Monday, October 29, 2018

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin Manuel-Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin Manuel-Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
Narrated by Mariska Hargitay
Published April 2016 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: audiobook from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Lin-Manuel Miranda's groundbreaking musical Hamilton is as revolutionary as its subject, the poor kid from the Caribbean who fought the British, defended the Constitution, and helped to found the United States. Fusing hip-hop, pop, R&B, and the best traditions of theater, this once-in-a-generation show broadens the sound of Broadway, reveals the storytelling power of rap, and claims our country's origins for a diverse new generation.

HAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION gives readers an unprecedented view of both revolutions, from the only two writers able to provide it. Miranda, along with Jeremy McCarter, a cultural critic and theater artist who was involved in the project from its earliest stages--"since before this was even a show," according to Miranda--traces its development from an improbable perfor­mance at the White House to its landmark opening night on Broadway six years later. In addition, Miranda has written more than 200 funny, revealing footnotes for his award-winning libretto, the full text of which is published here.

Their account features photos by the renowned Frank Ockenfels and veteran Broadway photographer, Joan Marcus; exclusive looks at notebooks and emails; interviews with Questlove, Stephen Sond­heim, leading political commentators, and more than 50 people involved with the production; and multiple appearances by Presi­dent Obama himself. The book does more than tell the surprising story of how a Broadway musical became a national phenomenon: It demonstrates that America has always been renewed by the brash upstarts and brilliant outsiders, the men and women who don't throw away their shot.

My Thoughts:
First things first: listening to it instead of reading it is a mixed blessing. Hargitay does a terrific job of reading this book and listening to it may be the only way I'm going to get to it any time soon. access to those photos, notebooks, or emails. I would love to check out the physical book now so I can see those things.

It's always astonishing how much goes into a musical production, how many people are involved, how many choices have to be made. While Hamilton is absolutely Manuel-Miranda's baby, getting this show to the point it's at now was very much a collaborative effort.

The choices made by those putting Hamilton together were, perhaps, even more challenging than most. For example, costumes. You've got a show set in the late 18th century but the musical score is modern. How do you blend both? Paul Tazewell made the decision to dress the cast in period costumes from the neck down and from the neck up things would be modern. It's a small choice but all of those small choices came together to blend the time periods of the story and the music.

I've never read (listened) to any other book that explains how a musical was made and came to Broadway so I don't know how common or unique all of the little changes and tweaks and influences were for Hamilton. Even after the show had been playing off Broadway for some time, Lin Manuel-Miranda was still making changes to the music. He took out an entire number and replaced it. He tweaked The Schuyler Sisters after listening to the three ladies then playing the Schuyler sisters singing R&B in their dressing rooms.

Fans of the show, particularly those who have seen it performed, will enjoy this insight into all it took to make Hamilton the hit it is; it will also likely appeal to fans of musical theater. Hamilton is a musical about a revolution and its aftermath which truly is, itself, a revolution. 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Life: It Goes On - October 28

I hope you're enjoying as beautiful a fall weekend as we've been enjoying! Given that we've had snowstorms by this time of year some years, we are very happy to be able to have the doors open, spend time soaking up the sun, and to get the last of the yard work done for the fall without having to be bundled up. You all know how much I love the sunshine and I think we may even get to eat birthday dinner on the patio!

Last Week I:
And this is how autumn
came to be known as fall

Listened To: I finished Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist yesterday. Have to admit that it made me more than a little uncomfortable at times. I have The Hate U Give back so I can finish that this week.

Watched: Football, volleyball, baseball - it's a good time of year for sports lovers!

Read: I'm toiling away at Being Mrs. Lewis. The story is interesting enough but there is just so much description of the land, the buildings, the look of people. I've starting skimming at this point or it may take me another week to make myself get through this one.

Made: Stuff peppers, peach crisp, and a new pumpkin dip - it's all about fall when it comes to eating around here lately. Tonight I'm making twice-baked potatoes and cinnamon homemade ice cream to go with the steaks The Big Guy is grilling.

Enjoyed: Happy hour with friends the other night, movie night with my book club, and nice afternoon/evening with my parents yesterday to celebrate my mom's and my birthdays.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Nothing. Oh, that's not true. I'm starting to plan Christmas decorating. I've been following more home decor IG accounts and blogs and those ladies are starting to talk holiday decorating. But I've also been watching The Cozy Minimalist course for winter and she has me entirely rethinking what I've done previously.

Thinking About: Taking a day off this week just to get somethings done around here that don't get done day to day.

Feeling: Like I need to make my own 40 Bags In 40 Days. Maybe I'll just designate November to get 30 bags out in 30 days. All of this "stuff" is weighing heavy on me and I know how much better I'll feel if I lighten up around here.

Looking forward to: Going to see the movie RBG tomorrow night and celebrating our 36th anniversary on Tuesday.

Question of the week: I made that pumpkin dip for a food day at work. What's your go-to when you have to take food to work?

Friday, October 26, 2018

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

Love And Ruin by Paula McLain
Published May 2018 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In 1937, twenty-eight-year-old Martha Gellhorn travels alone to Madrid to report on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War and becomes drawn to the stories of ordinary people caught in the devastating conflict. It’s the adventure she’s been looking for and her chance to prove herself a worthy journalist in a field dominated by men. But she also finds herself unexpectedly—and uncontrollably—falling in love with Hemingway, a man on his way to becoming a legend.

In the shadow of the impending Second World War, and set against the turbulent backdrops of Madrid and Cuba, Martha and Ernest’s relationship and their professional careers ignite. But when Ernest publishes the biggest literary success of his career, For Whom the Bell Tolls, they are no longer equals, and Martha must make a choice: surrender to the confining demands of being a famous man’s wife or risk losing Ernest by forging a path as her own woman and writer. It is a dilemma that could force her to break his heart, and hers.

My Thoughts:
I first read about Gellhorn in McLain's previous book about a Hemingway wife, The Paris Wife, which looked at Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson. I wonder if McLain felt herself fall down a rabbit hole once she started researching for the first book or if she had all long intended to write about her as well. Hadley's story was as much about Hemingway as it was about Hadley. Martha's story is her own; Hemingway just happens to make her both ridiculous happy and insanely unhappy for the majority of it.

Gellhorn met Hemingway when she was just 28. He was 37, already divorced and married again with three sons. It didn't matter. Their friendship became much more under the heightened emotional condition of reporting on the Spanish Civil War. He was passionate, adoring, and a fierce advocate of Gellhorn's writing. They married after almost four years of mostly living together because, according to McLain, Hemingway wanted it. Gellhorn balked but she loved Hemingway too much to tell him no, even as she could see that he was starting to want something from her that she couldn't give him.

As in The Paris Wife, McLain tries to explain how Ernest Hemingway became the man he was and she makes him out to be a very devoted father. But it's not enough to make me change my opinion of the man. She also paints him as a man who had to be the center of attention where ever he was, whomever he was with. He was a slob, had a terrible temper, and was unforgiving.

In McLain's hands, Gellhorn is a young woman who is determined to be a writing and even more determined to bring the plight of people in war-torn lands to the public's attention. She wasn't a saint; Hemingway was not the first married man with whom she had an affair. But one gets the impression that she could have been just the woman for Hemingway if he had been willing to give her the space she needed, just as he expected his space.

The book is mostly written from Gellhorn's perspective, but there are occasionally passages of Hemingway's internal thoughts. Maybe McLain thought that was the best way to give readers information Gellhorn would not have known but it was a little jarring. Sometimes I grew tired of the back and forth of Gellhorn's thoughts about the relationship. But the war reporting scenes are extremely well written, showing how a reporter can both be terrified but also unable to leave.

McLain makes me want to learn more about this woman who spent 60 years reporting from war zones all over the world just as she make me want to learn more about Beryl Markham after reading her Circling The Sun. Gellhorn was so much more than just the third wife of Ernest Hemingway.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Movie Review: The Hate U Give

It may be too soon after seeing this movie for me to write this review. I've only been home from the theater about a half hour and I'm still reeling from it. I am absolutely wrung out. When people say something gave them "all the feels," their talking about something that's done to them what The Hate U Give just did to me.

It's a movie with a teenage lead character and a far amount of the action revolves around Starr Carter's experience at school and with her peers. But The Hate U Give's appeal is far wider than the young adults the book it was based on was aimed at. Amandla Stenberg is incredible as Starr - her face is so amazingly expressive and her skills make you forget she is an actress inhabiting a character; she simply is Starr.

My book club went together - a group of white, middle-age, middle-income women. We would not appear to be the target audience for this movie. But maybe we are. Maybe this movie is a great first step for people who have no concept of what it's like to live in the world with brown skin. The movie opens with Maverick Carter teaching his very children how to act if they are pulled over by the police, something I don't believe it ever occurred to my parents to teach me. Starr and her siblings attend a private school, almost exclusively white. To be accepted there, Starr creates Starr 2, the persona she inhabits when she's in school and around the friends she makes there. The white kids can use black slang; it makes them cool. Starr cannot; it makes her ghetto. When Starr's friend is killed by a policeman, the police and the media want to make the story about the fact that he deals drugs. They don't want to understand that he has been forced into that life by the lack of jobs for a young, black man who needs to be able to support and care for his family. At the end of the movie, one of my friends said, "that really gives you a lot to think about." Yes, it absolutely does.

Beside all of that, this is a movie about family, seeing inside of people, and finding your voice. It can be quiet and intimate, it is often laugh out loud funny, it is sometimes rage filled, and so frequently tense that one of my friends watched toward the end through her fingers. The movie ends with hope. And maybe, if enough people go to see this movie who need to be made to think about these issued, there really will be hope that we can all learn to understand each other better.

Go see this movie. It's an important movie that doesn't get too caught up in its own importance.

Monday, October 22, 2018

We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson
Published 1962 by Amereon LTD
Source: bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Alone since four members of the family died of arsenic poisoning, Merricat, Constance and Julian Blackwood spend their days in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears.

My Thoughts:
How's that for a succinct review? The problem is, this summary doesn't really give you a feel for this book. How about the first paragraph instead?
"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been for a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length but I have had to be content with what I Had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead."
Guys, I have no idea why I haven't read We Have Always Lived In The Castle. And now I'm kind of sad that I can never read it again for the first time. It is an amazing blend of darkness and light. Jackson toys with her readers as Merricat, and her Uncle Julian, slowly reveal the Blackwood family history. The writing is incredibly vivid - the Blackwood home, the land around it, and the nearby village itself all become characters in the book.
"All of the village was of a piece, a time, and a style; it was as though the people needed the ugliness of the village, and fed on it. The houses and the stores seem to have been set up in contemptuous haste to provide shelter for the drab and the unpleasant and the Rochester house and the Blackwood house and even the town hall and been brought here perhaps accidentally from some far lovely country where people lived with grace. Perhaps the fine houses had been captured - perhaps as punishment for the Rochesters and the Blackwood and their secret bad hearts? - and were held prisoner in the village; perhaps their slow rot was a sign of the ugliness of the villagers. The row of stores along Main Street was unchangingly grey...whatever planned to be colorful lost its heart quickly in the village."
Merricat might be called precocious; she is certainly childlike in many ways. But there is a depth and a darkness to her the kept me wondering about her throughout. She is certainly one of the most interesting characters I've read in a long time and I think she's going to stay with me quite a while. She has an innate awareness of imminent peril, a belief in unnatural powers, a deep appreciation of the land around her, a profound love for her sister, and desperate need to maintain order and ritual.

I don't often reread books (almost never, actually) but I'm seriously thinking that this book needs to be reread every year about this time. I can't read it again for the first time but I'll still be happy to pick it up and savor Jackson's story again.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Life: It Goes On - October 21

Good morning, all! I imagine many of you are still sleeping off Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon as I type this. I'm so sad to have missed it twice this year. We ran to Kansas City Friday afternoon and were back in time last evening that I could have joined in for the last 11 hours but I knew I didn't have it in me to stay up all night. I did have a lot of fun watching everyone's posts on Instagram and Twitter and I'm going to try to get a good amount of reading time in today.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finally finished Love In Ruins and I've started Bad Feminist. Could not get my CarPlay to work on the way to Kansas City so we were forced to talk to each other all the way south; on the way home we listened to the Huskers get their first victory of the season. Go Big Red!
Our nephew is the running back

Watched: Our great-nephew's Senior Night football game Friday night. He hasn't played any football in three years; but he's so good that he's got Division I teams talking to him about college football. It was so fun to get to see him do his thing and to see his team's quarterback who is going to Wisconsin next year and has a real chance to take over starting quarterback, he's that good.

Read: I finished A Well-Behaved Woman and I'm almost finished with We Have Always Lived In The Castle. Oh my gosh, is that one good!

Made: Tacos, potato soup, and chicken tortilla soup. I'm in the mood to pull out my Soup Bible cookbook and try some new recipes this week.

Enjoyed: Time with family, including The Big Guy's cousin from California and his wife.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: Finishing putting the yard in order for winter (always such a sad thing for me to do).

Thinking About: Yesterday we stopped in Weston, Missouri to visit the old shops, a brewery, and a winery. Except when we pulled onto Main Street I could see that the sidewalks were packed with people. There'd be no slow browsing the shops, no enjoyable wine tastings.

So we went with BG's backup plan and headed out to a state park. It was beautiful out there and so relaxing. No one would ever accuse me of being a nature girl; and if BG had tried to get me to take a few hours to go off to a local park on a Saturday, I would have bitched and moaned and said I had too much to get done. But I could have stayed in that park yesterday a couple more hours, picking up leaves, taking pictures, maybe just sitting and reading in the sunshine. I couldn't help but wonder why a person who enjoys quiet as much as I do doesn't spend more time off in the quiet places outdoors.

Feeling: Rested. Mini-trips are just what I need to recharge the battery.

Looking forward to: Going with my book club to see The Hate U Give this week.

Question of the week: If you had 36 hours for a quick trip out of town, where would you go?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 15, 2018

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Life: It Goes On - October 14

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

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

Last Week I:

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

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

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

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

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

This Week I’m: 

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Listen To The Marriage by John Jay Osborn

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

Publisher's Summary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

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

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

Oh yeah, I've read:

1. Under The Dome by Stephen King - 1088 pages

2. The Stand by Stephen King - 1472 pages

3. Bleak House by Charles Dickens - 912 pages

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

5. Chesapeake by James Michener - 1024 pages

6. Space by James Michener - 808 pages

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

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

9. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens - 882 pages

10. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - 850 pages

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

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Life: It Goes On - October 7

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

Last Week I:

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

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

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

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

Enjoyed: See first paragraph.

This Week I’m: 

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

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

Feeling: Happy.

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

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

Friday, October 5, 2018

When The Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Task It Tuesday

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

1. Catch up with blog reader.

2. Clean up email.

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

4. Set up schedule for November and December.

5. Write up Top Ten Tuesday posts for October.

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

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Kennedy Debutante by Kerri Maher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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