it's the story of the women who risked everything to expose the truth and spark a global movement.

My Thoughts:
Predators. Did you catch that in the title? I don't know why but I was under this impression when I picked this up was that this was a book about uncovering Harvey Weinstein's crimes. Nope. Donald Trump and Matt Lauer both come under fire and can I just tell you that, after thinking that I was pretty well up to speed with what each of them had been accused of, I had no idea. Just as I was finishing this book, I was talking to my book club and telling them how angry this book made me. A week later, I'm still angry. 

And it's not just about the crimes these men are alleged to have committed (and, in Weinstein's case, convicted of) or their overall belief that they could do or say whatever they wanted to women. It's the system that allowed them to get away with it. From people who refused to believe these men were guilty to people who protected them regardless. 

All three men, in a way, owned the media. Weinstein and Trump were close to Dylan Howard, the editor of The National Enquirer, whose parent company, American Media Inc, practiced "catch and kill" in which they would purchase a story to bury it. Certainly they did some of that to be able to hold it over people's heads in the future, but some of it was absolutely done to protect the people they wanted to take care of. In effect, NBC, who employed Farrow at the time he began researching the allegations against Weinstein, essentially did the same thing to protect Lauer. NBC needed to protect their golden boy, the guy that kept them at the top of the morning show ratings. As with all of these men, and so many others not included in this book, money talks. And it's yet another way that the rich stay out of prison while the poor end up their for doing much less. 

As for the actual writing, Farrow was, shall we say, thorough. Sometimes I appreciated it; it reinforced the number of women impacted, the amount of work it took to get these women to feel like they could talk, the incredible effort it took to get this story out to the public. After initially seeming to support Farrow's reporting, NBC started dragging its heels, finally trying to kill it. But a promise to his sister, Dylan (who has alleged that she was molested by their father, Woody Allen), and a feeling of commitment to the other women, drove Farrow to keep going. Unfortunately, there were times I just wanted to Farrow to condense the information. 

I did have one major beef with the audiobook. For the most part, Farrow does a fine job reading his own book. But why someone didn't stop him from trying to do voices, particularly women's voices I can't imagine. Everyone of them sounded like a caricature which is the last thing a book that is meant to be supporting women should be doing. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Life: It Goes On - June 21

Happy Father's Day to all of the fathers out there and anyone who has ever fathered a child in any way! We are headed off to do a social distancing lunch with my dad soon. Thank heavens the days honoring our parents come in May and June when it is nice enough to be able to be outside, together. The poor Big Guy won't have much of a celebration as only Miss H will be around to fete him. One of our local grocery stores had lobsters on sale yesterday and the plan was to get a couple of lobsters for our dinner but it turns out that none of us could actually face killing the poor guys. So I guess we're grilling burgers instead!

Last Week I:

Listened To: Catch and Kill and finished that. My next book is The New Jim Crow but I couldn't start it for a couple of days; I was too angry, after finishing Catch and Kill to start another book I knew was going to make me angry again. So music it was. Until yesterday, when I started The New Jim Crow and two hours into it, I'm angry again. 

Watched: Selma on Juneteeth. I like to think I'm fairly knowledgeable about the Civil Rights movement but I learned a lot watching that movie. There were some incredible performances in the movie, Tom Wilkerson as Lyndon Johnson, Tim Roth as George Wallace, Wendell Pierce as Rev. Hosea Williams, and, especially Daniel Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Read: Three Bodies Burning, about the investigation into a triple murder in Omaha, which I finished Friday. Then I started something completely different, Manderley Forever, about Dauphne du Maurier. 

Made: I was meant to be making a pie today for my daddy, who loves pie. But one of the drawbacks about doing pick up groceries is that you don't always get everything you order, like the strawberries you need to make strawberry rhubarb pie. But homemade ice cream is a good substitute for him. 

Enjoyed: Book club Tuesday, an evening on the patio with friends last night, and a morning at the salon yesterday. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On getting Miss H packed for her big move in about a month. Fortunately she won't have too much to move, only her bedroom and not even her bed since she'll be getting a new one there. 

Thinking About: Decluttering - now that I can drop off donations again. 

Feeling: Tired of being angry and tired of not being able to see my family.

Looking forward to: Celebrating this guy today!

Question of the week: Have you been getting out more now that restrictions are being lifted more?

Thursday, June 18, 2020

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

If Beale Street Could Talk
by James Baldwin
Read by Bahni Turpin
Published 1974 by Dial Press
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions–affection, despair, and hope. In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.

My Thoughts:
Let's start with the easy part - the reading. I first "met" Bahni Turpin when I listened to The Hate U Give and was reintroduced to her in Red at the Bone. She's marvelous; the very voice of a young black woman. Imagine my surprise to find out that she's 58 years old! In looking at the work she's read, I'm tempted to go back and listen to some books I read in print just to see what she can do with those. 

Now the harder part. Until the movie adaptation of this book came out two years ago, I had never heard of this book. I was aware of James Baldwin but not his story or of the impact his books had had. It's a clear indication that I have much more work to do in my efforts to read diversely. 

I listened to this book at the same time I was reading Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy; it was the perfect fiction/nonfiction combination dealing with the unjust justice system as they both do. Joyce Carol Oates had this to say about that, in her review of this book:
"For Baldwin, the injustice of Fonny's situation is self-evident, and by no means unique: "Whoever discovered America deserved to be dragged home, in chains, to die," Tish's mother declares near the conclusion of the novel. Fonny's friend, Daniel, has also been falsely arrested and falsely convicted of a crime, years before, and his spirit broken by the humiliation of jail and the fact--which Baldwin stresses, and which cannot be stressed too emphatically--that the most devastating weapon of the oppressor is that of psychological terror. Physical punishment, even death, may at times be preferable to an existence in which men are denied their manhood and any genuine prospects of controlling their own lives. Fonny's love for Tish can be undermined by the fact that, as a black man, he cannot always protect her from the random insults of whites."
This is not just the story of a man falsely accused. It's also a love story and a story of family - the lengths we will go to for family and that "family" is not limited to those we are related to by blood. It's also a book about hope in the face of insurmountable odds. I have not yet seen the movie but it's my understanding that, in a surprisingly un-Hollywood twist, the movie doesn't leave the viewer with the kind of hope the book does. 

It's no mean feat for a man to write a book from the point of view of a young woman but Baldwin does it impressive; only occasionally did it seem apparent that the book had been written by a man. The story can be almost poetic and often has a dreamy feel but Baldwin also allows his characters to lash out, to become angry and mean at times. If Beale Street Could Talk was Baldwin's 13th book; he had clearly mastered his craft. 

I look forward to reading more of Baldwin's work and of watching this movie soon. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
by Bryan Stevenson
Published 2014 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. 

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

My Thoughts:
Read this book. Read it now. There are a lot of great books out there about racism right now that should be read but this one, this one addresses both racism and the ways that our justice system has failed all of us, primary persons of color and the poor. Let's start with some numbers.
"The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970's to 2.3 million people today [2014].There are nearly six million people on probation or on parole. One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison; one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated."
"Hundreds of thousands of nonviolent offenders have been forced to spend decades in prison. We've created laws that make writing a bad check or committing a petty theft or minor property crime an offense that can result in life imprisonment. We have declared a costly war on people with substance abuse problems. There are more than half-million people in states or federal prisons for drug offenses today, up from just 41,000 in 1980. We have abolished parole in many states. We have invented slogans like "Three strikes and you're out" to communicate our toughness. We've given up on rehabilitation, education, and services for the imprisoned because providing assistance to the incarcerated is apparently too kind and compassionate. We've institutionalized policies that reduce people to their worst acts and permanently label them "criminal"..."
There are a lot of numbers in this book, all of them appalling. But this book is not about numbers, it's about the people those numbers represent. The children as young a twelve who were sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole, the people who are in prison because the justice system allowed them to illegally be judged by a jury not of their peers, those who are incarcerated solely because a crime needed to be solved and this person just happened to be handy and those whose terrible pasts are never taken into consideration. It is about all of the people who have been mistreated by the system and how slavery evolved into the systemic racism that results in a disproportionate number of persons of color being incarcerated.
"In poor urban neighborhoods across the United States, black and brown boys routinely have multiple encounters with the police. Even though many of these children have done nothing wrong, they are targeted by police, presumed guilty, and suspected by law enforcement of being dangerous or engaged in criminal activity. The random stops, questioning, and harassment dramatically increase the risk of arrest for petty crimes. Many of these children develop criminal records for behavior that more affluent children engage in with impunity."
The story of Walter McMillan, who was not just a man who insisted he was innocent but who the prosecution knew was innocent before they railroaded him into a conviction that carried the death penalty, is interspersed with chapters about how Stevenson came to start Equal Justice Initiative and the many other people who EJI has fought to save, including all children who were sentenced to life in prison. When people demand the police be defunded now, this book makes it clear what reallocating the monies spent on police budgets might be better used for. The system is broken, from the abuse that goes on reported and unstopped to the substance abuse that goes untreated to the lack of rehabilitation in our facilities.  

Walter was Stevenson's first case and the person he came to think of as a brother. You know, as you read, that things are going to go very badly for Walter or this book might not exist; but you cannot believe how cruel the system is to him at every turn. It is at once heartbreaking and infuriating. What makes the entire case all the more interesting is that it happened in Monroe County, Alabama, home of Harper Lee and the setting of her book, To Kill A Mockingbird. In an entirely unironic way, the people of Monroeville celebrate her book, a book that includes the prosecution of an innocent black man, all while they championed the conviction of another innocent black man. 

So I come back to this: read this book. It will open your eyes. It will make you rethink things you may have thought to be truths. I hope it will make you as angry as it makes you sad. Ultimately, there is this:
"The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned."