Tuesday, April 13, 2021

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang

How Much Of These Hills Is Gold
by C. Pam Zhang
Read by Catherine Ho and Joel de la Fuente
Published April 2020 by Riverhead Books
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Ba dies in the night; Ma is already gone. Newly orphaned children of immigrants, Lucy and Sam are suddenly alone in a land that refutes their existence. Fleeing the threats of their western mining town, they set off to bury their father in the only way that will set them free from their past. Along the way, they encounter giant buffalo bones, tiger paw prints, and the specters of a ravaged landscape as well as family secrets, sibling rivalry, and glimpses of a different kind of future.

My Thoughts:
I've been struggling with writing this review. I've put it off repeatedly. I know I'm supposed to have been blown away by this book; it was on the Booker Prize long list, for heaven's sake. It's like nothing I've ever read before, the writing is impressive and the narrators are terrific. Zhang shows us the Wild West in a way that we've never seen before, an American West populated by the kind of people who have been conspicuously absent in other stories about the settling of America. 

Finally I decided it was time to really think about this book. It was another one of those books that made me wonder if I just wasn't smart enough to "get it." Then two things came to me. As original as this story is, it is also a quest story, a trope I'm very familiar with. And then there are the similarities to William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Zhang's book is entirely her own story but much of it also entails a family carting a dead body around, looking for a place to bury it, and even has a chapter where Ba takes over the narration, much as as Faulkner's Addie Bundren did. Once I realized those things, I knew that my feelings about this book had nothing to do with me not being smart enough. 

There were, though, a number of things played against this book for me. First, it was a terrible time for me to be reading a book so focused on death and so unremittingly sad. It was too soon after my mom died. Then I listened to about two-thirds of it before my loan expired and it took several weeks for me to get it back. I'd lost the flow. The things that had pulled me in seemed to be gone. All I was hearing, when I picked it back up again, was unrelenting trauma. 

I began to be a little upset with Zhang for all the terrible things she was putting Lucy through, for all that pain she had heaped on Sam. Clearly it was a book that made me care about the characters. It's a book that I'll be thinking about for a long while. Which makes me really wish that I had read it at a different time, without that break, and maybe with a better understanding, going in, how very dark it is. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Life: It Goes On - April 11

Happy Sunday! 

I signed up yesterday for the next Dewey's Readathon, coming up in two weeks on April 24th. I haven't done well with a readathon in a long while but I'm trying to put myself in the mindset that I deserve to take a full day to do nothing much other than read. We'll see. I may deserve it, even need it, but it really means losing a whole weekend because I'll need to sleep on Sunday. If you want to join us, sign up here

Friday I went into Target for the first time in over a year. Once I parked, I sat in my car for a while, trying to decide if I really needed to go in. I didn't need to go in to buy anything in particular; but I finally went in because I did need to start getting back to life as it used to be. It was stressful and I'm not sure I'll do it again any time soon. But it was a good first step. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Sunburn by Laura Lippman, which is this month's book club selection. Now I have to figure out how to discuss this one. Today I'm starting Imbolo Mbue's Behold The Dreamers, which is our book club selection for May. 

Watched: The Trial of The Chicago Seven, starring Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon Levitt, and Sasha Baron Cohen. Four thumbs up from this house - terrific history lessons and fantastic acting. 


Read:
 I'm reading entirely too many different things at once. So many good books right now including two that are really providing the healing I need.

Made: If it wasn't quick and easy, it wasn't getting eaten this week. Some salads, some readymade spinach ravioli, leftovers from Easter. I wasn't really cooking and I wasn't making any other kind of thing, either. 

Enjoyed:
 A couple of years ago my sister gifted me a set of peg dolls of the ladies of the Supreme Court. A while later, a peg doll suffragette showed up in my mail. Thursday a new peg doll arrived to add to my collection of strong women. My sister had commissioned a peg doll of my mom. She's wearing a sweatshirt of my mom's alma mater, which was so important to her, and holding a can of Pepsi, which my mom always had nearby. I love it so much!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: A quick trip north to pick up my dad, who went home with my sister last weekend. We'll meet in Rochester, which gives us a chance to see Mini-me and Ms. S. Very excited to get to see them, especially since we haven't seen Ms. S since last summer. 

Thinking About: Mother's Day. I'm dreading it and trying to think of a way to keep myself busy that day so that I don't think about it. 

Feeling: I was asked to return to the office full time. I'm going to miss the slow mornings, starting work still in my pajamas, and being able to start supper, do laundry, and snuggling with my cat. But I also know that being in my house 24/7 hasn't necessarily been the best thing for me. Mixed feelings about this but grateful that I got a year mostly working from home; I felt so much safer. 

Looking forward to: My second dose of the vaccine. Well, I'm sort of looking forward to it but not looking forward to having the same side effects that I had with the first dose. At least I know it only lasts a day. 

Question of the week: If you've lost your mom, how did you navigate that first Mother's Day without her?

Thursday, April 8, 2021

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

High Fidelity
by Nick Hornby
Read by David Case
Published August 1995 by Riverhead
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Rob is a pop-music junkie who runs his own semi-failing record store. His girlfriend, Laura, has just left him for the guy upstairs, and Rob is both miserable and relieved. After all, could he have spent his life with someone who has a bad record collection? Rob seeks refuge in the company of the offbeat clerks at his store, who endlessly review their top five films; top five Elvis Costello songs; top five episodes of Cheers. 

Rob tries dating a singer, but maybe it’s just that he’s always wanted to sleep with someone who has a record contract. Then he sees Laura again. And Rob begins to think that life with kids, marriage, barbecues, and soft-rock CDs might not be so bad.

My Thoughts:
I adore the movie adaptation of this book, mostly because I adore John Cusack who plays Rob Fleming. I already knew that but this book reinforced that it was Cusack who did that for me, rather than the character, because on the written page I really, really did not like Rob. 

Maybe it's because as the mother of a men and aunt of more men who are nearly the same age, I have no tolerance for men who suffer from Peter Pan Syndrome. Sure, it's fine for you to really, really enjoy records (or gaming, or sports, or even Dungeons and Dragons) but they cannot...I repeat cannot...define your life at the expense of doing things like making sure you can support yourself. And records define Rob (and Barry and Dick). Also, Rob is just not a very nice guy. Early in his "romantic" life, he engineers the breakup of a friend just so he can pursue the ex-girlfriend. As an adult he cheats on his live-in girlfriend. He sleeps with another woman just because she has a recording contract and he's hoping that maybe she'll include him on a record cover. 

In the movie, because Rob was played by Cusack it was understandable to believe that there was a good person in there just waiting to come out. And, in the end, he did. In the book, we don't get that preconceived idea about Rob so that even as Rob and Laura work to patch things up, you're never entirely sure that Rob has what it takes to make a relationship work. Luckily, by that point in the book, I did finally like him enough to hope that he did. 

Now I need to go watch the movie again. Because the parts of this book that are funny (and there is quite a lot of funny here) shine in the movie. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Catstrology: Unlock The Secrets of The Stars With Cats by Luna Malcolm

Catstrology: Unlock The Secrets of The Stars With Cats
by Luna Malcolm
Published October 2020 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: Christmas present from my daughter

Publisher's Summary: 
A delightfully quirky, cute, and funny guide to horoscopes told through adorable cat photographs. 

With the help of a collection of sweet and hilarious cat pictures, Castrology will unlock all the secrets of the stars that you need to know, including: 

Each of the signs at their best and worst (and the perfect cat to illustrate them) 
The common traits of each element and modality in the zodiac 
What do you and your “sister sign” have in common? Find out, with the perfect cat picture to complement it… 
And of course: the right cat for you, based on your star sign!

My Thoughts: 
For Christmas my daughter bought me a gift that hadn't arrived by the time she left to come home for the holidays. An emergency to trip to Target was in order so that I could have something to open from her. One of the things she got me was an Idris Elba coloring book because she knows I love that man. This was the other thing she got. Because she knows I love cats, even more than I love Idris Elba. Also, I think she secretly hoped that when I was finished gleaning all the knowledge this book has to offer, I'd pass it on to her because she, too, loves cats and also astrology. 

Of course, I loved the cute kitty pictures, like the cat curled up napping inside of two hula hoops and the kitten snuggled in on the back of a pony. Seriously, how does anyone not like cats? If you prefer dogs, you can find Dogstrology, which I'm sure is filled with adorable pictures of puppies. 

As for the astrology, I can't speak to how accurate it is but I suspect someone who goes by Luna might know a thing or two about it. Because I've never studied astrology, I did brief lessons about the impact of planetary positions, inner and outer planets, the elements, and modalities. 

Malcolm tells me that, as a Scorpio, I'm passionate, resourceful, and distrusting. All true. On the other hand, on a page entitle "What To Know Before Inviting Each Sign To A Party," Malcolm says that a Scorpio will trap someone in an intense conversation for hours. I would prefer not to be at the party in the first place and I'm more likely to find a spot to sit and hope that people will come talk to me. I discovered that I'm best paired with a Taurus, which is surely news to the Aquarius I've been married to for 38 years. And now I know that my next cat should be a black moggy, a cat breed I've never heard of before. Looky there, even a just-for-fun book has me off to do more research and you know how much I love that in a book!

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Life: It Goes On - April 4

Happy Easter Sunday! If you celebrate, in whatever way you celebrate, I hope you had a good day. 


Every week, since my mom died, when I type that title I think of new ways in which life, as it turns out, does go on, even when we think it won't. We've celebrated a baby gender reveal, a few birthdays, and now our first holiday without my mom. Some have told us that they were advised that it was a good idea to start new traditions so the loved one's absence isn't quite so palpable. It's a great idea and I know that it's been exactly what some people needed to do. For us, we needed to honor our mom by doing Easter dinner the way she would have done it. We put out the china and the Easter decorations; we made the traditional foods, and a couple of new dishes. It was hard for a bit but we think she would have been proud of us. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished, finally, How Much Of These Hills Is Gold and started Laura Lippman's Sunburn, which is this month's book club choice. 

Watched: A lot of college basketball, This Is Us, Hometown on HGTV, and the first games of the MLB season (thanks T-Mobile for the free subscription to MLB.com!). 

Read: I'm bouncing around a bit. I started Peter Geye's latest, Northernmost, but then Steve Leder's The Beauty of What Remains came in and I'm more focused on that right now. It's the comfort I need right now. Thanks for recommending it, Ti!

Made: My contributions for Easter dinner were Ree Drummond's French Silk pie, a strawberry pie, cheesy hash brown casserole, and deviled eggs. I tried a new deviled egg recipe and then didn't even try one but they must have been good because they were gone when the meal was done. 

Enjoyed: It has been warm here this weekend and we spent a lot of time sitting on my parents' front porch. Last night we had a fire, today we had mimosas out there, all weekend we had laughter. It was good to be together and laugh. 
This Week I’m:  

Planning: 40 Bags in 40 Days may just run through April. I have gotten rid of 30 bags but still have so many areas I want to work on. This week I want to focus on my office and start the basement. 

Thinking About: Flowers and gardens - I'm so ready for a trip to the nursery!

Feeling: I got happy hour with friends Monday and lots of family time this weekend and this introvert loved all of that people time!

Looking forward to: Ya know, I still look forward to weeks with nothing on the calendar even though there's been almost nothing on the calendar for a year!

Question of the week: We had chocolate pie, strawberry pie, and red velvet cake for my nephew's birthday for dessert today. Which would you have picked? 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisin

Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women
by Harriet Reisen
Published October 2009 by Henry Holt and Co.
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Louisa May Alcott portrays a writer as worthy of interest in her own right as her most famous character, Jo March, and addresses all aspects of Alcott’s life: the effect of her father’s self-indulgent utopian schemes; her family’s chronic economic difficulties and frequent uprootings; her experience as a nurse in the Civil War; the loss of her health and frequent recourse to opiates in search of relief from migraines, insomnia, and symptomatic pain. Stories and details culled from Alcott’s journals; her equally rich letters to family, friends, publishers, and admiring readers; and the correspondence, journals, and recollections of her family, friends, and famous contemporaries provide the basis for this lively account of the author’s classic rags-to-riches tale. 

Alcott would become the equivalent of a multimillionaire in her lifetime based on the astounding sales of her books, leaving contemporaries like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Henry James in the dust. This biography explores Alcott’s life in the context of her works, all of which are to some extent autobiographical. A fresh, modern take on this remarkable and prolific writer, who secretly authored pulp fiction, harbored radical abolitionist views, and completed heroic service as a Civil War nurse, Louisa May Alcott is in the end also the story of how the all-time beloved American classic Little Women came to be. This revelatory portrait will present the popular author as she was and as she has never been seen before.

My Thoughts:
I'm pretty sure that I've told you before that I received a copy of Alcott's Little Women when I was eight years old. It is one of my treasures and no amount of the truth behind the book will ever change that. When I read Geraldine Brooks' March, the truth about Bronson Alcott began to be clear, as it did in Kelly O'Connor McNees' The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. Still, I'm sure I was hoping that Alcott's real life hadn't been so very terrible as those ladies portrayed in their fiction. 

The truth was much worse. Bronson Alcott was a terrible selfish, single-minded man who had no real idea how to handle his headstrong second daughter and didn't seem to notice the burden he placed on his wife. Myth of Father March completely busted. What was new here was finding out that my beloved Marmee (Alcott's portrayal of her mother in Little Women) was not the saint she was made out to be, either. She followed her husband from place to place as he pursued his vision, despite the hardship to herself and her children and seems to have felt as if it were her family's and their friends' duties to support the family when times were hard (which was pretty much always). 

On the other hand, who might Louisa May Alcott have been if she had not been introduced to Ralph Also Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathanial Hawthorne, and a host of well-known abolitionists? In that regard, her father served her well in drawing the family into those circles. 

I couldn't help but wonder what Louisa might have become if writing weren't the only way she could reliably make money, money that her family desperately needed. And what might she have written if she had not felt obliged to write so much of what she wrote simply because she knew that kind of story would make money. Still, Alcott turned out a mountain of writing in her lifetime, in a lot of different genres, including poetry. Reisen certainly has me wanting to scout out more of Alcott's writing than simply the works for young people which I'm so familiar with. 

Reisin was able to obtain some interviews never before published which add a lot of new information to Lousia's adult life. It wasn't an easy life, despite eventually becoming well off, able to support her family and be very generous with others. Alcott became sick nursing soldiers during the Civil War and never completely recovered; in fact, Reisen theorizes (as did Alcott) that Louisa eventually died of mercury poisoning from the calomel given to her in the hospital to treat typhoid pneumonia. She used morphine, opium, and hashish to ease her chronic pain; never married; lost two of her younger sisters; and became of the caretake of her mother and, to some extent, her father. Top all of that off with the fact that she didn't much enjoy her popularity; Reisen even called her "curmudgeonly." 

Louisa May Alcott lived an incredibly interesting life but one that, sadly, lacked the happily-ever-afters found in her most popular books. If you're a fan of Alcott's, I definitely recommend this book, as well as the documentary of the same name. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

Magic Lessons
by Alice Hoffman
Published 
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:

Where does the story of the Owens bloodline begin? With Maria Owens, in the 1600s, when she’s abandoned in a snowy field in rural England as a baby. Under the care of Hannah Owens, Maria learns about the “Nameless Arts.” Hannah recognizes that Maria has a gift and she teaches the girl all she knows. It is here that she learns her first important lesson: Always love someone who will love you back. 

When Maria is abandoned by the man who has declared his love for her, she follows him to Salem, Massachusetts. Here she invokes the curse that will haunt her family. And it’s here that she learns the rules of magic and the lesson that she will carry with her for the rest of her life. Love is the only thing that matters.

My Thoughts:
The movie adaptation of Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic was released in 1998 and it's become one of those movies that I will watch any time I come across it playing on t.v. I have yet to pick up that book; why I don't know. But when Hoffman released the prequel, The Rules of Magic, I was quick to grab that up (my review here) and I was charmed. So, of course, it stood to reason that it was a given that I would read this book, which is a prequel to a prequel. If you've never read any of the books, you might as well start with this one and work your way from 1664 to the 1990's, rather than as they books were written. 

When I wrote my review of The Rules of Magic, I noted that even though the book was about witches and curses it felt much more like a book about families than about magic. This book feels more centered around magic, largely because it is set just after the witch hunts in Europe and during the witch hunts in the Americas. Still, at its heart, this is also a book family and even more about love. And while there is straight up magic in the story, much of what is considered by others in the book would be what we now consider homeopathic medicine - using what Mother Nature has given us to heal ourselves. 

As with The Rules of Magic, this book can drag on too long in places and frequently felt repetitive (yes, yes, I get it Ms. Hoffman, familiars have to pick their people). And having read these book in reverse, I was struck by how the ending of this book didn't jive with an impression I got about the way the Owens women were perceived in the community in the later books. 

Still, Hoffman pulled me into the story from the beginning, with Maria's life being upturned, to Curacao, where Maria first meets James Hathorn who will turn out not to be the man he appeared to be, to Salem then New York and back to Salem. We learn to listen to our inner voices (even if it takes Maria a good long while to do that), that revenge never bring happiness, that there are some bonds that can never be broken, and that you should always love someone who will love you back. 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Life: It Goes On - March 28

Happy Sunday! The sun is shining, it's going to be warm today, and things are budding. It would be a great day...except for the fact that I left my phone (and my billfold!) at my parents' house last night. You never know exactly how dependent on your cell phone you are until you're without it for any period of time. Honestly, I'm getting a little twitchy without it and will be heading back into Lincoln shortly to get it. And, yes, I realize that I clearly care more about my phone than my billfold. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Nick Hornby's High Fidelity. I love the movie adaptation and let's just say that colored my impression of the book. Then I finally got How Much Of These Hills Is Gold so I'm finishing the last five hours of that. 

Watched: A lot of college basketball, some Husker volleyball, CBS Sunday Morning, Resident Alien, and One Night In Miami. We both highly recommend it; the acting is so good. 

Read: I finally finished Magic Lessons and Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women. Today I'm starting Peter Geye's latest, Northernmost. Geye is one of my favorite authors. 

Made: Two batches of granola yesterday, one with peanut butter and chocolate chips and one batch with golden raisins. I used two different recipes but tweaked both based on what I had on hand - the batch with raisins actually called for nuts, which I don't eat, and then I ran out of honey and had to substitute maple syrup. One of the things I love about granola is that you can easily substitute things and it's very forgiving. 

Enjoyed: Time with my brother, sister-in-law and dad yesterday. The good news about leaving my stuff in Lincoln is that they've agreed to meet us half way to bring it to me, which just happens to be a brewery which also makes my some of my favorite ciders. We're hoping to get there early enough to get a table on their rooftop so we can sit out in the warmth of the sun.

This Week I’m:  

Planning: 40 Bags In 40 Days officially ends today but I fell behind and have a lot of areas I still want to get to so I'm hoping to bust those out this week. 

Thinking About: Did I tell you that Mini-him had given The Big Guy and I a weekend trip anywhere in the continental U.S. for Christmas? We had, in the easiest vacation discussion ever, decided to go to Savannah. But in light of what the Georgia Congress and governor did this week, we're rethinking that plan. Maybe the Pacific Northwest or San Diego. Mama just needs crashing waves and an infinite vista. 

Feeling: Happy to have gotten my first CoVid-19 vaccine dose this week, even if it meant I was exhausted and feverish the day afterward. 

Looking forward to: Happy hour on the patio tomorrow with friends. 

Question of the week: If you could go to a beach anywhere in the continental U.S., where would you go?

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

The Music Shop
by Rachel Joyce
Read by Steven Hartly
Published January 2018 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
It is 1988. On a dead-end street in a run-down suburb there is a music shop that stands small and brightly lit, jam-packed with records of every kind. Like a beacon, the shop attracts the lonely, the sleepless, and the adrift; Frank, the shop’s owner, has a way of connecting his customers with just the piece of music they need. Then, one day, into his shop comes a beautiful young woman, Ilse Brauchmann, who asks Frank to teach her about music. 

Terrified of real closeness, Frank feels compelled to turn and run, yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems, and Frank has old wounds that threaten to reopen, as well as a past it seems he will never leave behind. Can a man who is so in tune with other people’s needs be so incapable of connecting with the one person who might save him? The journey that these two quirky, wonderful characters make in order to overcome their emotional baggage speaks to the healing power of music—and love—in this poignant, ultimately joyful work of fiction.

My Thoughts:
I'm struggling these days writing reviews, explaining what I liked (or didn't) about a book in a way that doesn't sound exactly the same as the last review I wrote. Since I'm prone to talk about the publisher's summary in my reviews, this time I'm going to let that be my guide for the whole review. 

Sentence one: it's important to know that the book is set in 1988 because it's at that time the CDs took over the music world. Frank, though, refuses to sell anything other than vinyl. He was raised on vinyl. It's the way his mother showed him love, teaching him everything he knew about music, and life, by having him listen to her extensive vinyl collection. It was the only thing his mother left him, other than this piece of advice: "If you learn one thing from me, make it this - love is not nice. Stay away from it, Frank." And so Frank has stayed away from love. 

Sentence two: On that dead-end street in that run-down suburb there remain a few shops whose owners have become their own kind of family, led by Frank, who has never had any other family. This family is getting smaller. A big developer is trying to buy up the block and the local council is doing everything they can to help them. In the same way that you're almost certain that Frank and Ilse will wind up together, you're convinced that Goliath is going to win this time.

Sentence three: Frank is a listener. That's his secret for knowing which piece of music is just what a person needs, like The Troggs' Wild Thing, for a fussy baby and Aretha Franklin's Oh No Not My Baby for a man who's been jilted. It's also the reason people are drawn to him.

Sentence four: Ilse didn't walk into Frank's shop. She fainted in front of it then left almost as soon as she recovered, leaving behind a handbag and mystery. When she returns for the handbag, Frank realizes that he can't "hear" what music Ilse needs; without that, he has no idea how to talk to her. He is hopelessly drawn to her when she asks him to teach her about music. We are lucky enough to be in on the lessons.  

I'm a huge fan of Joyce's; she's an "auto-read" author for me. Her characters are always so real - flawed, quirky, hurt, humane, human. There is something to be learned in every book (here, of course, it's about music) but Joyce always teaches us with a light touch, giving readers exactly what they need to know to be drawn into the story. I love music, the way it can, as Frank knows, affect your mood, make you want to move, draw you into a story told through musical notes and lyrics. I loved learning the stories behind the music almost as much as I loved the relationship between Frank and Ilse. The ending here is a bit drawn out and then a bit improbable, but not enough to ruin a book that I very much enjoyed reading. 

As soon as I finished the book, I went to Spotify to see if I could put together a playlist of the songs in this book - turns out there were already three or four out there. I highly recommend that you have one of them playing if you chose to read this book in print. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Life: It Goes On - March 23

Happy Tuesday! I returned from spending a week with my dad on Sunday evening and didn't have time to get a post written. It was a tough week for both of us, as we worked at helping him find his way; but I'm grateful to have gotten to spend the time with him. He told me some stories about my mom that I'd never heard, we took care of some things he's been worrying about and set up some things to help keep him safe, and we marveled again and again at the kindness of so many people. Leaving him yesterday was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do but I am feeling confident that he will be able to stay in his own home. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Rachel Joyce's The Music Shop then I switched to music, including a lot of musicals. 

Watched:
 Some volleyball, some baseball, and some basketball with my dad. Also, I found the 1966 television version of Brigadoon. During bookclub we had been talking about the first albums we had ever bought with our own money; the soundtrack to that show was the first album I ever bought after seeing that television performance and a high school performance - I couldn't have been more than seven years old. 

Read: I'm back to reading Alice Hoffman's Magic Lessons, which I never finished when I had the digital ARC. 

Made: Not a whole lot. So many people have brought my dad food that cooking was needed. I did make him reubens for St. Patrick's Day and introduced him to risotto another night. 

Enjoyed: A lot of time with my daddy. Of course there were tears, but we also found time to talk and even laugh. We accomplished so much!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On knocking out some more bags for 40 Bags In 40 Days. I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear that The Big Guy didn't knock out any bags of his stuff last week while I was gone. 

Thinking About: Having to return to working in the office full time. A date's been set. Being back to normal will be good, on the one hand. But I'm so going to miss that extra hour I have on the days I don't go in, being able to start meals while I'm working, and having a cat purring next to me. 

Feeling: Excited - my first vaccine is scheduled for this week!

Looking forward to: Seeing my brother and his wife again this weekend. After a year of not seeing them, it has been nice to get to spend a lot of time with them recently. 

Question of the week: Have you gotten your vaccine yet? If so, how did it go for you?

Monday, March 22, 2021

My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton 
by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Read by Cassandra Campbell
Published
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In this haunting, moving, and beautifully written novel, Dray and Kamoie used thousands of letters and original sources to tell Eliza’s story as it’s never been told before—not just as the wronged wife at the center of a political sex scandal—but also as a founding mother who shaped an American legacy in her own right. 

A general’s daughter… 

Coming of age on the perilous frontier of revolutionary New York, Elizabeth Schuyler champions the fight for independence. And when she meets Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s penniless but passionate aide-de-camp, she’s captivated by the young officer’s charisma and brilliance. They fall in love, despite Hamilton’s bastard birth and the uncertainties of war. 

A founding father’s wife... 

But the union they create—in their marriage and the new nation—is far from perfect. From glittering inaugural balls to bloody street riots, the Hamiltons are at the center of it all—including the political treachery of America’s first sex scandal, which forces Eliza to struggle through heartbreak and betrayal to find forgiveness. 

The last surviving light of the Revolution… 

When a duel destroys Eliza’s hard-won peace, the grieving widow fights her husband’s enemies to preserve Alexander’s legacy. But long-buried secrets threaten everything Eliza believes about her marriage and her own legacy. Questioning her tireless devotion to the man and country that have broken her heart, she’s left with one last battle—to understand the flawed man she married and imperfect union he could never have created without her…

My Thoughts:
You all know how much I love Lin Manuel-Miranda's Hamilton so you can readily imagine why I picked this book up and that I spent most of the book comparing it to what I've learned about Hamilton and Eliza through that musical. Let's be honest, I loved these two people by the end of that musical, even knowing Hamilton's flaws. If this book had been my introduction to him, though, I'd almost certainly have had a much different opinion of the man. 

Eliza tells her story, looking back in time. Imagine the differences in the impressions you'd get of a man if you were hearing about him from a friend if she were telling you the story as it developed versus first hearing her talk about him when she's an older woman, when a full life of experience has been laid over those early impressions. Her reminisces are colored by the ways that Hamilton has failed her. Dray and Kamoie have decided that the rumors of Hamilton's relationships with his sister-in-law, Angelica, and his friend, John Laurens are fact, facts that Eliza doesn't become aware of until after his death. It makes it hard to imagine that she spent so much of her later years working to preserve his legacy. 

As a story about the founding of this country, and Hamilton's impact on it, I very much enjoyed this book. Unfortunately, again perhaps because of my previous opinions, I didn't care as much for the way the story of Eliza's and Alexander's relationship was told. Some of that had to do with the authors having Eliza adopting something of a "stand by my man" attitude but, at the same time, what often felt like a quickness to believe the worst of him. 

It's clear that Dray and Kamoie have done their research, drawing extensively from letters available to them. But at 23 hours long, even given the time span involved in the story and the characters and time period involved, it began to feel as if the book were dragging on. The authors seemed to hang too long onto some scenes; imagine the length had they chosen that approach throughout. The saving grace of a book this long was that Cassandra Campbell is the reader and she does, as she always does, a wonderful job. 

Reviews of this book are almost universally glowing which makes me wonder what I missed. If I were grading this book, it would earn a "C." For me it was, at best, another good launching off place. I'm eager to learn more about both Hamilton and Eliza, probably nonfiction. 


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Boy In The Field by Margot Livesey

The Boy In The Field
by Margot Livesey
Published August 2020 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
One September afternoon in 1999, teenagers Matthew, Zoe, and Duncan Lang are walking home from school when they discover a boy lying in a field, bloody and unconscious. Thanks to their intervention, the boy’s life is saved. In the aftermath, all three siblings are irrevocably changed. 

Matthew, the oldest, becomes obsessed with tracking down the assailant, secretly searching the local town with the victim’s brother. Zoe wanders the streets of Oxford, looking at men, and one of them, a visiting American graduate student, looks back. Duncan, the youngest, who has seldom thought about being adopted, suddenly decides he wants to find his birth mother. Overshadowing all three is the awareness that something is amiss in their parents’ marriage. Over the course of the autumn, as each of the siblings confronts the complications and contradictions of their approaching adulthood, they find themselves at once drawn together and driven apart.

My Thoughts:
I've struggled over the years about when to write reviews after I finish a book. Do I write them immediately upon finishing when the book is fresh in my head but when I haven't had any time to reflect on it? Do I wait a while and let my thoughts percolate, knowing that details will begin to fade? I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and just have not had the time to write a review; and now, as I sit down to write one, I find that the second approach isn't the best approach, at least not for this book. I do remember quite a lot of the detail but my feelings about the book have faded and what I find that I really wanted to tell you about this book was how it made me feel. 

While this is a book about finding the man who attacked the boy in the field, it much more about how finding that boy affects Matthew, Zoe, and Duncan, who are newly awakened to the perils and unpredictability of the world around them. The detective who comes to interview the children about the attack says to Matthew: “You’re wrestling with the problem of evil. I’m twice your age, and I’m still wrestling with it. Nothing prepares one for the discovery that there are people who have no conscience." Matthew needs to solve the crime, hoping that by doing so, by finding a reason for the attack, he will be able to right his world again. Zoe, who almost simultaneously with finding the boy finds that her father is having an affair, needs to find someone to love. And Duncan, despite deeply loving the family that adopted him, suddenly needs to find his birth mother. 

There is not one extra word in this book and yet every scene and every person is vividly portrayed. As I was reading it, I was seeing a movie of it in my mind. Much of my appreciation of this novel may come from the timing of reading it. After the events of the past twelve months, I wanted a book that helped make sense of the world. Because of that, I was willing to accept a dog who "chose" Duncan and then seemed offer each of the family members advice and direction simply through a look, to accept that nearly all of the characters are basically good people, and that there are a very few moments were Livesey seems a little insensitive. If you're in the mood for comfort in these trying times, I think you'll enjoy find yourself in the same frame of mind. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

When The Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain

When The Stars Go Dark
by Paula McLain
Published April 2021 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Anna Hart is a seasoned missing persons detective in San Francisco with far too much knowledge of the darkest side of human nature. When tragedy strikes her personal life, Anna, desperate and numb, flees to the Northern California village of Mendocino to grieve. She lived there as a child with her beloved foster parents, and now she believes it might be the only place left for her. Yet the day she arrives, she learns that a local teenage girl has gone missing. 

The crime feels frighteningly reminiscent of the most crucial time in Anna’s childhood, when the unsolved murder of a young girl touched Mendocino and changed the community forever. As past and present collide, Anna realizes that she has been led to this moment. The most difficult lessons of her life have given her insight into how victims come into contact with violent predators. As Anna becomes obsessed with saving the missing girl, she must accept that true courage means getting out of her own way and learning to let others in. 

Weaving together actual cases of missing persons, trauma theory, and a hint of the metaphysical, this propulsive and deeply affecting novel tells a story of fate, necessary redemption, and what it takes, when the worst happens, to reclaim our lives—and our faith in one another.

My Thoughts:
I requested this book from Netgalley without reading the publisher's summary. I'd read three books by McLain previously and assumed this one would fall in that same lane - a fictionalized story about a real woman, whose name is still known because of her proximity to others who were more famous. Imagine my surprise when I started reading this one and discovered that it's not only not historical fiction, but that it's a literary thriller with very dark themes. Definitely not what I was expecting and yet 20 pages in, I was hooked. 

One book blurb called Anna Hart "deeply flawed." It seems the thing to saw any time you have a character who is not all goodness and light. It also seems to suggest a fault of character. I didn't see a fault of character so much as a woman who is the product of her life experiences, a woman deeply committed to her job, to saving the children who have been taken and finding closure for the families whose children won't come home. She's certainly scarred and struggling to come to grips with a marriage that is falling apart and a past that won't leave her. I liked her a lot and never felt that she wouldn't find her way. 

Kirkus Reviews calls this book a "multilayered mystery enriched by keen psychological and emotional insight." Agreed; McLain's writing style delivers an emotional gut punch. So many broken people and all of that sadly believable. My mom heart, especially, ached throughout the book. 

Even though the blurbs rave about this one (as blurbs will do), it's not without it's flaws. I felt like McLain tried to pull too many threads into the story, I wasn't a big fan of the psychic element, and I didn't entirely find the ending believable, particularly because I had long before figured out who the "bad guy" was and felt like he would have been a target much sooner in a real investigation. And yet, despite all of that, I remained hooked on this book. I needed to know what had happened to the local girl who had gone missing and how the characters I had come to care about would come through this trial. 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Life: It Goes On - March 14

I'm writing this on Saturday morning, before I leave to go to what will always be my Mom's and Dad's house to celebrate my dad's birthday. I know that every "first" after someone dies is hard, but coming this soon after my mom's passing, this birthday is going to be even harder for my dad. My mom loved entertaining and having family with her; birthday dinners were always special. It's going to be so hard not having her there. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Liane Moriarty's Truly, Madly, Guilty until I had to set that aside to listen to this month's book club selection, The Music Shop


Watched:
 Some basketball, some volleyball, The Voice, and Resident Alien on the Sci-Fi network, which both The Big Guy and I highly recommend, especially if you were a fan of Northern Exposure thirty years ago. 

Read: The Girl In The Painting, which I reviewed this week and then I picked back up Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women. I'm enjoying it but can't seem to make myself read more than 15 or 20 pages at a time. 

Made: It's been a comfort food kind of week. Last night I made Better Than Sex cake for my dad's birthday dinner. The name makes it seem like an odd choice for a birthday dinner, doesn't it. But I haven't made it in so long and it's so deliciously decadent. 

Enjoyed: Almost daily FaceTime calls from Miss H, checking in on her mama. It would make her grandma proud; it's exactly the kind of thing my mom would have done. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I'm spending this week in Lincoln with my dad so I'm planning meals. For St. Patrick's Day, I'm going to make Reuben sliders with homemade rye bread rolls. Well, assuming they turn out. I should probably buy a loaf of bread, too.

Thinking About: What I would need to do to keep BG working on 40 Bags while I'm gone. Tuck little treats in his t-shirt drawers so he's got to pull them all out to find it so might as well clean them up? Leave all of his dress shirts piled on the bed when I leave and hope he sorts through them before just shoving them back in the closet? Leave a desk drawer on his recliner?  

Feeling: Pretty sure you already know the answer to this. The other morning when I finished The Girl In The Painting, I headed to put it in the box of things to take to my mom, knowing it was a book she would enjoy. Then I remembered. As I do in so many little ways.

Looking forward to: Lots of time with my dad this week and book club on Tuesday. We missed last month so we'll be talking about both The Color Purple and The Music Shop

Question of the week: This week, Ti, of Book Chatter, recommended a book to help with grief, Steve Leder's The Beauty of What Remains, which I've ordered. Are there any books you would recommend?

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Girl in the Painting by Tea Cooper

The Girl in the Painting
by Tea Cooper
Published March 2021 by Thomas Nelson 
Source: courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Australia, 1906 Orphan Jane Piper is nine years old when philanthropist siblings Michael and Elizabeth Quinn take her into their home to further her schooling. The Quinns are no strangers to hardship— having arrived in Australia as penniless immigrants, they now care for others as lost as they once were. 

Despite Jane’s mysterious past, her remarkable aptitude for mathematics takes her far over the next seven years, and her relationship with Elizabeth and Michael flourishes as she plays an increasingly prominent part in their business. 

But when Elizabeth reacts in terror to an exhibition at the local gallery, Jane realizes no one knows Elizabeth after all—not even Elizabeth herself. As the past and the present converge and Elizabeth’s grasp on reality loosens, Jane sets out to unravel Elizabeth’s story before it is too late. 

From the gritty reality of the Australian goldfields to the grand institutions of Sydney, this compelling novel takes us on a mystery across continents and decades as both women finally discover a place to call home.

My Thoughts:
I read one word when I received the pitch for this book...Australia. I've told you before that we have several Australian families we count as friends. Because of them, I have a special fondness for that country. Book written by Australian authors, especially historical fiction books, aren't that easy to find so I was excited to have a chance to read one. 

This is a story of immigration to Australia and how those immigrants helped build the country...how they worked together and fought each other and became Australians. Cooper clearly sets the her story in Australia, describing the landscape and referencing landmarks; I always have an extra appreciation for a book that can do that, especially when I am so hoping for it. She's also used a number of historical events to place her story in a time and place. 

Cooper has crafted a book with multiple time and story lines. If you've been reading this blog long, you'll know that I often have problems with that but Cooper makes it work because all of the time lines revolve around the same core story line. Running throughout the timelines is the thread of a mystery but solving the mystery isn't the point of the book. Cooper includes the themes of prejudice, love, and honesty. At it's heart, thought, this is a book about the bonds of family and what makes a family. I loved that Cooper's leading ladies were intelligent, educated, and strong. 

This was just the book I needed right now, even though I couldn't help but keep thinking of my mom as I read it because I know she would have really enjoyed it. I was completely caught up in the story and couldn't put the book down. 

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

About Tea Cooper:

Tea Cooper is an Australian author of historical and contemporary fiction. In a past life she was a teacher, a journalist and a farmer. These days she haunts museums and indulges her passion for storytelling.

Connect with Tea

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Monday, March 8, 2021

Cosmic Queries by Neil deGrasse Tyson - Guest Review

Cosmic Queries
by Neil deGrasse Tyson 
Published 
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In this thought-provoking follow-up to his acclaimed StarTalk book, uber astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tackles the world’s most important philosophical questions about the universe with wit, wisdom, and cutting-edge science. 

For science geeks, space and physics nerds, and all who want to understand their place in the universe, this enlightening new book from Neil deGrasse Tyson offers a unique take on the mysteries and curiosities of the cosmos, building on rich material from his beloved StarTalk podcast. 

In these illuminating pages, illustrated with dazzling photos and revealing graphics, Tyson and co-author James Trefil, a renowned physicist and science popularizer, take on the big questions that humanity has been posing for millennia–How did life begin? What is our place in the universe? Are we alone?–and provide answers based on the most current data, observations, and theories. 

Populated with paradigm-shifting discoveries that help explain the building blocks of astrophysics, this relatable and entertaining book will engage and inspire readers of all ages, bring sophisticated concepts within reach, and offer a window into the complexities of the cosmos. 

For all who loved National Geographic’s StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos: Possible Worlds, and Space Atlas, this new book will take them on more journeys into the wonders of the universe and beyond.

My Thoughts:
My apologies to the ladies at TLC Book Tours - this review was meant to be posted last Friday but between a crazy last couple of weeks at work and dealing with the aftermath of my mother's death, all too many things have fallen by the wayside and, unfortunately, this review was one of them.

This is another book that I knew immediately was meant for my husband to read. All of my guys love Tyson so I'm sure it's going to make the rounds in my family, particularly since my husband was such a fan. Without further review, here are his thoughts.

His Thoughts:

Cosmic Queries is exactly what you would expect.   It is a well-organized and well-written book that is a great walk down memory road for me, and, I am sure, for many that have geeked out on Astronomy and other sciences.  Tyson explains the cosmos in an understandable way for those who have had some science interest, exposure or classes but who have not majored in science.  He is one of the few scientists that can break it down in an understandable way and keep it very interesting.  

Like the National Geographic books reviewed here before this books is fun, informative and well edited.  As a child who was late in the pecking order, I was lucky to have been exposed to books, music, and the world by my older siblings.  One I recall was a little paper back book on astronomy and or the universe.  It had photos of the planets, Milky Way galaxy and a good deal of information about some of the same things in Cosmic Queries, which makes this book more special for me.  

Tyson spends a reasonable amount of time, but not too much, on great scientists like Aristotle, Newton, Galileo, Fermi, Hubble and many others to build science history, particularly that of Astronomy and Astrophysics. He touches on particle physics, chemistry and atomic structure, the elements, quarks and many other concepts that make for a great and interesting review for those of us who possibly have not studied or read up on these concepts since high school or college science classes.  

Toward the end of the book Tyson has a section on how it all began, mostly around the Big Bang, and on how will it possibly end.  He provides some possible theories on surprise endings like asteroids or other collisions, climate change and volcanos.  Some things that are all possible within or not long after our life times.  

As I have admitted before I am fairly attention deficit and books like this that cover a broad range of topics that I have always had an interest in continue to create a positive buzz in my brain.  

I have always enjoyed Neil deGrasse Tysons shows and his very approachable style to science. 
He has put together a quite interesting and enjoyable book that I will plan to keep around to reference and one I would highly recommend to anyone curious about science and especially astronomy or astrophysics.  

             *******************************************************************
Our thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours (and, again, our apologies for the delayed review) for including us on this tour. For other opinions about this book, check out the full tour here


About Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History, host of the hit radio and Emmy-nominated TV show StarTalk, and the New York Times best-selling author of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry and Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military. He lives in New York City.

Follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

"During our brief stay on planet Earth, we owe ourselves and our descendants the opportunity to explore — in part because it's fun to do. But there's a far nobler reason. The day our knowledge of the cosmos ceases to expand, we risk regressing to the childish view that the universe figuratively and literally revolves around us."  - Neil deGrasse Tyson

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Life: It Goes On - March 7

Happy Sunday! What a glorious week we have had here. I haven't worn a coat in several days. This afternoon we'll do happy hour on the patio, basking in the sunshine and warmth. In my parents' front yard, the early spring buds are beginning to bloom already, something I never thought we'd see this soon when there were a couple of feet of snow on the ground and temperatures were well below zero just a couple of weeks ago. It's exactly what my heart needs right now. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I raced to finish Stephanie Dray's My Dear Hamilton before my library loan expired yesterday. I couldn't help but keep comparing it to the musical and wondering how much of it was novel and how much of it is history. So expect that I'll be reading more about Alexander Hamilton in the coming months. 

Watched: Some basketball, the start of the new season of The Voice, and last night I binge watched Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. I cannot tell you how badly I want really authentic Italian food now. I may even break out the pasta machine this week. 

Read: I finished Margot Livesey's The Boy In The Field and am finishing Tea Cooper's The Girl In The Painting for a review on Tuesday. 

Made: We celebrated Miss H's birthday with my dad and brother-in-law yesterday so I made one of her favorites, Asian Chicken Salad, and a birthday cake that my dad said must be photographed before we cut into it. Unfortunately, the colors didn't come out true in the photo, making it frosting look very strange. I swore I would never frost a cake that way again, but I may have to give it another shot just for the photograph. 

Enjoyed: Being with family and the weather, of course!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I'm behind on 40 Bags In 40 Days so I'm hoping to focus on that this week. 

Thinking About: My mom, always my mom. I never know what will make me think of her and have me in tears. I know we were so very lucky to have her for 87 years but it still wasn't enough. 

Feeling: Happy to have had Miss H in town this weekend and Mini-him with us much of yesterday. 

Looking forward to: More family time this coming weekend as we get together to celebrate my dad's birthday. 

Question of the week: What's your favorite Italian meal?

Thursday, March 4, 2021

A Children's Bible by Lydia Millett

A Children's Bible
by Lydia Millett
Published May 2020 by Norton, W. W. and Company, Inc.
Pages: 240

Publisher's Summary:
An indelible novel of teenage alienation and adult complacency in an unraveling world. Pulitzer Prize finalist Lydia Millet’s sublime new novel—her first since the National Book Award long-listed Sweet Lamb of Heaven—follows a group of twelve eerily mature children on a forced vacation with their families at a sprawling lakeside mansion. 

Contemptuous of their parents, who pass their days in a stupor of liquor, drugs, and sex, the children feel neglected and suffocated at the same time. When a destructive storm descends on the summer estate, the group’s ringleaders—including Eve, who narrates the story—decide to run away, leading the younger ones on a dangerous foray into the apocalyptic chaos outside. 

As the scenes of devastation begin to mimic events in the dog-eared picture Bible carried around by her beloved little brother, Eve devotes herself to keeping him safe from harm.

My Thoughts:
"From the wraparound porch, with its bamboo torches and hanging ferns and porch swings, moth-eaten armchairs and blue-light bug zappers, the barks of laughter carried. We heard them from the treehouses and tennis courts and from the field of beehives a slow neighbor woman tended in the daytime, muttering under the veil of her beekeeping hat. We heard them from behind the cracked panes of the dilapidated greenhouse or on the cool black water of the lake, where we floated in our underwear at midnight."
A group of liberal, educated, self-absorbed friends has rented a great house, built by a robber baron, for the summer, bringing along their children who they proceed to ignore for weeks. The adults sleep, drink heavily, do drugs, and have sex with others in the group. The children disdain them, refusing to acknowledge which of the parents are their own. The kids fear growing into their parents and accepting their values, such as they are. 

The tone of the book turns much darker when a massive hurricane almost turns the house into an island, knocks out power and drops a massive tree branch into the attic. It becomes almost immediately apparent to the children that their parents are not going to save them so they load into some of the cars with supplies and head out with the help of a caretaker. Their hope of reaching the home of one of the families is quickly dashed when it becomes clear the roads are impassable. The caretaker guides them to a farm he has worked on and there they establish a kind of sanctuary, aided by a three other adults who wander in off the Appalachian Trail. But in the aftermath of the now almost nonstop storms, and the continuing failure of society and the infrastructure, things become much more dangerous. 

Narrator Eve's younger brother, Jack, is given a copy of A Children's Bible by one of the mothers. As a boy who has never had any exposure to religion, Jack's reaction is to view the book as an allegory.
“God’s a code word,” he explains to his sister. “They say God but they mean nature. . . . And we believe in nature. There’s lots the same with Jesus and science,” he says. “For science to save us we have to believe in it. And same with Jesus.”

Millet's story is also an allegory, with many parallels to the Bible: birth in a barn, plague, a flood that covers the earth, Bethlehem, Noah, Sodom and Gomorrah, a crucifixion, and angels.  Those allusions don't necessarily lead anywhere but they do serve to make readers understand that we are reading a modern telling of Revelations. The Bible allegory is Millet's tool for exploring climate change and also feels like the ultimate children versus parents. The children are rightly angry at the many ways the parents have failed them, particularly in ignoring what was happening to the world they were leaving for their children. It's a wake up call for those of us who think we are doing enough by recycling, not buying bottled water, and applauding solar energy. 

Source: checked out from my local library

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir
by Natasha Trethewey 
Read by Natasha Trethewey 
Published July 2020 by HarperCollins Publishers 

Publisher's Summary: At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became. 

With penetrating insight and a searing voice that moves from the wrenching to the elegiac, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother’s life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother’s history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a “child of miscegenation” in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985. 

My Thoughts: I had read some reviews of this book before I listened to it. They invariably talked about the slow build of the book. That's not the experience I had. Trethewey opens with a dream she had of her mother that quite literally made me gasp and, for me, that feeling never entirely left me. 

Trethewey was born in Mississippi in 1966, the daughter of a black mother and a white, Canadian father. Being black in the south in that time was difficult enough as it was; being the child of a marriage which was still illegal in so many states. That marriage slowly fell apart. In 1972, Trethewey's mother married the man who would eventually terrorize and murder her. Trethewey writes achingly about what it was like to grow up in the segregated South and then with a man who tormented her and who she saw abuse her mother. Eventually her mother left her stepfather and even had him imprisoned for a time. It wasn't enough. 

In the second half of the book, there is a long passage that includes transcriptions of recorded phone calls between Trethewey's mother and stepfather. As matter-of-a-fact as they read, they are chilling and heartbreaking. I can't imagine having to listen to them as a young person who has lost her mother so tragically. I can't imagine losing my mother in any way as a 19-year-old, let alone so violently. It's hard for me now to separate my thoughts about this book as I listened to it from the feelings I have about it in light of my own mother's passing. It's easier for me to understand now why it took Trethewey decades to come to terms with the loss of her mother. I don't know how to live my life without my mother, but I had her for sixty years, she was there for me through the biggest events of my life, to show me how to navigate life in all stages. Trethewey had none of that; she was younger than my daughter when she lost her mother. 

As much as this book is a heartbreaking memoir, it is an indictment of the way we deal with mental health and domestic abuse in this country. Very little has changed in the thirty-five years since Trethewey's mother was murdered. How many more women have died in this way since then? How many more children have been left motherless? 

Source: checked out from my local library

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Life: It Goes On - February 28

Happy Sunday! We made it through February, guys; the end of winter is in sight. The snow I thought we might still be looking at in our yard in April is melting fast and a heavy rainfall last night hastened that. It's got me thinking of gardens and evenings on the patio. I need that this year, more than ever. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: My Dear Hamilton, which had me wanting to listen to the Hamilton soundtrack. It was also one of those many things that makes me think of my mom - it's just the kind of book she would have loved. 

Watched: The television's been on but I haven't paid attention to most of what The Big Guy's been watching. Except for Jeopardy, which comes on at the time we're usually eating dinner. Does it make us old people if Jeopardy's the show that you never miss?

Read: I finished When The Stars Go Dark and started The Boy In The Field. I'm reading what's becoming available from the library and what I need to read for Netgalley and they are all things that appeal to me. But I'm not sure they're what I'd pick up in this moment if I didn't have deadlines. On the other hand, I'm not sure what I would pick up right now if I could choose anything. 

Made: This week has been about comfort food and things that are quick and easy to prepare. I just haven't had the energy to cook. But this weekend we went into Lincoln twice to spend time with my brother and his wife while they were there and my brother made a Mexican dish one night and a hamburger soup the second night which were both delicious. 

Enjoyed: An evening on a deck with two of my besties - four hours of the best therapy. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning:
I'm so behind on 40 Bags In 40 Days but today I'm going to finish working on the kitchen and then try to get caught up this week. You all know how much lighter I feel when I declutter!

Thinking About: Gardening and landscaping plans. We started some projects last year that need to get finished and want to put in some new flower beds. 

Feeling: The band I felt around my chest for the first week after my mom died has loosened but I'm still carrying sadness that can overwhelm me at any time. 

Looking forward to: Celebrating Miss H's birthday with her next weekend. 

Question of the week: Any Friends fans out there? Do you know what a Monica closet is? Every time I start 40 Bags, I feel like my whole house is a Monica closet! Do you have one?

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

National Geographic Guide To National Parks of the United States and National Geographic Secrets of the National Parks - Guest Review

National Geographic Guide To National Park of the United States and National Geographic Secrets of the National Parks
Published February 2021 and December 2020 by National Geographic
Source: my copies courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Guide To National Parks of the United States: 
There’s simply no better getaway in the United States than a visit to one of the country’s 62 national parks from Alaska to the Virgin Islands, from Maine to America Samoa. Profiled in this all-new ninth edition of National Geographic’s enduring and informative guide, you’ll find expert travel advice, candid tips for hiking and wildlife spotting, and detailed maps to help navigate your way through America’s great outdoors. Updated throughout with the latest information from park rangers and National Geographic’s own acclaimed travel writers, this fully revised and comprehensive guidebook includes the newest additions to the United States park system-Indiana Dunes, White Sands, and Gateway Arch national parks. Whether you’re looking to explore the underground world of Mammoth Caves or make your way through the mangroves of Everglades National Park, you’ll find a destination that suits your needs, and inspiration to plan your next wild adventure. In addition to park details and descriptions, this sparkling new edition features week-long regional road trip itineraries s so you can visit multiple parks in one vacation. Filled with more than 300 dazzling photographs and 80 full-color maps, this inspiring book reveals the best the United States has to offer-right in its own backyard.

My Thoughts:
NOT my thoughts - again when the ladies from TLC Book Tours contacted me about these books, I knew they'd be right up my husband's alley. So, again, I give you his thoughts: 

I have always been a bit of a geek for reference books like these since the days my parents got Readers Digest books on America and the National Parks.   These books are arranged by sections of the country with excellent index references. The Secrets of the National Parks is an excellent book that is best described by some of the comments on the cover and rear jacket:
Experts' guide to the best experiences beyond the tourist trail
Hundreds of secrets and tips on ways to enrich your visits to National Parks
Expert advice on the best times and places to visit to avoid crowds (one of my favorites)
Useful park maps to locate places of interest and pathways to get there (I've always been a map hound)
Gorgeous photographs of landscapes, wildlife and distinctive features (of course with Nat Geo)
Easy to find listing of visitor center locations, website and contact information
Clearly indicated levels of difficulty for trails, roads and other byways (definitely helpful to be safe)
Background stories and travel suggestions from those who know these parks the best
Comprehensive index for quick and easy access by state, park name or sites featured
I can't really improve on these descriptions as National Geographic has, as you probably know, outstanding writers and obviously photographers. Although Secrets of the National Parks was published first, I'd recommend reading it second - learn the parks in Guide To National Parks then go learn its secrets. Each section in the guide tells you How To Visit, suggestions on when to visit the park, and information on camping and lodging at the park. Each also gives some history of the park. Secrets let's readers in on local intelligence and hiking information. 

These books make me want to go out and see more National Parks and now I feel I have a good guide to better navigate Americas' natural resources, books in tow.  Now hit the road and see some of our National Parks!

Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including us on this tour. For other reviews, check out the full tour.