Friday, July 31, 2020

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 27, 2020

Life: It Goes On - July 27

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

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

Miss H's tiny new home
Last Week I:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Gods, Graves and Scholars by C. K. Ceram

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 20, 2020

Year of Wonder by Geraldine Brooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Life: It Goes On - July 19, 2020

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

Last Week I: 

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

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

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

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

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

This Week I’m:  

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 17, 2020

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Life: It Goes On - July 12

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

Last Week I: 

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

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

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

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

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

This Week I’m:  

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

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

Feeling: Blessed. 

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

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

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Blue Ticket by Sophie MacKintosh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Life: It Goes On - July 5

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

Last Week I: 

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

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

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

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

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

This Week I’m:  

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 2, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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