Monday, November 18, 2019

The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson

The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson
Read by Amanda Carlin
Published March 2019 by Simon and Schuster
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:

When Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally hacked to death in Fall River, Massachusetts, in August 1892, the arrest of the couple’s younger daughter Lizzie turned the case into international news and her murder trial into a spectacle unparalleled in American history. Reporters flocked to the scene. Well-known columnists took up conspicuous seats in the courtroom. The defendant was relentlessly scrutinized for signs of guilt or innocence. Everyone—rich and poor, suffragists and social conservatives, legal scholars and laypeople—had an opinion about Lizzie Borden’s guilt or innocence. Was she a cold-blooded murderess or an unjustly persecuted lady? Did she or didn’t she?

An essential piece of American mythology, the popular fascination with the Borden murders has endured for more than one hundred years. Told and retold in every conceivable genre, the murders have secured a place in the American pantheon of mythic horror. Based on transcripts of the Borden legal proceedings, contemporary newspaper accounts, unpublished local accounts, and recently unearthed letters from Lizzie herself, The Trial of Lizzie Borden is [a book] that offers a window into America in the Gilded Age.

My Thoughts:
Lizzie Borden took an ax,
Gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Why ever in the world an elementary-school girl in the 1960’s would have grown up knowing this ditty? Was it a rhyme we used when jumping rope? How gruesome is that for preteens? Then in1975, I watched a made-for-t.v. movie about the killings, starring Elizabeth Montgomery (of Bewitched fame) and the story has stuck with me ever since then. Yet, for some reason I had never picked up a book about the murders. So when I came across this book on my library’s website, I knew it was time to remedy that situation.

Cara Robertson is a lawyer (she clerked for the U. S. Supreme Court) who has been researching the Borden case since 1990. She’s done an impressive job of pulling together the research and facts of this case. Moreover, she’s managed to put it all out there for the reader without pointing the reader in one direction or another. And she’s managed to do share her research in a way that brings the case to life: the image of the jurors miserably being shuttled about, the oppressive heat in the courtroom, the little bouquets of flowers Lizzie held each day, the sartorial splendor of the esteemed counsels, the claustrophobia of the Borden household, and clamor to be a part of the proceedings.

Lizzie, Andrew, Abby, Emma Borden - top, left to right

Robertson lays out the cases of both the defense and the prosecution, both their strengths and their weaknesses. She explores the ways that class, gender, and ethnicity impacted the investigation and the trial. In exploring this trial so thoroughly, Robertson also points out the difficulties in all trials – contradicting witnesses and experts, society’s expectations of how a defendant “should” behave, allowable evidence, bias, egos, the role of the media, and all of the ways the investigation can be compromised.

While Kirkus Reviews says Robertson “manages to avoid the tedious repetitiveness inherent in a trial,” I did find that the book occasionally repetitive. This might have been because it sometimes felt like Robertson was trying to pack in every bit of information she had discovered in her research. And while Amanda Carlin does a fine job reading the book, I did wish that I had read this in print so I could refer back to some passages. Nothing I can see says that the book includes maps or lists of the players, but I think that would have been helpful.

I know you’re all wondering if Lizzie really did take an ax and murder her father and stepmother. Armed with all of the facts, I can’t see who else could have done it or why. But because of the sloppy police work and the questions raised by the defense, I doubt I could have voted to convict Lizzie Borden.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Life: It Goes On - November 17

A fall day like the one pictured is now just a memory. Which makes me start to think about decorating for winter/holidays. Except it's been really warm the past couple of days so it doesn't remotely feel like winter and it's always been my thing to not rush past Thanksgiving. And yet Christmas will be here before you know it and I'd like to enjoy the ambiance for more than a couple of weeks. And this is how my brain has been working lately!

I woke up earlier this morning than I wanted to and thought I'd try to fall back to sleep. But my brain was already in overdrive and I knew there was no shutting it off so, even though I didn't go to bed until 2 a.m., I've been up for hours. I'd like to get started on some projects but the cleaning and laundry need to get done first so I'm trying to get through those things so I can move on to the fun stuff.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Jojo Moyes' The Giver of Stars on Saturday and started Colson Whiteheads' latest, The Nickel Boys. Furious Hours got downloaded from the library on Saturday so I'm going to have to do more listening around the house than usual so I can get to everything before my loans expire.

Watched: I forgot to tell you last week that we had been to Jojo Rabbit last Saturday. We highly recommend it, especially for fans of Wes Anderson's movies. It is sweet, and heartbreaking but also extremely funny. This week we saw Motherless Brooklyn to which we would also give two thumbs up. Edward Norton is terrific (he also wrote the screenplay), the story is great, and the whole atmosphere is just perfect. I downloaded the audiobook the other day so I'm interested in getting to that one soon to see how it compares to what Norton has done.

Read: I ready Anissa Gray's debut The Care of Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls and was really impressed. Now I'm reading Margaret Atwood's sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, The Testaments. I'm wishing I had reread The Handmaid's Tale first, partly as a reminder of how prescient it was. I'm going to have to take a break from that to do a quick read of this month's book club selection, Winter's Bone. Assuming I can find it on The Big Guy's book stacks.

Made: We baked a bag of potatoes on Sunday and built meals around those all week. First we had baked potatoes with baked chicken, then we did fried potatoes, and finally the best baked potato soup I think I've ever made. Sadly, I never stop to write down the exact ingredients and proportions so I will never be able to recreate it exactly!

Enjoyed: Movie night and a basketball game/date night with BG last night. Most of all, I enjoyed my two+ hours of pampering yesterday when I went to get my hair colored. I always say that if I ever win the lottery (although I'm pretty sure you must play to win!), I'd hire someone full time to do my hair everyday.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: I have got to get back to my basement project. Plus, I need to start making Christmas presents and get a plan put together for finishing up most of my shopping by the end of the month. 

Thinking About: Everything. Seriously. I cannot shut my brain off again or focus on one thing. Consequently, I'm also all over the place on getting things accomplished. I start something and then move on to the next thing before the first thing is finished. I have to get back on track with sticking to my planner.

Feeling: Like it's time to get off the computer and get busy!

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday.

Question of the week: What's your favorite way to pamper yourself?

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Twenty-one Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks

Twenty-one Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks
Published November 2019 by St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher’s Summary:
Daniel Mayrock's life is at a crossroads. He knows the following to be true:
1. He loves his wife Jill... more than anything.
2. He only regrets quitting his job and opening a bookshop a little (maybe more than a little)
3. Jill is ready to have a baby.
4. The bookshop isn’t doing well. Financial crisis is imminent. Dan doesn't know how to fix it.
5. Dan hasn’t told Jill about their financial trouble.
6. Then Jill gets pregnant.
This heartfelt story is about the lengths one man will go to and the risks he will take to save his family. But Dan doesn’t just want to save his failing bookstore and his family’s finances:
1. Dan wants to do something special.
2. He’s a man who is tired of feeling ordinary.
3. He’s sick of feeling like a failure.
4. He doesn't want to live in the shadow of his wife’s deceased first husband.

Dan is also an obsessive list maker; his story unfolds entirely in his lists, which are brimming with Dan’s hilarious sense of humor, unique world-view, and deeply personal thoughts. When read in full, his lists paint a picture of a man struggling to be a man, a man who has reached a point where he’s willing to do anything for the love (and soon-to-be new love) of his life.

My Thoughts:
A book with books on the cover has to be good, right? And Taylor Jenkins-Reid (Daisy Jones and The Six) had endorsed it. I mean, she’s just published a creatively written book so she should know one when she sees one. But you’re probably saying to yourself, “how in the world can a book written entirely in lists be interesting or have any depth?” I thought the same thing going in but I figured that a book written entirely in lists wouldn’t take long to read so it wasn’t a major commitment to give it a shot.

Guys, if I had started this book on a Friday night, I might well have stayed up all night reading it. Because, yes, in the same way that an epistolary novel sucks me in thinking I’ll just read one more letter, I kept thinking, “I’ll just read one more list.” Or one more day. Or one more month. And it’s only lists so there aren’t that many words on each page, so that helps. Still, I would have stayed up reading this book all night because I really, really liked this book. It is unique and funny and insightful and surprisingly moving.

The book is broken into monthly sections and then by the day and time each list was written. It was important to pay attention to those dates and times to really see how Dan's mind was working - sometimes there were a string of lists separated only by a few minutes. Essentially this book is the very easiest stream of consciousness book to read (and possibly the best way to write one that people will happily read). I became very attached to Dan - I so wanted him to be a good man. I won't give away the ending. Let's just say, it worked for me in all of the right ways.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

National Geographic History At A Glance

National Geographic History At A Glance
Published November 2019 by National Geographic
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Beautifully illustrated, this penetrating book offers a sweeping view of humanity from prehistory to the modern day, presented in a unique time-line format.

Sweeping but succinct, this comprehensive reference presents all of world history in a browsable format featuring more than three dozen maps, along with hundreds of photographs and illustrations. From the dawn of humankind to today’s global complexities, this book provides a compelling reminder that history is unfolding all around us.

The epic story of humanity on all seven continents is explored through a unique design that combines concise essays with expansive time lines that invite deeper reading on milestone moments, explained within the broader context of the era. The final chapter highlights such recent events as SpaceX’s heavy rocket launch, the restoration of U.S./Cuba relations, and the historical trends that were the precursors to the state of our world today.

Informative and richly illustrated, this authoritative take on world history will be a compelling reference you’ll turn to again and again.

My Thoughts:
It's that time of year - time for big, dramatic books to appear in the bookstores. We love to give books but it can be hard to make sure you're choosing a book that the person you're shopping for rather than a book that just appeals to you. Here is a book that's going to solve that problem. My boys would have loved this book when they were in grade school. My husband is stealing this book as soon as I write this review. My dad, who is always picking up books to learn, would find plenty to love.

What makes it such a great book for so many people?

Well, it's National Geographic so you already know that it's filled with beautiful photography and that's it's well researched. The chapters are divided into eras so it's easy to find a specific time period you're interested in learning more about; each chapter has an overview of that time period and a "World At A Glance" map showing the key events throughout the world in the time period. Each chapter is further broken down into shorter periods of time with additional maps, breakout boxes on specific events or landmarks, and essays.

Our favorite thing about this book, though, is the time line that runs through all of the chapters. The time line gives the history of four regions: The Americas, Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Asia and Oceania and allows readers to see what was going on in each region at any given time compared to the other regions. The time line compares Politics and Power, Geography and Environment, Culture and Religion, Science and Technology, and People and Society. For example, on the time line  for 1545-1560, we can see that in Europe, Mary became Queen of England at about the same time as the Tutsi established the kingdom of Rwanda and the Mongols crossed the Great Wall and laid siege to Beijing.

I think this would make a great reference book to have in your home for almost all school-aged children. It is so easy to access information, particularly when you're look to compare what was happening in the various regions of the word at any given time, that I doubt you could find the information faster on the internet. I know that my husband is going to insist that it stay handy for him to be able to pick it up at any time and peruse different time periods or topics. We've only had the book for a few days so I clearly have not read all of it but in just a few hours I've not just brushed up on my world history but I've learned quite a bit as well.

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

Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Life: It Goes On - November 10

So yesterday, it was in the sixties. Today we are headed toward record low temperatures. This is how fall has worked this year - only very brief glimpses of what fall is supposed to be like. There's a part of me that is ready to get rid of all of the pumpkins every where in my house and another part of me that says "it's got to be fall somewhere!" So they're staying where they're at for now, at least until they turn to mush.

Last Week I:

Listened To: The soundtrack of My Fair Lady, a Spotify playlist called "Songs to Sing in the Car," and I started Jojo Moyes' The Giver of Stars.

Watched: The Voice, volleyball, football and Press on PBS.

Read: Tracey Garvis Graves' The Girl He Used To Know,  Cathleen Schine's The Grammarians and I've started both National Geographic's History At A Glance and Anissa Gray The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls. I'm a reading machine lately!

Made: Umm. Nothing? I mean, we've eaten, sure. But we've been out to eat a few times this week and done super quick and easy meals the rest of the week.

At one of their fave places
to eat. Could my boys look
more different?!
Enjoyed: A visit from Mini-me (he came down to go to a concert with Mini-him), happy hour with my besties, happy hour with the hubby and friends, and movie night with friends.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On getting back to work on my basement project. It's kind of gotten put on hold for various reasons but it got kickstarted again yesterday when we were able to take a load of stuff to a community clean up site. I was so proud of The Big Guy for agreeing to get rid of so many things that we "might be able to use someday." I mean, I've got to make room for all of the "new" things I've gotten lately that I'm going to use someday!

Thinking About: Decorating for Christmas. I usually start the weekend after Thanksgiving but Thanksgiving is so late this year and we have an afternoon wedding that Saturday so I'm probably going to start early. I've got some new things I'm eager to use. And, yes, that includes some new trees. It's a sickness.

Feeling: Ambitious.

Looking forward to: There's nothing on the calendar so I'm looking forward to a quiet week.

Question of the week: When do you start decorating for the holidays?