Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Read by J D Jackson
Published July 2019 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is "as good as anyone." Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides "physical, intellectual and moral training" so the delinquent boys in their charge can become "honorable and honest men."

In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear "out back." Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King's ringing assertion "Throw us in jail and we will still love you." His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.

The tension between Elwood's ideals and Turner's skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys' fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy.

My Thoughts:
As I sit down to right this review, I find myself at a loss for words. So, instead, I’ll start off by borrowing a few from those who do this much better than I do.

From Frank Rich of The New York Times Book Review: “an epic account of America's penchant for paying lip service to its original sin while failing to face its full horror and its undying legacy of recidivism…He applies a master storyteller's muscle not just to excavating a grievous past but to examining the process by which Americans undermine, distort, hide or "neatly erase" the stories he is driven to tell…”

From Maureen Corrigan, "A masterpiece squared, rooted in history and American mythology and, yet, painfully topical in its visions of justice and mercy erratically denied . . . a great American novel."

Also from NPR: “The understated beauty of his writing, combined with the disquieting subject matter, creates a kind of dissonance that chills the reader. Whitehead has long had a gift for crafting unforgettable characters, and Elwood proves to be one of his best. . . . The final pages of the book are a heartbreaking distillation of the story that preceded them; it's a perfect ending to a perfect novel.”

Elwood arrives at Nickel hoping for the best, that he will still be able to get a decent education and that the lawyer his grandmother has retained will be able to get him cleared. He is pleased to see there are no fences and learn that there are ways to earn an early release. Even after he is brutally beaten for help another boy who was being beaten up by two other boys, even after he learns that there is no real way to know what you need to do to move up in the ranks as you try to get out early, and even after he sees that food meant for the boys is being sold to local businesses, he still has hope and a belief in the words of Dr. King and that his own intelligence will save him. He is a truly wonderful character but this book is filled with unforgettable characters and Whitehead makes sure that readers know their stories as well.

Whitehead has based this book on the Florida’s Dozier School for Boys. In 2012, a group of men who had been sent to the reform school came forward with stories of the abuse they and the other boys at Dozier suffered and to work to find the bodies of 81 boys now known to have died while at Dozier but whose graves have never been found. These men call themselves the White House Boys because much of the violence committed against them was committed in a small building known as the White House.

The White House at Dozier School
Jerry Cooper was one of those boys. He had been hitchhiking when he was picked up by a man driving a stolen vehicle and Cooper was sent to Dozier for having stolen a car and it is that piece of his story that Whitehead uses as the reason Elwood is sent to Nickel. That is not the only part of the story Whitehead has incorporated into this book, including the White House.

Because I am a white woman who grew up in the suburbs of Middle America, I kept believing that, despite all of the horrific things that were happening in this book, that an innocent young boy would be ok. But I forgot that this is Colson Whitehead and he is not about to let readers get away with living in their safe bubbles. You will pay wake up to the atrocities that were committed and you will see the damage that has been done to this country, but in particular to blacks.

Hunger by Roxane Gay

Hunger by Roxane Gay
Read by Roxane Gay
Published June 2017 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: audiobook checked out from my library

Publisher's Summary:
“I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I was because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere. . . . I was trapped in my body, one that I barely recognized or understood, but at least I was safe.”

In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.

With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and power that have made her one of the most admired writers of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to learn to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers for delicious and satisfying food, a smaller and safer body, and a body that can love and be loved—in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.

My Thoughts:
"It turns out that when a wrenching past is confronted with wisdom and bravery, the outcome can be compassion and enlightenment—both for the reader who has lived through this kind of unimaginable pain, and for the reader who knows nothing of it. Roxane Gay shows us how to be decent to ourselves, and decent to one another. HUNGER is an amazing achievement in more ways than I can count." - Ann Patchett
Yes, Ann Patchett, yes.

This is one of those reviews I struggle with, not because I have have mixed feelings about it but because I have so many feelings about it. "Mom" me wanted to take Gay into my arms to comfort her. "Fat" me could relate with Gay's pain about her body. "Lane Bryant Fat" me was slapped upside the head and told that she had no idea what it was like to be the size Gay is and has been, a size which makes finding clothes that fit almost impossible, even in stores made for heavier women.

A terrible, terrible thing happened to Gay when she was twelve years old. She never told her parents what happened until she began writing about it well into her adult years. She has never fully recovered from it. She began putting on weight to try to feel safe, to make herself unappealing to men who might want to hurt her.  But being fat has hurt her in other ways, from her parents' reaction to her weight gain when she went off to boarding school to the way society looks down at her for her size and her inability to discipline her behaviors.

In her forties, Gay is healing now from the trauma she suffered as a young girl and the many abuses she has suffered since then. She is reconnecting with her family and working on having healthy relationships. But the fact of her "unruly" body and that pain that is never far from the surface make this book a tough read. Gay is brutally honest about her own failings and about the failings of society in dealing with those whose bodies do not fit what we consider "normal."

This book will speak to those who are fat (Gay's preferred word) or who have suffered from sexual abuse and self-image problems. For everyone else, I only hope it will make you more empathetic.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Published September 2019 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid's Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.

Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third: Aunt Lydia. Her complex past and uncertain future unfold in surprising and pivotal ways.

With The Testaments, Margaret Atwood opens up the innermost workings of Gilead, as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

My Thoughts:
The Handmaid's Tale was written in 1985 and Atwood calls it speculative fiction. But the thing is, Atwood drew largely actual global events to create that book, making it as much based on history as speculation about the future. By the time I finally read it in 2010, an astonishing amount of what Atwood had written was starting to be much more than fiction. Thirty-four years after Atwood created it, Gilead seems even more possible than ever. Which made this the perfect time to revisit it.

When a book has the kind of impact on you that The Handmaid’s Tale had on me, you both look forward to and dread a sequel. It's rare for a sequel to live up to the original book when a sequel wasn't in the original plans, and I've been disappointed more than once. Not this time. I can’t speak for all fans of The Handmaid’s Tale; but, for me, Atwood has not disappointed.

Aunt Lydia, as portrayed by Ann Dowd in the
Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale. 
In The Testaments, Atwood takes the original premise of Gilead and ups the game. This time we get a better view of how Gilead developed and the women who play a role in a regime that oppresses women. While the men may appear to hold all of the power, it is just as likely that it is women who are doing the damage to other women in Gilead.

Aunt Lydia, reappears in The Testaments and she is just as terrifying as she was in The Handmaid's Tale. Actually, she is even more terrifying as we learn just how much power she has in Gilead. But Atwood also forces readers to confront the "what if it was you" question when it comes to why Aunt Lydia has become the woman she is. It makes you hate her just a little bit less.

The book's not perfect. The girls aren't as interesting as Lydia, there is a section that I thought moved along at a much faster pace than the rest of the book, and a scene later that seemed a bit like something out of an action movie. But it's not enough to take away from the story for me.

As we did before, we see how little it would take to move from our current world to one of complete control, how easy it is to pit one faction against another. This time, Atwood is not just speculating about the future, she's reminding us that Gilead is just around the corner if we don't remain vigilante.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Life: It Goes On - November 24

Remember last Sunday when I said there was not much on the calendar for the week? That didn't last, which is pretty much the norm these days.  That's probably ok; this homebody might never leave the house except to go to work if she had her way!

Today my house is a bit chaotic. With Thanksgiving being so late this year and next weekend so busy, I'm starting to bring up the Christmas decorations this weekend. Except I just cannot bring myself to take down all of the Thanksgiving/fall decor until after Thanksgiving, even though we're not hosting. I have so many mini-pumpkins that are still perfectly good and I'm feeling pretty guilty about just throwing them away. Does anyone know if squirrels would eat them if I toss them outside under the pine trees?

Last Week I:

Listened To: Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys. So good and so heartbreaking. I started Casey Cep's Furious Hours but I'm not far enough into that one to have formed an opinion. It's due back in a few days so I'm going to have to turn it on as I work around the house today.

Watched: Sports, sports, and more sports including going to another college basketball game on Friday night with the Big Guy. We're pretty darn excited that our Bluejays scored enough points to earn us more free pizza this week!

Read: I read Miriam Toew's Women Talking and I was surprised by how much it made me think. I started Maureen Stanton's Body Leaping Backward on Friday and I'm so connected to this book so far.

Made: Was I even in the kitchen last week? We ate out Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, and Thursday we packed sandwiches to eat in the car on a road trip. Maybe this week I'll cook?

Enjoyed: Getting to play with this guy last night. The Prince, his parents, and his grandparents were at my parents last night so we went in to Lincoln and enjoyed pizza, conversation, and being entertained by a 16-month-old.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On getting the house decorated for Christmas this week. Although it will probably be next Sunday before I get it finished since this week will be busy with Thanksgiving and family time. 

Thinking About: My son's mother-in-law, who I also consider to be a friend. I was hoping to get her here for Christmas but, because of some health issues, she won't be able to come. She's fine now but doesn't have time off work to come. I was so hoping to see her!

Feeling: Sad for my sister-in-law's family who lost their matriarch on Monday. She was 90 and ready to be reunited with her beloved husband but we are never ready to lose our mothers.

Looking forward to: Being with family this week!

Question of the week: What's your favorite Thanksgiving food?

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
Read by Julia Whelan
Published October 2019 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: audiobook from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve hoping to escape her stifling life in England.  But small-town Kentucky quickly proves equally claustrophobic, especially living alongside her overbearing father-in-law. So when a call goes out for a team of women to deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, Alice signs on enthusiastically.

The leader, and soon Alice's greatest ally, is Margery, a smart-talking, self-sufficient woman who's never asked a man's permission for anything. They will be joined by three other singular women who become known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky. 

What happens to them—and to the men they love—becomes an unforgettable drama of loyalty, justice, humanity and passion. These heroic women refuse to be cowed by men or by convention. And though they face all kinds of dangers in a landscape that is at times breathtakingly beautiful, at others brutal, they’re committed to their job: bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts that will change their lives.

My Thoughts:
I’ve been a fan of Moyes’ since I read Me Before You many years ago. I’m still waiting for her to write the book that lives up to that one, though. Which is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed her book (I am, as I noted, a fan), it’s just that nothing has packed the emotional punch that book had. What made Me Before You so gut wrenching was the fact that you saw a terrible thing about to happen, you hoped and hoped it wouldn’t, and then it did. And it still broke your heart. So I suppose what I’m wishing for is for Moyes’ to kill off a dearly loved character. Except as I’m reading her books, I’m so hoping she won’t. She really can’t win.

But back to this book:

  • The feminist in me loved the five women in this book, all of whom threw off traditional roles to be a part of the pack horse library. Alice defies her father-in-law, Izzy defies her parents, and Margery refuses to marry the man she loves, believing there is no reason to change a thing that is working for both of them. The feminist in me had a harder time with the idea that two of the women ended up married because, of course, you can’t be happy unless you’re married. The romantic in me sort of told the feminist in me to get over it, though.
  • There’s a big buildup regarding the mine owned by Alice’s father-in-law and the conflict between the union trying to gain a foothold and the muscle hired to stop them. Throughout much of the book, I thought this was going to end up playing a bigger part in the story but it sort of fizzles out. I had mixed feelings about that. If it had ended up being more, it would have taken away from the story Moyes wanted to tell. But it also felt like if she was going to put all of it in the book, something more should have come of it.
  • Still, those issues with the mines did play a big part in what happened to Margery, even if the conflict itself never played out, so what do I know?
  • Julia Whelan does a great job reading this book. It’s the second book I’ve listened to her read and I’m a fan.
  • I have mixed feelings about the resolution. There’s a part of me that felt like it was not believable and all a little too easy. On the other hand, I’m not sure how else things could have played out.
  • I loved the relationship between these women. They come from very different backgrounds and all bring baggage to the table. Moyes wisely doesn’t make their relationships all picture perfect. There are sometimes spats, there are sometimes hurt feelings, sometimes someone says the wrong thing. But the bond between these women, which begins just as a bond between coworkers, develops into something much more. They stand up for each other, they encourage each other, and they support one another. Girl goals!
  • I loved learning about the Packhorse Library and the effort these women put into helping their communities. Of course, I had to hit the internet to learn more. What’s more, I’ve got two more books lined up to read as well.
  • Jojo Moyes always does a marvelous job of making the time and place settings of her books come alive and this book is no exception. I really could picture those mountains and that town nestled down between them.

Despite some misgivings, I really did enjoy this book a lot and raced through it. I only wish I had a copy to pass along to my mom who I think will really enjoy this book!

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?

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West
Published November 2019 by Hatchette Books
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher’s Summary:



From the moment powerful men started falling to the #MeToo movement, the lamentations began: this is feminism gone too far, this is injustice, this is a witch hunt. In The Witches Are Coming, firebrand author of the New York Times bestselling memoir and now critically acclaimed Hulu TV series Shrill, Lindy West, turns that refrain on its head. You think this is a witch hunt? Fine. You've got one.

In a laugh-out-loud, incisive cultural critique, West extolls the world-changing magic of truth, urging readers to reckon with dark lies in the heart of the American mythos, and unpacking the complicated, and sometimes tragic, politics of not being a white man in the twenty-first century. She tracks the misogyny and propaganda hidden (or not so hidden) in the media she and her peers devoured growing up, a buffet of distortions, delusions, prejudice, and outright bullsh*t that has allowed white male mediocrity to maintain a death grip on American culture and politics-and that delivered us to this precarious, disorienting moment in history.

West writes, "We were just a hair's breadth from electing America's first female president to succeed America's first black president. We weren't done, but we were doing it. And then, true to form-like the Balrog's whip catching Gandalf by his little gray bootie, like the husband in a Lifetime movie hissing, 'If I can't have you, no one can'-white American voters shoved an incompetent, racist con man into the White House.


We cannot understand how we got here-how the land of the free became Trump's America-without examining the chasm between who we are and who we think we are, without fact-checking the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and each other. The truth can transform us; there is witchcraft in it. Lindy West turns on the light.

My Thoughts:
Lindy West is a superhero. She’s who I want to be when I grow up. She is fierce and articulate and funny as hell. Also, she is right. Only in the meaning that she is correct, of course. Because she is almost as far from the right as you can possibly be. So if you tend to be on the other end of the spectrum, I’m fairly certain that you are not going to like this book at all. Although, you probably gave up on this blog about three years ago if you are.

The Witches Are Coming is not as personal as West’s previous book, Shrill, but I got no less a sense of who West is as a person and why she is so fired up.
“”Witch” is something we call a woman who demands the benefit of the doubt, who speaks the truth, who punctures the con, who kills your joy if your joy is killing. A witch has power and power in women isn’t’ likable, it’s ugly, cartoonish. But to not assert our power – even if we fail – is to let them do it. This new truth telling, this witchcraft of ours, by definition cannot be likable. We cannot pander or wait for consensus; the world is too big and complicated and rigged.”
In this collection of essays, West acknowledges that we all may have done some things in our pasts that, in retrospect, seem inappropriate and maybe even heartless; but also that we're products of a time and place, both personally and as a country.
“From makeover shows I learned that I was ugly. From romantic comedies I learned that stalking means he loves you and persistence means he earned you, and also that I was ugly. From Disney movies I learned that if I made my waist small enough, a man or large hog-bear might marry me and let me sit quietly in his castle until death. From sitcoms I learned that it’s a wife’s job to be hot and a husband’s job to be funny. From The Smurfs I learned that boys can have seventy-eight possible personalities and girls can have one, which is “high heels.” From The Breakfast Club I learned that rage and degradation are the selling points of an alluring bad boy, not the red flags of an abuser (and the thing is I STILL WANT HIM). From pretty much all film and TV I learned that complicated women are “crazy” and complicated men are geniuses.”
At the same time, she’s not accepting any excuses for that and offers this to help us avoid falling into that trap again: “Maybe the only thing to do, when you are one speck in an ungovernable community of nearly eight billion people on this planet, is to always keep an eye trained on the deep why of things: Why do I like this? Where is this impulse coming from? Am I telling the truth to myself about myself?"

What West is demanding in this book is that we do better. That we stop attacking people for their activism, that we stop “choosing the comfortable over what is right,” that women stop chasing likability so that we can do the real work, that we stop accepting the idea that someone being “offended” is a “dishonest, manipulative way to overstate “hurt feelings,” that social media “make their platforms safe, constructive, and non-Nazi-infested for all users, that we stop ostracizing those who speak out, that men speak up for women and white people speak up for minorities, that we stop allowing one minority group (that would be Christianity) to “implement legislation that impedes other people’s freedom,” that we stop treating liberal values as “inherently frivolous, dishonest, a joke.” Yeah, she’s got a lot to say. And she defends it all so well. I need to buy a copy of this book, transfer my highlights into it, and then carry it with me everywhere so I can pull it out as a reference whenever I find myself in one of those conversations where I just can’t put into words why what I’m saying is valid.

Perhaps it’s best if I let West do the talking:
“If we’re going to pull our country and our planet back from the brink, we have to start living the truth. We have to start calling things by their real names: racism is racism, sexism is sexism, mistakes are mistakes, and they can be rectified if we do the work.”
“The witches are coming, but not for your life. We’re coming for your lies. We’re coming for your legacy.”

Monday, November 4, 2019

Conversations With RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law by Jeffrey Rosen

Conversations With RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law by Jeffrey Rosen
Published November 2019 by Holt, Henry and Company, Inc.
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher’s Summary:
This remarkable book presents a unique portrait of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, drawing on more than twenty years of conversations with Jeffrey Rosen, starting in the 1990s and continuing through the Trump era. Rosen, a veteran legal journalist, scholar, and president of the National Constitution Center, shares with us the justice’s observations on a variety of topics, and her intellect, compassion, sense of humor, and humanity shine through. The affection they have for each other as friends is apparent in their banter and in their shared love for the Constitution—and for opera.
In Conversations with RBG, Justice Ginsburg discusses the future of Roe v. Wade, her favorite dissents, the cases she would most like to see overruled, the #MeToo movement, how to be a good listener, how to lead a productive and compassionate life, and of course the future of the Supreme Court itself. These frank exchanges illuminate the steely determination, self-mastery, and wit that have inspired Americans of all ages to embrace the woman known to all as “Notorious RBG.”
Whatever the topic, Justice Ginsburg always has something interesting—and often surprising—to say. And while few of us will ever have the opportunity to chat with her face-to-face, Jeffrey Rosen brings us by her side as never before. Conversations with RBG is a deeply felt portrait of an American hero.

My Thoughts:
I’m pretty sure I’ve made my love of Ruth Bader Ginsburg abundantly clear before. So you can imagine that I jumped at the chance to read this book.

Jeffrey Rosen first met RBG in an elevator in 1991 when he was a law clerk on the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit where she was then a judge. To break the silence in the elevator, he asked her which operas she’d seen recently. This without even knowing that RBG is a huge opera fan. It was the beginning of what has developed into a long friendship. Rosen’s familiarity with Ginsburg, both personally and professionally, gives readers the feeling that we are just eavesdropping in on conversation between two people sitting at the next table

Rosen says of Ginsburg that when she was appointed to the Supreme Court, she was “viewed as a judge’s judge, a judicial minimalist, praised by conservatives (and questioned by some liberals) for her restrained approach to the judicial function. That hardly seems to fit with the woman many call the “Dissenter in Chief.” But it’s clear, through these conversations, that Ginsburg remains a judge who believes that the courts should stay out of making big statements; rather, they should rule more narrowly, sticking just with the issue at hand. I learned so much, reading this book, about how Ginsburg rules and why. It hasn’t always made her as popular with some people as she is now (feminists were not happy with her opinion that the court had ruled too broadly in Roe v. Wade, for example) but it seems every bit as measured and thoughtful as I expected it would. I also gained an appreciation for how the Supreme Court works and the interactions of the justices. Ginsburg says that, for the most part, the justices work to keep politics out of their dealings with each other (and, in theory) out of their rulings. This, and a mutual love of opera, helped Ginsburg become great friends with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a man conservatives loved.

Rosen and Ginsburg talk a lot about the cases she has been a part of over the years, as a lawyer defending cases before the Court, as a Circuit Court judge, and as a Supreme Court justice. They talk about Roe v. Wade, the Hobby Lobby ruling, and the Citizen’s United ruling. Rosen has organized the book by subjects but I often found the same cases coming up again and again. It did get repetitive at times and I sometimes struggled to remember to which case they were referring when only the case name was referenced. My only other issue was that, sometimes, things felt a bit disjointed, as though the conversations hadn’t been edited as smoothly as they might have been. Occasionally I found myself rereading passages to understand what it was Rosen was trying to convey.

Over her career, Ginsburg has often fought for women’s right circuitously, bringing issues to court with a male defendant. Her theory was that it would be easier to convince judges that the men deserved equal rights with the women as the reverse. In so doing, it has been her experience that women are the ones who truly gain. In this book, she talks a great deal about how laws have been made to “protect” women and what it has taken to overturn those laws.
“…my objective was to take the Court step by step to the realization in Justice Brennan’s words, that the pedestal on which some thought women were standing was all too often turned into a cage.”
“We were trying to get rid of all laws modeled on that stereotypical view of the world, that men earn the bread and women take care of the home and children.”
Going forward, Ginsburg says that to secure full equality, there need to be legal changes to the unconscious bias and work-life balance. Here’s to hoping she has many more years to help make those changes.
“Even when one is all grown up, death of a beloved parent is a loss difficult to bear. But you will honor your mother best if you carry on with your work and days, thriving in the challenges and joys of being alive. Isn’t that just what she would have willed?” – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
I feel the same way about you, Justice Ginsburg!