Monday, November 30, 2020

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

The Lying Life of Adults
by Elena Ferrante
Translated by Ann Goldstein
Read by Marisa Tomei
Published September 2020 (translated edition) by Europa Editions
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Giovanna’s pretty face is changing, turning ugly, at least so her father thinks. Giovanna, he says, looks more like her Aunt Vittoria every day. But can it be true? Is she really changing? Is she turning into her Aunt Vittoria, a woman she hardly knows but whom her mother and father clearly despise? Surely there is a mirror somewhere in which she can see herself as she truly is.

Giovanna is searching for her reflection in two kindred cities that fear and detest one another: Naples of the heights, which assumes a mask of refinement, and Naples of the depths, a place of excess and vulgarity. She moves from one to the other in search of the truth, but neither city seems to offer answers or escape.

Named one of 2016’s most influential people by TIME Magazine and frequently touted as a future Nobel Prize-winner, Elena Ferrante has become one of the world’s most read and beloved writers. With this new novel about the transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, Ferrante proves once again that she deserves her many accolades. In The Lying Life of Adults, readers will discover another gripping, highly addictive, and totally unforgettable Neapolitan story.

My Thoughts:
So that I don't forget, let's just start with the reader - Marisa Tomei is terrific. So often when a famous person is reading, it's hard to get past the fact that you know the voice and stop putting that person's face to the characters. But I completely forgot that I knew who was reading the book, Tomei's voice is unrecognizable. 

Now, as for the book, Ferrante juxtaposes the lower Naples lower class and the upper Naples bourgeoisie, here in a coming-of-age tale that has young Giovanna awakening to the lies her parents have been telling her and each other. Running from them, Giovanna only finds more disillusionment, from the aunt that she at first adored to the young man she has come to idolize and, eventually, to herself as she finds that lying now comes naturally to her as well. 

Looking back at what has transpired, from the beginning of the book, Giovanna tells us everything we need to know about what will transpire and about Ferrante's writing.
"I slipped away, and am still slipping away, within these lines that are intended to give me a story, while in fact I am nothing, nothing of my own, nothing that has really begun or really been brought to completion: only a tangled knot, and nobody, not even the one who at this moment is writing, knows if it contains the right thread for a story or is merely a snarled confusion of suffering, without redemption."
If you're a fan of Ferrante's (and Goldstein, who has translated all of her books), this one will not disappoint. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Life: It Goes On - November 29

Happy Sunday! I hope you all found some way to celebrate Thanksgiving this past week that was safe and worked for your family to still be able to feel some connection. The Big Guy and Mini-him went to my parents' for a few hours. We ate in separate rooms, spent part of the day on the front porch in our coats, and Mini-him, who travels, even ate his meal on the deck just to be safer. It was far from our usual orchestrated chaos of 20 people crowded around the tables but we had most of the favorite foods, the guys did the annual field goal kicking, and, most importantly, my parents were not alone. 

Now here I am on day four of a four-day weekend and I'm trying to muster up the energy to start the Christmas decorating. Maybe it's not a matter of energy so much as it's a matter of "why bother," as Miss H keeps asking me. But this year is terrible enough as it is; I can't bear to think of making it even more unusual. So I'll spend some more time before Miss H leaves for home and then I'll shoot to finish at least one room today. Maybe that will put me in the mood.

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Still listening to Yaa Gyasi's Transcendent Kingdom. I'm finding that it is not a book that I can listen to when I'm not fully focused so I can't really listen to it while I'm working. I'll probably finish it up tomorrow. I don't have anything else coming up soon, book-wise, so then I'll turn to podcasts. 

 Our great-nephew is a freshman on the football team at Kansas University. Last night he got his first start and it was so exciting to not only get to watch him play at that level but to get to see him have a great game and to hear the announcers raving about him. Looking forward to watching him play a lot more!

Read: I have so many book due back to the library or that will expire on Netgalley this week and no interest whatsoever in actually picking up a book and reading it. I hardly picked up a book at all last week.

Made: Thanksgiving dinner...twice. We took in ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cranberries to my parents then I made all of that all over again for the kids on Saturday plus cornbread casserole and pie. 

Enjoyed: Family, even if it some of that time together had to be by Zoom. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On getting the decorating done, getting Mini-me's and Ms. S's gift shopping finished and the gifts shipped, and starting some crafting. 

Thinking About: My sister and brother-in-law who, despite being extremely cautious for months because of my brother-in-law's health, caught CoVid last weekend just as they arrived at their new home. It's been a scary week for those of us who love them. It looks like they will be fine...eventually; but they have been miserable for a week. They have never been far from my thoughts this week. 

Feeling: Frustrated that so many still don't take this virus seriously. Mini-him was traveling last week with a co-worker who had left for their trip knowing his wife was sick (to be fair, she was not diagnosed with CoVid until two days after they left but you have to assume CoVid these days if someone is sick, especially if you have just returned from a trip to Mexico with a group of friends). It's the second time in two weeks a co-worker has put Mini-him at risk. Mama Bear is not happy about that!

Looking forward to: Trying my hand at some new crafts this week and retrying a craft I haven't done in 45 years. I'd tell you about it but then I'd have to admit if it's a complete failure!

Question of the week: Do you make any of your gifts for the holidays?

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Before The Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

Before The Ever After
by Jacqueline Woodson
Read by Guy Lockard
Published September 2020 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
For as long as ZJ can remember, his dad has been everyone's hero. As a charming, talented pro football star, he's as beloved to the neighborhood kids he plays with as he is to his millions of adoring sports fans. But lately life at ZJ's house is anything but charming. His dad is having trouble remembering things and seems to be angry all the time. ZJ's mom explains it's because of all the head injuries his dad sustained during his career. ZJ can understand that--but it doesn't make the sting any less real when his own father forgets his name. As ZJ contemplates his new reality, he has to figure out how to hold on tight to family traditions and recollections of the glory days, all the while wondering what their past amounts to if his father can't remember it. And most importantly, can those happy feelings ever be reclaimed when they are all so busy aching for the past?

My Thoughts:
I didn't even look at the summary before I requested this book from my library. I only needed to know that Woodson had written it to know that it would be a book worth reading. 

You will have noticed that I read very few young adult books. It's not that the young adult books I've read haven't been good; they have for the most part. But, for some reason, they almost always feel like books written by an adult trying to write as a young person (which, of course, they are). Woodson manages, though, to write in the voice of a young adult while also writing beautifully lyrical novels. 

Before The Ever After is no exception; in fact, it is written almost entirely in verse. In reviews of Woodson's books (including mine), you will invariably see the word "spare." She is a master of saying so much with so little. Here in just over 170 pages, she gives us a unique father-son story that begins with a family on top of the world to a family facing an unknown, frightening future. ZJ's identity is wrapped up in being the son of "Zachariah 44" Johnson, football star. So when his father can no longer play football, ZJ wonders who he will be. 

Woodson sets her story just at the time that chronic traumatic encephalopathy is being diagnosed in football players. This book is a tough reminder for people like me, who are huge football fans, that it is a dangerous game that takes a huge toll on the players. It's not that I wasn't aware that that it's a toll that is also suffered by those players' families; but reading about it from the point of view of a young son who is losing not only his father but also one of his best friends, has me, once again, seriously thinking about whether or not I can keep supporting the sport. It's hard to imagine being a twelve-year-old who is watching his father disappear along with so many people the family has considered friends. It's hard to read about it, even when it's told beautifully. 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

Motherless Brooklyn
by Jonathan Lethem
Read by Geoffrey Cantor
Published 1999 by Doubleday
Source: bought this one

Publisher's Summary: 
Lionel Essrog is Brooklyn's very own Human Freakshow, an orphan whose Tourettic impulses drive him to bark, count, and rip apart language in startling and original ways. Together with three veterans of the St. Vincent's Home for Boys, he works for small-time mobster Frank Minna's limo service cum detective agency. Life without Frank, the charismatic King of Brooklyn, would be unimaginable.

When Frank is fatally stabbed, Lionel's world is suddenly turned upside down, and this outcast who has trouble even conversing attempts to untangle the threads of the case, while trying to keep the words straight in his head.

My Thoughts:
Shortly after seeing the Edward Norton movie adaptation of this book, I was delighted to find the audiobook as one of Apple Books' daily deals. The Big Guy and I had seen the movie with friends and we were all impressed with the movie - the story, the acting, the setting. I was really looking forward to having the story fleshed out by the book. 

Almost immediately it became clear that one of the liberties that Norton took with the adaptation was to set the movie about 40 years earlier than the book. Ok, I thought, I can do that. In fact, I thought it might help to keep me from picturing the movie if the sets and costumes are completely different. And for the first hour of the book, I found that the movie had stuck quite closely to the book. After that, though, almost the only part of the book that Norton had taken from the book was Lionel working to solve Frank's death, both with and without the help of the other three men Frank had saved from the orphanage (coined "Motherless Brooklyn" by Frank's brother). It was, to be honest, more than a little disappointing; I had really enjoyed Norton's story. I'm sure, though, that it was an even bigger disappointment to Lethem to find that Norton didn't care for his plot at all. 

I kept at it for a couple of reasons. First of all, Geoffrey Cantor did a terrific job of reading the book, particularly in giving voice to Lionel. Then, the plot of the book drew me in. There was every bit as much intrigue as there was in the movie and almost as much complexity to it. It's well written neo-noir with characters and dialogue that made me see why Norton had chosen to set the book in the 1940's. Finally, Lionel is such an interesting and unique character who I found even more interesting in the book than I had in the movie. I've never known anyone with Tourette's Syndrome so I can't speak to how realistic Lionel's tics were but it certainly felt believable to served to make me want Lionel to succeed. 

If you've seen the movie, you've been forewarned - this is not that book; well, not entirely. If you haven't seen the movie yet, read (no, listen!) to the book first. Then see the movie. Because it really is very good. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Life: It Goes On - November 22

Happy Sunday! What a strange Thanksgiving week we are entering. None of my siblings are coming, none of their kids, and only, maybe, one of our kids will be with us at my parents' on Thursday. Assuming neither my mom nor I balk at the last minute and decide we can't risk their health by being together. My mom has everything she would need to put a holiday meal on the table and so do I, just in case. We tried to buy a half ham or a small turkey but there are none to be found in Omaha (or at least not in any grocery store near us); it no one is planning the usual big event. Could that mean enough people are starting to take this seriously enough that we might be able to avoid completely overwhelming our healthcare system? I certainly hope so.

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished Tana French's The Searchers Thursday and started Yaa Gyasi's latest, Transcendent Kingdom, Friday. In between, I listened to some podcasts, including Root of Evil, Singing Bones, and The History Chicks

Watched: Football (still in mourning about our Huskers), The Voice, Grace and Frankie, and a couple of episodes of The Queen's Gambit

Read: I finished Where The Crawdads Sing just before my bookclub met to discuss it on Tuesday and then I went back to Dark Tides. I discovered that Dark Tides is the second in a series when I was about 100 pages in and was impressed that I hadn't been able to tell earlier. Now I'm really feeling like the books should be read in order; there are dual story lines and they hardly intersect which I'm sure makes more sense if you've read the first book.

Made: Tried something new this week - chicken florentine which we both liked a lot. I always hew to the new recipes pretty closely the first time I try something but when I saw it called for only a "pinch" of seasoning, I laughed and tossed in a tablespoon or so. Next time I may add even more and (here's something I thought I'd never hear myself say) more spinach. 

 A record warm day Thursday. I took off work a couple of hours early and used the time to paint a chair for my office (once upon a time it was in Miss H's room, hence the hot pink). Earlier in the week, The Big Guy and I worked on the garage, which you wouldn't think would be enjoyable, but is for me, especially when it looked so much better when we finished. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: To start making Christmas gifts this week. Yea me, for not waiting until the last minute this year! I'm going to try my hand at some bookish crafts but if they turn out, I won't be able to show them to you until after Christmas. 

Thinking About: I'll start taking down Thanksgiving this week (although I'll leave the dining room decorated since we'll celebrate with Miss H on Saturday) and then Friday I'll bring up the Christmas bins. I'm torn between keeping it really low key (since we can't entertain in December) and going all out because we need to be festive where we can. We'll see where my brain is at next weekend!

Feeling: I'm pretty sure that you can tell that the stress of this virus is wearing on me this week. Mini-him has been exposed again for the second time in two weeks through work and now we are waiting again for him to be able to get in and get tested. My family has been very careful through all of this but when you have to work, there's only so much you can do. 

Looking forward to: Seeing my parents this week, even if we will be eating in an entirely different room and having to shout to talk to each other!

Question of the week: Have you tried any new recipes lately? Anything I should try?

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Searcher by Tana French

The Searcher
by Tana French
Read by Roger Clark
Published October 2020 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: checked out audiobook from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Cal Hooper thought a fixer-upper in a bucolic Irish village would be the perfect escape. After twenty-five years in the Chicago police force and a bruising divorce, he just wants to build a new life in a pretty spot with a good pub where nothing much happens. But when a local kid whose brother has gone missing arm-twists him into investigating, Cal uncovers layers of darkness beneath his picturesque retreat, and starts to realize that even small towns shelter dangerous secrets.

My Thoughts:
I'm pretty sure I've made it clear that I'm a big fan of Tana French; her Dublin Murder Series never disappoints. The Searcher is not part of that series and I was eager to see if I would like a stand alone book by French as much. 

Janet Maslin, of the New York Times, says that French doesn't write genres or thrillers..."She writes full-bodied novels in which crimes happen to have been committed." The Searcher is very different than French's other books but Maslin's assertion seems to be even more true in this book than in her others. Cal Hooper may have been looking more at location, location, location when he bought his house but what French gives us is atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere. The setting is vivid.
“The air is rich as fruitcake, like you should do more with it than just breathe it; bite off a big mouthful, maybe, or rub handfuls of it over your face.”
French could have made this nothing more than the story of a stranger in a new land finding a way to fit in to his new surrounding and it would have worked for me. Her characters are so interesting - you will feel that you know them but also that there is something that there are secrets they are keeping. That's where the mystery of this book comes in. What has become of Brendan Reddy, the son of a ne'er-do-well and a part of a family the people of Arknakelty would like to ignore? No one much seems to be concerned, except his sibling, Trey who finds out that Cal used to be a police officer and won't leave Cal alone until he agrees to help find Brendan. Finding Brendan is a slow-burn part of the plot, often feeling like it's almost part of the background. Until it isn't and suddenly readers are put on edge wondering where the danger is coming from. Along the way, though, the real strength of this book is the relationships Cal forms with several of the villagers - with his nosy neighbor, Mart; with the woman the town is trying to set him up with, Lana; but most importantly, with Trey. 

French has said this book is an homage to the American Western and you can certainly see that in much of the story line. Cal is the John Wayne of this novel. His back story is a bit clunky and French might well have cut part of it out without losing a thing; all of it results in a lot of introspection on Cal's part, which can also be a bit of a drag on the book. 

Some reviewers are calling this book one of French's strongest novels, others one of her weakest. As for me, I was utterly immersed in it. Roger Clark does a wonderful job of reading the book; periodically his Irish accent break through into his "American" narrator's voice, but that's a small complaint. I liked Cal and I enjoyed watching him try to work out his own issues, figure out what's what in his new home, and deal with an angry teenager. Once again, French did not disappoint. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Where The Crawdads Sing by Della Owens

Where The Crawdads Sing
by Della Owens
Published August 2018 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: good question - did I buy it or did my mom loan me her copy?

Publisher's Summary:
For years, rumors of the "Marsh Girl" have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life—until the unthinkable happens. 

Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

My Thoughts:
My book club, like so many others, wanted to read this book so I added it to our list for 2020 and requested the book club bag from the library at the beginning of October of 2019. When Covid shut down the library, we were were still several months from getting the bag. We finally gave up in November and we all had to find our own copies. Which is all a long way to say that I've inadvertently put off reading this book until the giant buzz around it died down. That's usually a good thing for me and this book was no exception. 

Owens writes about the North Carolina coastal area beautifully and I would really enjoy reading a nonfiction book by her about the area. The setting may well be the most interesting character in this book.
“Marsh is not swamp. Marsh is a space of light, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky. Slow-moving creeks wander, carrying the orb of the sun with them to the sea, and long-legged birds lift with unexpected grace—as though not built to fly—against the roar of a thousand snow geese. Then within the marsh, here and there, true swamp crawls into low-lying bogs, hidden in clammy forests. Swamp water is still and dark, having swallowed the light in its muddy throat. Even night crawlers are diurnal in this lair. There are sounds, of course, but compared to the marsh, the swamp is quiet because decomposition is cellular work. Life decays and reeks and returns to the rotted duff; a poignant wallow of death begetting life.”
Not only does Owens do a lovely job of showing us this part of the country she clearly loves, but she uses her knowledge of it to give us clues to what will happen in the book. If, by some chance, you have not already read this book, I certainly recommend that you pay attention to these parts of the book, not just because they are well written, but because if you don't, later you will absolutely wonder what you missed. 

I picked up this book in print and discovered that holding a book was just what I needed after so many audio and e-books. It certainly enhanced my experience of the book. I will admit that, because I started the book too close to my book club meeting, I will admit that I did skip almost all of the poetry Owens included in it (which, as it turned out, also held clues). 

As for the story, I have mixed feelings. It required a tremendous amount of suspension of disbelief and I wasn't able to quite muster up as much of that as it would have required to love the book. There was some dialogue that felt stiff to me and many of the characters felt like stereotypes to me. Some were too good to be true, some had almost no redeeming characteristics. It also brought to mind other books I've read that took place in the same or similar setting (such as those by Pat Conroy, Sarah Addison Allen, and Jesmyn Ward's Salvage The Bones); periodically I had the feeling I'd read this book before. 

So, in the end, I didn't love it. But then I wasn't expecting to love it. Despite those shortcomings, I did still enjoy this book. Despite almost unceasing sadness, it was a good break for me from all of the heavy nonfiction reading I've been doing and I found myself racing through it. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Life: It Goes On - November 15

Happy Sunday! The sun is shining and it's supposed to be warmer today than yesterday so we're hoping to get some outdoor time in with friends this afternoon. I wish I could say that it still looked as beautiful outside as this picture but we have almost no leaves left clinging to trees and the wind is working to take care of the rest. 

We're entering the season of brown, once of the reasons I dislike the winter months. Perhaps that's why I'm starting to think about pulling out the Christmas things ahead of Thanksgiving, something I never do. Perhaps I'm just trying to push time along; the faster we get through these next few months, the better. I might start planning my gardens come January!
Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I'm racing through Tana French's The Searcher, which I'm enjoying a lot because the reader, Roger Clark, is so good. 

Watched: We started watching The Queen's Gambit (boy, is that not what I was expecting!), I watched some Grace and Frankie (I'm sad to say that I think that is on its last season; they seem to be running out of material), and, of course, football. 

Read: Guys, I am struggling here. I'm reading, but I'm having to force myself to do it because I have books that are due back at the library, scheduled for a review, or it's book club meeting time. I really thought that after the election my brain would be able to focus better. The good thing is that I know this will pass; there will come a time when I find a book I can't put down and it will pull me back in. 

Made: Yesterday I made a cream of green bean soup. The Big Guy was telling Miss H about it last night, as though she might be jealous she missed it. Evidently he'd forgotten two things: she really doesn't like soups and she hates green beans. It's definitely not a soup everyone would like but we'll probably make it again. I'd post a picture but I think you can all imagine what cream of green bean soup looks like and know that it's not a soup you look at and think, "that looks delicious!"

Enjoyed: Calls with all of my out-of-town kids. I love that Miss H wanted to spend her Saturday night Facetiming with her parents. Even if I am fully aware that the only reason that she's home to do that is because of CoVid and I really wish that she were able to go out and do the kinds of things 25-year-olds young women should be doing. 

This Week I’m: 

Planning: On finishing my office this week. A several days migraine early this week meant I didn't get the painting done and there's still more organizing to be done. It's finally making me happy to be in that room. 

Thinking About: How sad I am that we won't be able to enjoy dinners around the dining room table for months yet. I finished up the chairs I was working on and I love them around the table. I so wish we could have people in all of those chairs, enjoying great food and even better company. 

Pleased that my parents enjoyed their early Christmas presents. Their children all went together to make a donation to the Husker athletic program that allowed my mom and dad to be cutouts at all of the home games. Did they need it? No. Is it useful? No. But it was so fun to see them "at the game" yesterday!

Looking forward to: Book club this week, even if we have to do a Zoom meeting. Guess I should probably start the book, right?

Question of the week: There may only be four of us at my parents this year for Thanksgiving dinner and we may be sitting at two different tables in two different rooms. It's going to be weird and quiet and sad. How is your family planning to celebrate this year?

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Bronte's Mistress by Finola Austin

Bronte's Mistress by Finola Austin

Published August 2020 by Atria Books

Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

Yorkshire, 1843: Lydia Robinson—mistress of Thorp Green Hall—has lost her precious young daughter and her mother within the same year. She returns to her bleak home, grief-stricken and unmoored. With her teenage daughters rebelling, her testy mother-in-law scrutinizing her every move, and her marriage grown cold, Lydia is restless and yearning for something more. 

All of that changes with the arrival of her son’s tutor, Branwell Brontë, brother of her daughters’ governess, Miss Anne Brontë and those other writerly sisters, Charlotte and Emily. Branwell has his own demons to contend with—including living up to the ideals of his intelligent family—but his presence is a breath of fresh air for Lydia. Handsome, passionate, and uninhibited by social conventions, he’s also twenty-five to her forty-three. A love of poetry, music, and theatre bring mistress and tutor together, and Branwell’s colorful tales of his sisters’ elaborate play-acting and made-up worlds form the backdrop for seduction. 

But Lydia’s new taste of passion comes with consequences. As Branwell’s inner turmoil rises to the surface, his behavior grows erratic and dangerous, and whispers of their passionate relationship spout from her servants’ lips, reaching all three protective Brontë sisters. Soon, it falls on Lydia to save not just her reputation, but her way of life, before those clever girls reveal all her secrets in their novels. Unfortunately, she might be too late. 

Meticulously researched and deliciously told, Brontë’s Mistress is a captivating reimagining of the scandalous affair that has divided Brontë enthusiasts for generations and an illuminating portrait of a courageous, sharp-witted woman who fights to emerge with her dignity intact.

My Thoughts:

I'm a huge fan of the writings of the Bronte sisters - Emily, Anne, and Charlotte left their marks on the world. Their only brother, Branwell, did not. He floundered through his life, unable to find his path and a victim of his addictions. What Branwell did leave, though, were letters intimating that he may have had an affair with one of his employer's wives, Lydia Robinson. 

Austin took what is known about their relationship and crafted it into a novel that explores Lydia's side of the relationship. In Austin's hands, Lydia is a complicated character and I had mixed feelings about her. It's a fact that Lydia was married to an older man, in a time period where a woman's security depended on men. It's also a fact that she had only recently lost a child when Branwell began working for the family. Austin takes all of those facts and takes things up a notch making Lydia a woman who wasn't necessarily a fan of being a mother, particuarly not of her surviving daughters, viewing them more as burdens to be unloaded onto the best match she could make than as cherished parts of her heart. Edmund Robinson is portrayed as a man who has lost whatever passion he might once have felt for his wife, whose mother matters more to him than his wife, and whose gambling habit will eventually leave Lydia in a position where she must rely on others to survive after Edmund's death. 

It was easy to imagine why Lydia might be attracted to a handsome young man who shows her attention and there was certainly a part of me that cheered for Lydia to find some happiness. And then a part of me that grew increasingly frustrated with her recklessness, especially as it became clear that Branwell could not be relied upon to be cautious nor quiet about their affair. Once things really changed for Lydia, though, at a time where I should have felt sorry for her, I found her increasingly irritating and annoyed with the choices she made. It was hard to feel sorry for her. And then it occured to me that Lydia reminded me very much of Becky Sharpe in William Thackeray's Vanity Fair; another woman whose passion undid her and who did whatever it took to survive. It didn't make me like Lydia any more. She was still a woman who Austin portrays as jealous of the relationship between her daughters and their governess but more angry at her daughters for not trying harder to be close to her than she was willing to make that effort. But I could see better what Austin was doing. 

Ms. Austin has clearly done her research and does a fine job of painting a picture of what life was like in that time and place. I would have liked to see a little more character development. Only Lydia felt like she was fully developed; Edmund, their daughters, and other family members and friends often felt like caricatures. The book might actually have benefited from more development of Lydia's other relationships as well. Overall, if I were to put a grade on this one, I'd give it a C, an average book that has good moments and I don't regret reading. Other reviewers on Goodreads gave it much higher marks. I'd recommend you look at a few reviews before you make your decision if you're thinking of picking this one up.

Monday, November 9, 2020

The Patriots: Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the Making of America

The Patriots: Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the Making of America
by Winston Groom
Published November 2020 by National Geographic
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publishers Summary:
In this masterful narrative, Winston Groom brings his signature storytelling panache to the tale of our nation’s most fascinating founding fathers–Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams–painting a vivid picture of the improbable events, bold ideas, and extraordinary characters who created the United States of America. 

When the Revolutionary War ended in victory, there remained a stupendous problem: establishing a workable democratic government in the vast, newly independent country. Three key founding fathers played significant roles: John Adams, the brilliant, dour New Englander; Thomas Jefferson, the aristocratic Southern renaissance man; and Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the Caribbean island of Nevis. In this riveting narrative, best-selling author Winston Groom illuminates these men as the patriots fundamentally responsible for the ideas that shaped the emerging United States. Their lives could not have been more different, and their relationships with each other were often rife with animosity. And yet they led the charge–two of them creating and signing the Declaration of Independence, and the third establishing a national treasury and the earliest delineation of a Republican party. The time in which they lived was fraught with danger, and their achievements were strained by vast antagonisms that recall the intense political polarization of today. But through it all, they managed to shoulder the heavy mantle of creating the United States of America, putting aside their differences to make a great country. Drawing on extensive correspondence, Groom shares the remarkable story of the beginnings of our great nation.

My Thoughts:
I've long had an interest in the Revolutionary War and those involved in it and the founding of this country. I did, after all, grow up with an American History teacher for a father, a man who took us to many of the significant sites of the early United States. Over the years I've done some of my own reading as well. But recently we've come to find out that what we learned growing up isn't all there is to story of the founding of this country. And then there was Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton, which amped up everyone's interest in this period of our history and the players involved, including mine. 

Groom gives on overview of each of his subjects' lives in the opening chapters, which especially makes this a good book for those just beginning to delve deeper into this part of our history. He doesn't dive too deeply into each man's early years but begins to flesh out their lives when them become involved in the Revolution and, more importantly, in their roles in developing this country into what it has become. There's not, I suspect, a lot of new information here for those who have really studied these men or this time period. Still, Groom's novel writing skills show through in making this an immensely readable book and there was certainly plenty of new information for people like me, who aren't scholars of the subject matter. Most interesting to me was reading about the relationship between these men, a subject that Miranda's musical really made me want to learn more about. It's not a bad thing to realize that politics have always been messy in our country, with personalities that influence decisions.

I sort of feel like a kid when I pick up an history book and get excited to find pictures but I always feel like they are helpful to visualize the players in a book and the places they lived and worked. This book has an especially good full-color section which I flipped to as I read, even though many of the portraits were familiar to me. 

My husband wanted to be the person in this house who read this book for review. I'm glad I prevailed and got the first shot at it. I enjoyed it a lot. I suppose I'll have to let him read it before I pass it on to my dad, but I'm really looking forward to getting his thoughts on this one.

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

About Winston Groom:

WINSTON GROOM was born in Washington, D.C., but grew up in Mobile, Alabama, on the Gulf Coast. After a brief period in the Army, Groom returned to Washington, where he worked as a reporter at the Washington Star, covering the political and court beat. He enjoyed a stint in New York City, befriending and socializing with literary legends before returning to Alabama, where he settled down to writing and enjoying life. He is the author of 18 previous books, including Forrest Gump and The Aviators. Sadly, Mr. Groom died in September this year. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Life: It Goes On - November 8

Happy Sunday! My to-do list is so long today but my energy level is so low. Clearly I'm going to have to prioritize and acknowledge that my body has been holding onto a lot of stress for a while and it needs time to recover. We've had a lovely string of days in the 70's; today will be our last decent day so I probably should focus on the last of the things to do outside before the 40 degree temps come in tomorrow. I love doing yard work in the spring; I hate doing it in the fall when it's a reminder that everything is dying and winter is coming. 

What's on your agenda today?

Last Week I: 
Listened To:
 Elena Ferrente's latest, The Lying Life of Adults as far as books go and Andra Day's Cheers To The Fall  was my music soundtrack this week. 

Watched: More election results than I wanted to watch but we've worked really hard this week to watch other things to keep our minds off the election. So Food Network, HGTV, football, The Voice

Read: I finished Bronte's Mistress, started Philippa Gregory's latest (Dark Tides), and I'm reading Winston Groom's The Patriots for a review tomorrow. 

Made: That roll I was on in the kitchen last week? Yeah, it didn't last. If it was quick and easy, that's what we ate. We finished the last of our vine-ripened tomatoes with some pasta and on sourdough BLTs. I'm watching cooking shows that are all about soups this morning so I may be working on some of those this coming week. 

Enjoyed: Two lovely evenings with friends while it was warm enough to be outside for hours and a nice visit from Mini-him yesterday. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I've set myself the goal to finish one project a week this month. I didn't do that last week. So this week, I need to finish at least two. So many on my list are things that are almost finished so I may even get two done today.

Thinking About:
Last week my mom gave me these glasses that she got with Green Stamps when she was in college and it reminded me how important it is to me to surround myself with my family's history. You will see my family everywhere in my house; just from my desk I can see furniture, a cocoa set, a cookie jar, books, paintings, a bottle collection. I love being connected to our past in this way. 

Feeling: Relieved. 

Looking forward to: Hopefully a quiet week. 

Question of the week: I am not a fan of the end of daylight savings time. I hate that it is dark when I get up and dark when I sit down to dinner. How about you? Were you happy to have this week arrive?

Monday, November 2, 2020

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide
by Carol Anderson
Published  May 2016 by Bloomsbury USA
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary: 
From the Civil War to our combustible present, acclaimed historian Carol Anderson reframes our continuing conversation about race, chronicling the powerful forces opposed to black progress in America. As Ferguson, Missouri, erupted in August 2014, and media commentators across the ideological spectrum referred to the angry response of African Americans as “black rage,” historian Carol Anderson wrote a remarkable op-ed in The Washington Post suggesting that this was, instead, "white rage at work. With so much attention on the flames," she argued, "everyone had ignored the kindling." 

Since 1865 and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, every time African Americans have made advances towards full participation in our democracy, white reaction has fueled a deliberate and relentless rollback of their gains. The end of the Civil War and Reconstruction was greeted with the Black Codes and Jim Crow; the Supreme Court's landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision was met with the shutting down of public schools throughout the South while taxpayer dollars financed segregated white private schools; the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 triggered a coded but powerful response, the so-called Southern Strategy and the War on Drugs that disenfranchised millions of African Americans while propelling presidents Nixon and Reagan into the White House, and then the election of America's first black President, led to the expression of white rage that has been as relentless as it has been brutal. 

Carefully linking these and other historical flashpoints when social progress for African Americans was countered by deliberate and cleverly crafted opposition, Anderson pulls back the veil that has long covered actions made in the name of protecting democracy, fiscal responsibility, or protection against fraud, rendering visible the long lineage of white rage. Compelling and dramatic in the unimpeachable history it relates, White Rage will add an important new dimension to the national conversation about race in America.

My Thoughts:
Do you all remember how angry I told you I'd gotten while I was reading The New Jim Crow? Yeah, it happened again with this book. I am fairly certain that I read a good quarter of this book to my husband, so outraged was I by what I was reading. 

I took pictures of the pages I had highlights on and so far I'm on page 5 as I type them up. You'd think as many books as I've read on this subject so far this year, I'd be gaining a pretty good grasp of the myriad ways in which white people, especially, but not exclusively by any means, Southern white people, have conceived of to hold black people down. And yet, here I am, still able to be astonished and enlightened. 

You know that there are a lot of people who are upset that we celebrate Black History month in February, right? Guys, we aren't even beginning to touch on even the subjects that are covered in that month. the Great Migration? I've always understood it to be an exodus form the South in large part because of a surge in job opportunity due to World War I. Of course, I knew blacks were being treated poorly in the South but I had no idea that they were essentially still enslaved - they were forced to work and barred from forcibly barred from leaving the South. Brown v. Board of Education? We've all been told, for all of these decades, how that ruling desegregated schools. Except the truth of the matter is that it didn't. Southern states worked like crazy to keep Brown from being enacted in their states. "To Southern leaders who had already been readying their political arsenal, the decision in Brown was but a declaration of war." They passed law after law that took the teeth out of the ruling. They even passed laws they knew would never hold up in court but enacted them anyway to force blacks and their advocates to spend time and money fighting the laws. 

Clearly, I could go on and on. Suffice to say that, as angry as this book made me, it will absolutely be one of my favorite books of the year. I've been recommending it to everyone. And I'm recommending it to you. If you want to understand what it happening now, you have to understand what happened in the past. 

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Life: It Goes On - November 1

Happy Sunday! It's trite to say, but can you believe it's November? 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished Motherless Brooklyn on Friday. I enjoyed it a lot but it is so different than the movie adaptation. I got a good start on Elena Ferrante's latest, The Lying Life of Adults, thanks to standing in line for over an hour the other day!

Watched: The usual. This morning I'm watching About A Boy; one of these days I'll finally get around to reading the book. 

Read: I'm just finishing up Bronte's Mistress today and then I'm starting Winston Groom's The Patriots for a review.

Made: I'm on a roll in the kitchen: chicken pot pie, sourdough bread, cheesecake with berry topping, rice pudding, Miss H's favorite goulash, pumpkin streusel muffins, and right now there's a loaf of whole wheat bread in the machine. We'll see if I can keep it up!

Enjoyed: Happy hour with friends to celebrate my birthday on Wednesday, a trip into celebrate my mom's birthday yesterday, and a birthday dinner with Miss H and Mini-him last night. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I got sidetracked from projects last week but since Miss H and I got through all of the stuff she has left in my office, I'm hoping to finish up that room this week. And maybe, just maybe, I can get The Big Guy to FINALLY clean up the garage before it's too cold to work out there. 

Thinking About:
I saw a funny meme that said something to the effect of "Welcome to Level 11 of Jumanji"and thought that about sums up where we're at in 2020. I cannot wait until Wednesday - I'm so tired of the political commercials and all of the emails and text messages. We voted by mail about three weeks ago but Miss H didn't have her ballot yet (her permanent address is still ours) so I went Friday afternoon to pick up her ballot. What would have been a three plus hour wait got cut to one hour when the election commission office lost power. Miss H had to go back very early yesterday morning and it still took her two hours in line. It's impressive to see so many people committed to making their voices heard.

Feeling: Like that extra hour of sleep last night didn't help much. 

Looking forward to: Seventy degree plus days this week and, hopefully, some patio time with friends while it's nice out!

Question of the week: Have you voted yet or are you waiting to vote Tuesday?