Thursday, March 29, 2018

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
Published January 2010 by Random House Publishing Company
Source: bought my copy at the Omaha Lit Fest

Publisher's Summary:

But oh my dear, I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful?

Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life has been a richly woven tapestry: As a young woman, wife, mother, and widow, she’s experienced intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. But as she nears her eighty-first birthday, she knows that, to the world around her, she is and will always be only “Alice.” Her life was permanently dog-eared at one fateful moment in her tenth year–the golden summer day she urged a grown-up friend to write down one of his fanciful stories.

That story, a wild tale of rabbits, queens, and a precocious young child, becomes a sensation the world over. Its author, a shy, stuttering Oxford professor, does more than immortalize Alice–he changes her life forever. But even he cannot stop time, as much as he might like to. And as Alice’s childhood slips away, a peacetime of glittering balls and royal romances gives way to the urgent tide of war.

For Alice, the stakes could not be higher, for she is the mother of three grown sons, soldiers all. Yet even as she stands to lose everything she treasures, one part of her will always be the determined, undaunted Alice of the story, who discovered that life beyond the rabbit hole was an astonishing journey.

My Thoughts:
I'm always impressed with the amount of research Melanie Benjamin does for her books. It always feels like she has a good grasp on her characters and she can really make settings and time periods come alive. Alice I Have Been is no exception. For this book, in particular, that helped make the characters easier to understand, to an extent (more on that later).

The book essentially has three sections: young Alice, the girl who inspired Charles Dodgson to write the book that would make him Lewis Carroll; Alice as a young woman in love whose past comes back to haunt her; and elderly Alice looking back on her life as a married woman. It was in writing about Alice in her later years and her boys that I really felt the heart of the book. Alice Liddell Hargreaves lost two sons in the first world war and Benjamin's description of their loss is absolutely heartbreaking.

As interesting as the story of young Alice was, though, I did have some problems with that part of the book. First, I felt like Alice's voice was much too worldly for a girl between seven and eleven years old. I can't remember being that age, and I was certainly never in the same situation, but I don't know that it would have occurred to me that a family friend might be touching me inappropriately.

My other issue might not even be an issue. After reading the book, I felt that Benjamin's research had lead her to believe that Dodgson was a pedophile. That seems to be a popular opinion amongst Dodgson's biographers, so it stands to reason that Benjamin might work with that idea. Some research  turned up the fact that parts of Dodgson's life, that might have countered this opinion, were hidden by his family after his death. Also, the opinion that Dodgson was a pedophile is, to some extent, based on 21st-century mores. But Victorian-era mores were quite a different thing. So I'm left not entirely sure how I feel about Dodgson but concerned about a fiction author painting him as a pedophile. But here's the thing: my book club friend, who also read the book, didn't feel like Benjamin had painted Dodgson as a pedophile at all. If you've read this one, I'd be curious to learn what you thought.

My book club was a bust on getting this one read, so we didn't get to have much of a discussion about this book; but I would still recommend to book clubs, in no small part because of the very things that were issues for me but also because of all of the emotions this book stirs up.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Life: It Goes On March 25

The bridal shower is in the books, my overnight guests are well on their way to home, and the house is clean so I've had a lazy afternoon. I should have spent it getting some projects done around here but these grey skies are leaving me without ambition. Spring needs to hurry up and actually arrive.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Bailey's Shower Playlist. One of the games we played at the shower had to do with popular first dance songs so I put together a playlist of those songs. I've found myself actually enjoying some country music but my favorite song on the list is Sara Bareilles' "I Choose You.

Watching: Basketball. That's pretty much it.

Reading: I haven't done much of this, either. Finished Alice I Have Been for book club which got postponed to this week and now I'm back to The Merry Spinster.

Making: I made a new dip for the shower. It called for light sour cream and light mayonnaise...and a pound of bacon. I couldn't imagine putting an entire pound of bacon in a dip (and didn't) but why in the world would you bother with light fats if you're using a pound of bacon?! Also, Mrs. S sent me a recipe for bread that tastes like the bread at Outback Steakhouse's bread. It turned out perfectly and, let me tell you, bread with cocoa baking it in smells delicious!

Planning: Easter, although we won't be doing too much since no one from my side of the family will be around and Mini-me and Mrs S will not be here.

Thinking About: How much I need to get done if I'm going to reach 40 bags in 40 days by this coming Sunday. This has really gone by the wayside this past month. I may not make it but I'm determined to at least get through some more areas still.
The bride - can't wait until she is
officially part of the family!

Enjoying: The bridal shower and being with family.

Feeling: Like I need to get something done before the day is done. Maybe I can talk The Big Guy into cleaning out his closet. Ha!

Looking forward to: Book club.

Question of the week: I'm hosting book club this week so I need to think about what to serve. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Classics Spin Number Is....

Completely forgot on March 9 to see what the Classics Club spin number was; lucky for me is was 3, which didn't end up being 9 which would have been The Portrait of a Lady for me which I would have needed to start right away. Instead, number 3 means I'll be reading Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie. My copy of this book came to me from the lovely Care of Care's Books and Pies  who kindly sent it to me after I read her review of the book and expressed a desire to read it. Thanks, Care!

Monday, March 19, 2018

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
Read by: Arthur Morey, Daniel Passer, Kimberly Farr, Rebecca Lowman
Published: August 2008 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: audiobook bought at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of her family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how both she and her mother became plural wives. Yet soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds–a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death. And as Ann Eliza’s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan’s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love, family, and faith.

My Thoughts:
Ann Eliza Webb Dee Young
taken between 1869-1875
Ann Eliza Webb Dee Young Denning was a real person, the woman who called herself Brigham Young's 19th wife. I know this because, as I was listening to this book, I found myself more and more curious about how much of what Ebershoff had written was based on fact, particularly in light of the fact that Ebershoff has included many segments that purport to be items from the Mormon church's archives. You know how much love I have for any book that can make me want to do more research!

The 19th Wife was written in the period when it seemed like all novels had two story lines and, just like so many of those, this book suffers from one story line being stronger than the other. Here the historical piece is so fascinating, and Ebershoff spends so much of the book on it, that it often felt like Ebershoff had forgotten he even had another story going.

Ann Eliza Young was an interesting character, a woman who defied one of the most powerful men in the country when she left the Saints, a woman who was thrice divorced in a time when divorce was rare. She was instrumental in the United States outlawing polygamy and toured the country and wrote a book in that pursuit. But she was also a woman who became estranged from both of her sons as adults and whose second edition of her book tried to erase her own flaws.

The Mormon faith is something that I know very little about but haven't thought much of some of their beliefs, to be honest. Ebershoff, however, does a good job of explaining why a group of people would be willing to follow a faith with rules that are so difficult to follow and he highlights the value Mormons place on family and philanthropy. On the other hand, with Ann Eliza Young at the center of the story, the practice of polygamy, and the Saints willingness to accept and encourage it, is only one of the ways Ebershoff looks at the hypocrisy of the faith, particularly that of Brigham Young. I'm going to guess that this book is no more popular among the Latter Day Saints as Ann Eliza Young's original The 19th Wife was.

It's too bad the modern story line wasn't stronger because the modern polygamy is certainly interesting. When the Mormons gave up polygamy, there were some who refused to do it. Having been told for so many decades that polygamy (or plural marriage) was God's will, they felt like the Mormons were turning their backs on their true faith. It's these Mormons who gave us people like Warren Jeffers. Ebershoff calls these people "Firsts" and bases his present day story on them, making many of them descendants of the original characters. His focus is on what becomes of the young men in these sects, young men who the older men are eager to get rid of so they can take the young women for their own wives. It's a story line that deserves at least an equal share of a novel.

Despite the modern story not being as strong, I still enjoyed the book and learned so much. It would make a good book club selection, with a lot to discuss with both the historical and modern pieces.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Life: It Goes On - March 18

Happy Sunday! How many of you were part of the crazy masses out celebrating St. Patrick's Day yesterday? We did our usual reuben sandwich version of corned beef and cabbage and tipped some Guinness. The Big Guy and a friend went off to hear another friend's band play in the evening but this girl stayed home. I hate being in crowded places!

We are officially in that in between part of the year where one day you come out to find some sleet on your car and the next day you are eating dinner on the patio. Yep, you read that right - we ate dinner on the patio on Wednesday. BG thought I was crazy when I ran in the house telling him to help get food ready in a hurry so we could get outside while it was still 70 degrees out. But you know how much I have been looking forward for dinner-on-the-patio season!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides which I have been putting off for several months since I found out it was a book about a hermaphrodite. I just wasn't sure how anyone could write a book that long about that subject. I'm about 20% of the way through it now and just blown away by Eugenides writing. Why did I wait so long?!

Watching: College basketball since Thursday. "Our" teams haven't fared well this week but I am so into cheering for the teams I picked on my men's bracket!

Reading: I finally finished The Revolution of Marina M and had to turn to something completely different which ended up being Mallory Ortberg's The Merry Spinster. Fairy tales always pick me back up!

Making: Besides the aforementioned reubens, I made some chicken and rice last Sunday which we've used in a number of ways this week, including chicken nachos. We also did BLT salads.

Planning: The bridal shower is next weekend so I'm putting the final touches on that, including putting together a game which is taking much longer than I anticipated.

Thinking About: My kids are big on my mind this weekend.

Enjoying: My new hair color! I wish I could have gotten a good pic the day I walked out of the salon so that you could really see the red in it. So fun!

Feeling: Edgy and unable to focus. Which is not good considering I need to read a lot today to finish my book club book before Tuesday. Which leads me into...

Looking forward to: Book club Tuesday and shower next weekend. The shower means I get to see family I haven't seen in months so I can't wait for that!

Question of the week: Games at bridal showers - yea or nay?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - What's On My Nook?

E-readers really do give new meaning to the Stephen King phrase "uniquely portable magic," don't they? Taking up no more space than a novella in my purse, I can carry multiple books at once and read whatever strikes my fancy.

Every day my Nook gives me recommendations of books I might enjoy based on my recent activity. I'm not always sure what activity it's looking at to make that determination. The day after I first set it up, it had recommendations based on my "recent activity." Really, Nook, I hardly think we knew each other well enough at that point for you to be telling me what to read.

I got my first Nook several years ago as a Christmas gift, before the price of Nooks plummeted. Given what my family spent, I'm sure they expected to see me with that thing in my hand constantly. Certainly, over the years, I have used it to read quite a lot of books, especially "big" books that I definitely appreciated not having to hold.

My use of my Nook as changed as the capabilities of my phone have increased. My almost sole purpose now is, again, as a reader, and I tend to download several books a month. There is much more activity now on which to make recommendations. It turns out those algorithms can be pretty accurate. And how do I know that? Because so often what my Nook recommends for me to read are books I've already read and enjoyed. But algorithms can only go so far unless you have enough books loaded up for it to really see what you might be interested in reading.

So what does my Nook have to look at when it's making recommendations for me? I think I must really confuse it sometimes!

Of the 103 books currently loaded on my Nook, 29 are nonfiction and include biographies, essay collections, and self-help books. Three of the books are collections of short stories; one is a play. Nine are mystery/thrillers; seven are considered classics. Several are what I would call "light" reads for when I need to cleanse my reading palate. Three I have already read and need to archive or delete. About a third have been published in the past three years and an equal number were published at least ten years ago. To be honest, two or three are books that I now feel I might never get around to reading.

Once upon a time it was pointed out to me that I was reading vastly more books by men than women. So I worked to rectify that and now find that I read more books by women than men. But slightly more than half of the books on my Nook are by men.

In many ways, I almost feel like my Nook is a better representation of my current reading interests than my bookshelves are. I'm a person who wants to read more nonfiction, toys with short stories and essays, likes to throw in a mystery/thriller occasionally, and doesn't read as many classics as I'd like. All of which means, that Nook algorithm might be better at picking out books for me than I am these days!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Revolution of Marina M by Janet Fitch

The Revolution of Marina M by Janet Fitch
Published November 2017 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

St. Petersburg, New Year's Eve, 1916. Marina Makarova is a young woman of privilege who aches to break free of the constraints of her genteel life, a life about to be violently upended by the vast forces of history. Swept up on these tides, Marina will join the marches for workers' rights, fall in love with a radical young poet, and betray everything she holds dear, before being betrayed in turn.

As her country goes through almost unimaginable upheaval, Marina's own coming-of-age unfolds, marked by deep passion and devastating loss, and the private heroism of an ordinary woman living through extraordinary times.

My Thoughts:
I just finished this book this morning, finally, and I'm not sure quite what to say about it. On the other hand, I feel that if I wait to review it, only the things that annoyed me about it will be left in my memory. Which is sort of what's already happening.

Before I put my thoughts into words, I went to see what others had to say about this book. Maybe someone could make me rethink what I've just read so that I might appreciate it more. Two authors I admire very much, Cynthia Bond and David Ebershoff (more on him later this week), had high praise. Huh. C'mon guys, tell me what I missed!

Let's go at this another way.

What I Didn't Like:
It's the Russian revolution, I get it. Lots to talk about. But this book did not need to be anywhere near 685 pages long. It wasn't all that far into the book before I started skimming liberally.

And when I got to the end? I couldn't believe that was how Fitch left it off; I was, to use a word my mother hates, pissed. I had expected the book to circle back around the opening few pages which were set in 1932. But it just sort of...ended.

One reviewer said Fitch "infuses her protagonists with transgressive sexual energy รก la E.L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey." Which is, actually, true, but not something I was looking for in a book about the Russian Revolution. There is part of the book that was very disturbing, related to sexual enslavement,  which I felt went on too long. Also, I'll give Fitch that Marina is a teenager, and teenagers don't always have the best judgment; but this girl seemed to be sexually aroused by almost every man who played any kind of significant role in the book. So, yeah, a lot of sex.

Those weren't the only scenes that played out much too long. The whole book could have used quite a lot of trimming up. It sometimes felt like the characters were just running back and forth. It was a time and place with a lot of tension but when things dragged out so much or seemed to become repetitive, I lost interest.

What I Liked:
I'll bet you were starting to think I might not get to this part, weren't you? Despite all of the above, there was a lot I did like about this book.

Fitch is able to make readers see the plight of all of the character - the good and bad of both those who were once the ruling class and those who did the work. There are certainly some very interesting characters in the book and I did find myself caught up in their tragedies and love.

Fitch studied Russian history when she was in school and her passion for the subject and knowledge of the revolution are clear. The extreme poverty, the desperation for food and eating materials, the fear are all vivid. I wasn't aware previously of just how confusing and uncertain the politics of Russia were following the revolution, how it tore apart the country and made everything so dangerous. I wish the publisher would have included a map of Petrograd and the surrounding areas as well as a listing of the historical characters and the various parties.

In many ways, this book is very timely - students rising up against their leaders, workers insisting on change, rural versus urban. One can only hope our own country doesn't end up with the same fate as Russia at the turn of the last century.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Life: It Goes On - March 11

Well, there goes another week without a single post. I would love to say it's because I've been so busy reading that I haven't had time to write reviews or because I've been so busy doing fun things that I just haven't had time to write. Unfortunately, it's neither one of those things. Just life and a book that I just can't make myself read or give up on.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I did finish The 19th Wife and will, finally, have a book review to post this week. It's certainly a book that has me thinking. I just finished listening to the book yesterday afternoon then got in the car in the evening and heard a story on As It Happens with the ex-wife of a polygamist in Bountiful, British Columbia. Of course, I was all the more interested in that story having just finished a book about polygamy.

Watching: A lot of Grace and Frankie and the new version of Queer Eye For The Straight Guy. Yesterday I watched a couple of episodes of The Crown. What a marvelous show; I always learn so much! Miss H and I also got in a couple of episodes of The Mindy Project which always makes us laugh.

Reading: See above. I will finish The Revolution of Marina M this weekend if only because I have so much time invested in it already. Then I'm on to The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg, a collection of "darkly mischievous stories based on classic fairy tales."

Chicken and stuffing casserole
Making: Super nachos, homemade chicken alfredo pizza, pasta, and chocolate/butterscotch chip cookies. Miss H's boyfriend had surgery on Friday so I baked some casseroles for him to pull out of the freezer this week when he gets home from the hospital - a pasta/meatball bake and chicken and stuffing casserole. Because that's what I do, I feed people.

Planning: On finishing our taxes today then it's on to working on 40 Bags In 40 Days. I think I finally have The Big Guy on board to at least go through some things that he's been digging his heels in on. Let's be honest, we don't use at least half of our luggage now that we rarely check baggage so don't really use our bigger bags. Time to let those things go.

Thinking About: New furniture. Or a new rug. We need to make some changes but we can't quite decide what route we want to go (or, at least, we can't agree on what route to go).  Anyone else hate furniture shopping as much as I do?

Enjoying: The Omaha Film Festival and dinner afterward with friends. We saw a documentary called "One Vote."  If you ever feel like your vote is not important or if you don't have time to go vote, this movie will make you change your mind. It might also make you want to do something more to help people, whose voices are not being heard, exercise their right to vote. The movie follows five people on election day in 2016 and, following the movie, all of those people were available for questions. That might not seem like such a big deal until you consider that only two of those people on the stage were from Omaha. Two were from Alaska, three were from Southern states, one was from Chicago. The man standing is Omaha's own Warren Buffet. You'd think he'd be the star of the panel but, honestly, it was that little lady in the red, Dr. Brenda Williams who is tireless and fierce when it comes to making sure that everyone is able to vote.

Feeling: So happy for Miss H who has a boyfriend now who makes her so happy.

Looking forward to: A quiet week?

Question of the week: Spring is coming! What are you most looking forward to in the spring?

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Life: It Goes On - March 4

I think I need a new "Life: It Goes On" picture for this time of year. Something that shows a mound of dirty snow melting in the sunshine, perhaps?

Yesterday the thermometer in my backyard showed that it was 77 degrees; that wasn't right (it sits in the sun) but it was ridiculously nice out. And where was I? I spent most of the day in the basement cleaning and organizing. That's some poor planning there, folks.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I will finish The 19th Wife this week. I think it's going to end up being one of those books that I would give "C+" to, if I gave grades. It's not bad, but it's not wow'ing me. Perhaps the last fourth will knock me out.

Watching: Some college basketball, some Grace and Frankie, The Voice. This week I also got on the  The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel bandwagon. I'm half way through the first season and really enjoying it. The costumes and sets alone are worth tuning in for at least once.

Reading: At least I'm listening to a book. I cannot make myself sit down and read otherwise. It may be time to give up on The Revolution of Marina M. It's not necessarily the book, it's just not the right book for me right now.

Making: Chicken and noodles, pasta with crab, rice pudding, grilled steak and mashed potatoes, and scotcheroos.

Here's another thing I enjoyed:
it was warm enough to have
back door open all
Saturday afternoon!
Planning: On heading back down to the basement shortly for some 40 Bags In 40 Days work. Yesterday, just in prepping it for a party, I managed to get rid of a good-sized box of things. It's one big room that tends to look more like a closet than a usable room. Time for that to change.

Thinking About: Politics. My head hurts and I'm tired.

Enjoying: Celebrating both of our girls' birthdays - Miss H and Mrs. S have the same birthday! Also, what's turning out to be a regular Thursday lunch with Mini-him.

Feeling: Tired. Damn, getting the house ready for Miss H's party was exhausting. But it certainly does look better!

Looking forward to: My friend's annual Academy Award watching party. Always good food, fun cocktails, and a lot of judgment and laughter! I'm interested to see how the #metoo and #timesup movements will impact the night.

Question of the week: Will you be watching the Oscars? Do you have any favorites?

Friday, March 2, 2018

Classics Club Spin

I actually saw the post for the next spin before it was too late to post about it - yea, me! So the deal is:

List your choice of any twenty books that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.

This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of April (details to follow). Try to challenge yourself. For example, you could list five Classics Club books you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, re-reads, ancients — whatever you choose.)

On Friday, March 9th, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by April 30, 2018.

Here are my twenty for the spin:

Five Classics I Can't Wait To Read:
1. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
2. The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit
3. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
4. Crossing To Safety by Wallace Stegner
5. The Custom Of The Country by Edith Wharton

Five Classics I'm Dreading 
6. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
7. The Sound And The Fury by William Faulkner
8. Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac
9. The Portrait of A Lady by Henry James
10. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Five Classics I'm Neutral About:
11. Dracula by Bram Stoker
12. Miss Bishop by Bess Streeter Aldrich
13. The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
14. Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
15. The Phantom of The Opera by Gaston Leroux

Five Classics That Have Been Made Into Movies:
16. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
17. The Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
18. All The Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren
19. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
20. Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis

If this spin number is 6, 7, 9, or 10, I'm hosting a readalong. I'm going to need some support with those!