Sunday, February 28, 2016

It's Monday and we are coming up for air

I am tentatively saying that everyone in my house is healthy for the first time in months. I am slowly digging us out  and doing things like cleaning out my inbox and doing some cleaning/sorting/donating. Hooray!

I am feeling pretty accomplished this week, friends, at least reading-wise. I read the wonderful Flight of Dreams, wrapped up Headstrong, and finally finished the behemoth that is Alexander Hamilton. And then this weekend I read Dorothy Must Die, which had been hanging out on my shelves for a while. 

         Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World Alexander Hamilton 
         Flight of Dreams Dorothy Must Die (Dorothy Must Die, #1)

I didn't get to post quite as much as I hoped for this week, but I did have mini-reviews of Wildflower and Big Magic. I also did my last posts for the Headstrong and Hamilton readalongs.

This week, I am excited to read Mr. Splitfoot and 13 Ways of Looking At A Fat Girl.

                    Mr. Splitfoot   13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl      

What are you reading this week?


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Alexander Hamilton: The End

Well friends, we did it. We read this giant book about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton and 700 and some pages later, we know all about Hamilton's difficult childhood, his determination to make something out of his new nation and himself, and his inability to ever let go of a grudge.

Alexander had a tough last few years. He continued to practice law, including arguing on behalf of a man accused of libeling President Jefferson, and oversaw the rest of the work on the Hamilton family home. Hamilton dreamed of writing his most ambitious work yet - a book that would trace government throughout history.

Aaron Burr knew that Jefferson would not keep him as vice president for a second term, so he decided to run for New York governor. He lost the race, due to lack of support from the Federalists and a spree of libelous campaign literature. But Burr placed the blame squarely on Hamilton's shoulders. While Hamilton did speak out against him, he was certainly not the only reason Burr lost the election.

So now we come to the terrible end that everyone knew was coming. It is a testament to Chernow's writing that I knew what would happen, but still felt a growing dread as I read through the last few chapters. Burr officially challenged Hamilton based on a letter from Charles Cooper, who recounted a conversation where Hamilton repeatedly denounced Burr. There were numerous opportunities for the duel to be resolved peacefully, but rarely has history ever encountered two such stubborn men. If Hamilton had apologized or even just said that he regretted what he had said. Burr fixated on the word "despicable" and Chernow writes that "in a shockingly brief span, the two men had moved to the brink of a duel and were ready to lay down their lives over an adjective."

The two men scheduled the duel for almost a month later because Hamilton felt responsible for completing his pending legal cases. The two men approached their last weeks very differently. Burr continued to be a man around town, visiting his favorite ladies. Some sources say that he also started practicing with pistols. Others, however, say there was no need because Burr was an excellent shot. Hamilton, on the other hand, finished his cases, spent time with his wife and children, visited with his friends, and made sure his affairs were in order.

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton showed up for their duel at Weehawken, New Jersey, at the appointed day and time. Both men fired but apart from that fact, things get murky. Burr supporters say that Hamilton shot first and that is why Burr shot and fatally hit him in the abdomen. Friends of Hamilton, including his second Nathaniel Pendleton, claim that Hamilton always intended to "throw away his shot." The bullet that he fired went very wide and hit a tree. Whether he purposefully missed or shot wildly as a result of being hit is still debated.

Hamilton died 31 hours later, after receiving communion and having the chance to say goodbye to his friends and loved ones. Eliza went on after his death to be a complete and utter awesome human being (if you need details, please listen to "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story" from Hamilton the musical). Burr, on the other hand, was kind of a jerk about the whole thing. He kind of almost said he was sorry...exactly once. Otherwise, he fled because he was possibly being charged with murder and spent the rest of his life making jokes about killing Hamilton and hiding from his creditors because he was in serious debt.

So. We are at the end. I guess we need to ask ourselves if it was worth it to read this giant book, to spend so many hours poring over the Founding Fathers, the Revolutionary War, and the life and times of Alexander Hamilton. I'm going to say yes. I learned a lot. Ron Chernow does a great job of framing our friend AHam so that you learn about his life and about the country that was forming around him. You will learn a ton about early politics and why our country works the way that it does.

I also find myself with so many questions for Lin-Manuel Miranda! He incredibly condensed several hundred pages of history into a musical you can actually sit through. But I want to know some things too and talk about the reasons that he changed the things that he did.

If you are a fan of Hamilton the musical or you are a history lover, come join us on the dark side and read Alexander Hamilton. We have spunky sisters, duels, and Federalists.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Headstrong Part II


It's time to talk about the second half of Headstrong, the book that features awesome lady scientists. We are at the end, and I am really happy I read this book. I would love to make these brilliant women known to other people, especially my children. Because I have one girl and one boy, I realize that it is equally important to teach my daughter and my son that women can do amazing things in science. I hope that when they read books like this one, they won't be surprised at the contributions women have made to scientific fields; instead, they will take for granted that women can be accomplished in any career they choose to pursue.

Here are some of my favorites from these sections:
Irene Joliot-Curie continued the scientific tradition of her family and discovered the first artificially produced radioactive element. Chien-Shiung Wu proved that the nucleus is not symmetrical. Annie Jump Carson categorized hundreds of thousands of stars. Marie Tharp mapped the ocean floor and proved that continental drift was real. Sophie Kowalevski was an important theoretical mathematician and Grace Hopper designed computer programs and worked for the Navy.


1. Did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
I guess it isn't surprising, but I was frustrated by the consistency with which scientists got no credit for their work and had to work as "voluntary unpaid professors." Sigh. On the positive side, I was really impressed by these women who refused to take no for an answer and worked wherever they could, even in home labs or in one case, an actual closet.

2. If you had to go to work in any of the scientific fields described in this book, which one would you choose and why?
I think I would go into medicine. I am fascinated by the way the body works and I was especially impressed by scientists like Florence Nightingale who used science to change the face of public health.

3. Inspired by a comment by Kim of Time 2 Read, I’m curious – How do you feel about Sally Ride’s recommendation that NASA focus their efforts more here on Earth?
 I think it's always going to be about making time for both. We need to explore and care for the planet. We don't have the time or resources to explore the stars if we have destroyed Earth. And I have to imagine that we can learn some things about other planets by looking at our own.

4. Are there any other books that you’d recommend for further reading on science history, especially female scientists?
 This question is making me feel sad, because I'm realizing that I really haven't done a lot of reading about science. The only one I can think of off the top of my head is The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, which is a fun re-imagining told through comics. I'm looking forward to seeing how other readers answer this question, so I can add to my reading list!

Thank you to Katie for hosting this readalong and make sure to visit her blog to find out what other readers thought about Headstrong!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Mini-reviews: Wildflower and Big Magic

In Wildflower, Drew Barrymore writes about her experiences being emancipated at 14, going on a crazy camping trip with Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu, and what she wants to teach her two daughters. This collections of vignettes will give insight to the fan wondering what it is like to work with big Hollywood stars like Adam Sandler but more than that, it gives readers a glimpse into Drew's enthusiasm and big heart.

I have long been a fan of Drew Barrymore. Ever After will forever be one of my favorite movies, and it's quite possible that I adore her in part because people told me I looked like her when I was small. I also may have gone through a very heavy Charlie's Angels phase in high school, where my friends and I actually made a spin-off movie for our film class. This is definitely a book for the fans who love her movies and have followed her sometimes difficult life. While I enjoyed having some new insight into who she is as an actress and as a person, I would have appreciated an editor with a heavier hand. I certainly admire her desire to write the book herself, but her writing is sometimes clunky and I wish someone had told her that exclamation points should be used sparingly in print.

By Drew Barrymore
Dutton October 2015
288 pages
From the library

Elizabeth Gilbert is a much-beloved author and someone who sees the importance of creative living. In Big Magic, she writes about what it means to be creative, how to work through or in spite of our fears,
The book is divided into six parts, including Courage, Permission, Persistence, and Trust.

As someone who majored in theatre, I know it is all too easy to determine our success by our ability to find work in a creative field. I love that Gilbert says that the point of creative living is not becoming a bestselling author or having our painting displayed in a gallery. "I'm talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than fear...And while the path and outcomes of creative living will vary wildly from person to person, I can guarantee you this: A creative life is an amplified life. It's a bigger life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life." Gilbert insists that there is no need to wait for permission from some high arbiter of art - you are ready to create right now, as you are.

It got a little "hippy dippy" for me in some places, where Gilbert explains that ideas are just floating around in the ether, waiting for you to be open and take them in. I liked portions of it, but other sections left me rolling my eyes a bit. This is a great book for the person who is unsure they can be an artist, the one who worries they don't have enough time, or that they aren't good enough.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
By Elizabeth Gilbert
Riverhead Books September 2015
288 pages
From the library

Sunday, February 21, 2016

It's Monday and I'm a bit lethargic

Hey kids. I'm feeling a bit grumpy and lethargic right now. I'm going to chalk it up to someone being sick in my house for the past month or so and just a lot of frustrating stuff going on. I guess the good news is that there is still lots of reading happening in this house. I took the kids to the library this weekend, and current favorites are Mercy Watson and the books of Brian Selznick.

As for me, I read The Gone-Away World and The Bluest Eye. Then I snuck in Nimona on Saturday while I waited for dinner to cook in the crockpot. Yes, I am the last book blogger to read it and yes, I get all the love now.

    The Gone-Away World   The Bluest Eye   Nimona

This week, I participated in Book Blogger Appreciation Week by interviewing Julianne of Outlandish Lit. I reviewed Sara Bareilles' memoir Sounds Like Me and did my weekly check-in of the joys and trials of one Alexander Hamilton.

Now I'm planning to read Ariel Lawhon's Flight of Dreams and Dorothy Must Die. 

         Flight of Dreams (Advance Reading Copy - Not For Sale)   Dorothy Must Die (Dorothy Must Die, #1)        

What are you reading this week?


Friday, February 19, 2016

Review: Sounds Like Me

Sara Bareilles is a singer and songwriter. She was a judge for The Sing-Off and she has written beloved tunes like "Love Song," "Gravity," and "Brave." She is also the composer for the upcoming Broadway musical Waitress. In Sounds Like Me, Sara writes essays about her childhood, her triumphs and failures as a musician, and the professional and personal moments that have shaped her.

I remember finding Sara Bareilles through the most cliché of ways - I heard "Love Song" on the radio and looked it up. But since then, I have been a big fan of her music and I am beyond thrilled that she is trying her hand at musical theatre for the first time.

In these essays, she tells the stories behind her music - the depressed fan who inspired her to write "Satellite Call" and the friend who came out to her family, which made Sara think about what it really meant to be "Brave." Some of this book is straight memoir and some is told by letter, both by Sara herself and from a few other people.

One of my favorite parts was reading about Sara's experiences in Italy. Her junior year of college was spent in Bologna and it was both amazing and terrible. This may be her first book, but I found her descriptions of being lonely and depressed wonderfully written. It is equally gratifying to hear how Sara, like so many of us, came out of the darkness through the beauty and power of music.

Sounds Like Me is a deeply personal book. Each essay is titled with one of Sara's songs, and includes the lyrics in her handwriting and lots of pictures. I loved that the voice of the writer in this book is the same as the voice in her songs - strong, lovely, and precise. That's how you know this is her book, and not the work of a ghostwriter.

This is a must-read for anyone who has ever sung along to Sara's music in the car or in the darkness of a concert hall. While it is specifically about becoming confident as a musician, it is universally about growing into your own skin and having the courage to speak up for what you want and what you want to accomplish.

Sounds Like Me
By Sara Bareilles
Simon and Schuster October 2015
186 pages
Read via Netgalley/my own copy

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Alexander Hamilton: Chapters 32-38

So. This is the second to last time that we will rehash the joys and trials of one Alexander Hamilton, as recounted by Mr. Ron Chernow. That makes me feel a little bit of this:

But it also makes me feel a lot like this:

 Last time we saw our friend AHam, the government was a giant mess. The Federalists were fighting the Republicans and the Republicans were fighting back in an equally nasty manner. This seems like ancient history, right? Sigh....Anyway, the two sides continued to battle over federal vs. state control and The Sedition Act, which punished those who spoke up against the government. 

In these chapters, we also see Alexander and Eliza begin some of the charity work they would be remembered for. Alexander resumed his work with the Manumission Society. Although most Northern states had abolished slavery or were in the process of doing so, the society ran a school and worked to prevent New York slaveholders from selling their slaves down South. Eliza began working with the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children, which may have been the first organization of women helping women in NYC. 

But while we see Alexander and Eliza helping others out, we simultaneously see Aaron Burr helping himself. He proposed a plan for a water company, which would help stem the frequent outbreaks of yellow fever that broke out in New York City. But Burr had no intention of actually starting a water company. Instead, he used the company as a shell for creating a bank that would be controlled by the Republicans. And because nothing can happen to Hamilton and co. without a duel, Burr and Alexander's brother-in-law John Church had a duel because Church said that Burr had taken a bribe. The two men each shot the first time without injuring the other, and Church apologized. 

Hamilton and Washington were working to build an army in case of French invasion, but President Adams made it a moot point by choosing diplomacy and sending an ambassador to France. This ends in truly explosive fashion, as Hamilton and Adams display that neither of them can keep their temper. The confrontation that the two men had destroyed any chance of peace between the two of them. Congress soon gave Adams the power to disband the army and Alexander went back to practicing law.

Now it's election time. It's long and drawn out, but it's basically between Jefferson and Burr. Aaron gets points for basically being awesome at campaigning, but alas, it's not enough. As we all know, Jefferson wins the presidency in 1800.

Adams doesn't really end his presidency on a high note. He cleans out his cabinet of everyone who supported Hamilton. They responded by sending Hamilton all of the inside information about Adams being crazy and mean to his cabinet members. AHam knew that Adams frequently said that he was working for the British. Hamilton wrote a scathing account of Adams, but he never expected it to go public. When it did, it ruined the Federalist party and all of Hamilton's political ambitions. 

The last chapter is the saddest so far, because we say goodbye to the handsome if impetuous Philip Hamilton. He continues the proud and stupid family tradition of dueling. The loss had long-lasting repercussions for the family. Eliza and Hamilton both fell into deep depression and Philip's sister Angelica suffered a nervous breakdown that she never recovered from. This is a sad place to leave Alexander and Eliza, because we know things are only going to get worse from here...

As always, please visit Reading Rambo to see what other readers thought. Until next week, intrepid Hamilton fans!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Book Bloggers Appreciation Week: Interviews

Hello fellow books bloggers!

Today is Day 2 of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, so we are interviewing each other to get the scoop on everything you always wanted to know about book blogging. I got to chat with Julianne of Outlandish Lit. We are probably literary opposites - Julianne adores anything weird and creepy, while scary books make me want to sleep with all the lights on. She reviews lots of weird and unexpected stories and you know, does makeup tutorials in her spare time because she is awesome.


How do you pick your next book?
Oh god, a question I've never known how to answer haha. I mostly tend to decide based on whether or not it's an ARC that's going to be published soon or if it's a library book due back soon. Boring answer, I know. I make my decisions based on fear.

Where do you like to read? 
I used to do most of my reading on the subway in Chicago. It was super hard to adjust to a life without a 80 minute commute every day, because I had to start actively making time to read. So now I like to do most of it on my enormous couch. Or outside when it's not winter (and it's always winter in Minnesota sooo).

What genres do you like to read and why? Which genres do you shy away from and why?
I like literary fiction that's a little weird. I also like science fiction and horror, and some fantasy every once in a while. I really appreciate books that are speculative and that really utilize the form of writing to create slightly unreal realities to comment on how things actually are. Genres I shy away from... Romance, because my heart is cold and just listening to Prince songs makes me blush.  

How do you go about writing a review?
Begrudgingly haha. I spend approximately 30 minutes whining to whoever is nearby about how I don't want to write a review. Then I focus for a second and start writing about why I did or didn't want to read the book in question. After that, the review just kind of starts to flow. Then, of course, I make somebody read it to make sure it is just the right amount of rambly.

Why do you blog? 
I blog because I've always tried to create spaces for myself when I couldn't find any already available to me. At first I just wanted to encourage myself to read more, but then I saw a pretty big void in spaces where weird adult literary fiction and science fiction is talked about (plus reality TV every once in a while). So I went ahead and created the kind of blog I wanted to see. And I don't want to be cheesy and say if you build it they will come or whatever, but I've met so many like-minded people through my blog and that's all I could have ever hoped for when I began.

I'm so glad I got to know Julianne a bit better. Go check out her blog or say hi to her on Twitter @OutlandishLit! 

Monday, February 15, 2016

It's Monday and I haven't finished a book this week...

This was a weird reading week for me. I realized somewhere around Wednesday that I hadn't really been reading anything. I picked up The Gone-Away World and I'm really enjoying it, but it's not exactly a speedy read. I'm about halfway through it, so hopefully I will finish it soon!

On the blog in the past few days, I reviewed Twain's End and checked in for the readalongs of Alexander Hamilton and Headstrong.

                                             The Gone-Away World       

This week, I'm hoping to read The Bluest Eye and Ariel Lawhon's upcoming Flight of Dreams

           The Bluest Eye   Flight of Dreams (Advance Reading Copy - Not For Sale)         

It's Book Blogger Appreciation Week! Today is the first day and we are supposed to pick five books that represent us. This was a surprisingly difficult thing to narrow down!

I think the books that impacted me the most as a child were the Narnia books and A Wrinkle in Time. Narnia taught me to expect world-building and magic to amaze me and A Wrinkle in Time made me believe that girls could be complicated and spunky and heroes. As an adult, I love nonfiction that stretches me and makes me think about life in new ways; The Empathy Exams is a great example of this. I read a lot of fiction. I tend to gravitate toward really excellent historical fiction like A Constellation of Vital Phenomena or People of the Book. 

Are you taking part in Book Blogger Appreciation Week? What are you reading right now?


Friday, February 12, 2016

Headstrong: The First Post


Happy Friday, everyone! I'm reading Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science - and the World as part of the readalong at Doing Dewey Decimal. The book is written sort of like an encyclopedia, with a few pages about each woman. I feel like I am learning a lot, although I am so frustrated that this is the first time I'm hearing about the majority of these scientists.

The encyclopedia-like format is a great way to learn, but I'm finding it hard to keep track of who did what. In an effort to combat that a little bit, I've started telling my eight year old about some of these women. Teaching someone else is a really good way to retain information and I'm glad to know my son will know about scientists besides Einstein and Tesla.

The first few sections are about scientists who worked in the fields of medicine, biology, the environment, and genetics and development. Mary Putnam Jacobi disproved the idea that women couldn't work in science because of their periods, Alice Ball figured out a way to successfully deliver medication to patients with leprosy, Helen Taussig was the first pediatric cardiologist, and of course, Virgina Apgar was the scientist who determined that babies needed to be examine after birth and the namesake of the Apgar Test. Mary Anning was an early paleontologist, Ellen Swallow Richards fought for safe drinking water and healthy cooking, Rita Levi-Montalcini studied the spinal cord and nervous system, and Ann McClaren was a pioneer of in vitro fertilization.

Here are the discussion questions for this week:
  1. What did you think of the obit beginning with Brill’s domestic accomplishments?                                                                                                                  I think it was really striking to see a literal rocket scientist celebrated for her parenting and cooking skills instead of her scientific accomplishments. It's horrifying, but I think it really exemplifies how women's accomplishments are ignored or credited to their male counterparts. 
  2. How do you like the vignette style of this book?                                                                                                                                        It's a great way to dispense a lot of information, but I find myself forgetting the names of the women or exactly what each one did. I feel like I need to take some serious notes, just like cramming for a test in high school or college.                                                                      
  3. Do you have a favorite story so far? If so, which one and why?                                             I don't think I have a favorite, but I am thrilled to be learning about so many amazing women and the incredible things they accomplished. I can definitely see having my daughter read this some day (you know, when she's older than 2 and can actually read...). 
  4. Do you think something should be done today about the many female scientists who are known not to have received the credit they were due in their time, from paper authorships to Nobel prizes?                                                    Sure, although I'm not sure what that would be. I think, unfortunately, a superior taking credit for the work of someone else in their department is still pretty commonplace in the sciences and other fields.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    What do you think about the way women in the sciences have been treated? Do you have a favorite female scientist we should all be reading about?           

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Hamilton: Chapters 27-31

Alexander Hamilton     

At the end of the last chapter, Hamilton left the government...sort of. He went home and started working as a lawyer again. But Hamilton being Hamilton means that he still had a finger in every proverbial pie - he often wrote letters to the cabinet members, Washington, and President Adams himself in an effort to shape policy and guide major decisions.

The crux of these few chapters is the evolving relationship between America and Britain and America and France. John Jay, he of the five federalist papers, wrote a treaty between the U.S. and Britain. As per usual, any political act makes the Federalists and the Republicans fight. Hamilton can't resist getting in the middle and inevitably ends with him challenging people to duels. He also picks up his pen and starts writing a defense of the treaty under the name "Camillus." He also picked a second pen name, under which he could write articles that celebrated how wonderful the Camillus articles were. Never let it be said that Hamilton was not a self-appreciative man.

AHam continues to fight with Jefferson and then with President Adams. While Chernow obviously roots for Hamilton in these altercations, it seems like all of the men involved were focused on achieving their own goals, regardless of the casualties. When their opponent stood in their way, they went on the attack with the lowest blows possible instead of wondering if the other man might be trying to help the country in a different way.

The last big thing in this section was the Americans planning to go to war with the French. Things were going downhill fast, and Washington and Hamilton were asked to lead the army if needed. Hamilton is running his crazy brain again, coming up with ideas for a military academy and the veterans' administration. Even this far into the book, it's incredible to see how many different facets of life and government Hamilton thought about.

One of the most interesting things for me was realizing how much information Lin-Manuel Miranda condensed when writing the musical version. From just listening to the soundtrack, it seems like things move pretty quickly from Hamilton fighting the Republicans in the cabinet to his affair with Maria Reynolds to the revelation of the affair to his son's death. But there is A LOT here that isn't covered in the musical. Can you imagine if everything was put to music? We would be sitting in that theater for 12 hours...

Best part of this section? I think it's Alexander and George Washington being buddies. Now that they have both stepped down from politics (?), they can write sweet letters to each other and George can send a wine cooler of support to Alex and Eliza when his stupid, beloved Hamilton publishes the Reynolds Pamphlet.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Review: Twain's End

Isabel Lyon was hired as a secretary for Mrs. Clemens, wife of the famous and much-loved Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). When she begins her assignment, she finds that Mrs. Clemens is very ill and her real task will be maintaining the Clemens household, which includes covering up the impetuous whims of Samuel and daughter Clara, and ensuring care for the lady of the house and her epileptic daughter.

This is a well-written story, but if you are a person who adore Mark Twain or someone who prefers a likeable character, this may not be the book for you. Ms. Cullen portrays a man who is incredibly selfish, pompous, and obsessed with the way he is perceived by his fans. Isabel is a tough protagonist to follow - she is consistently explaining away the awful, hurtful behavior of the entire Clemens family. Cullen seems to have done a lot of research, looking at the letters and diaries. But it seems like the focus is on the cruel, self-centered moments of each person, with little time spent on any times that may have redeemed them.

Within Twain's End, the reader learns some lesser-known and really fascinating details about the author. He was friends with Helen Keller, started a sort of fan club for himself of young girls, and was convinced that he would die with the return of Halley's Comet. But the most striking thing in this novel is the contrast between the much-loved author and the fearful, paranoid man that his family knew. This book will make you wish for better things for Isabel Lyons and Samuel Clemens, and it will certainly make you think differently about the beloved author we all thought we knew. 

Twain's End
By Lynn Cullen
Gallery Books October 2015
352 pages
Read via Netgalley

Sunday, February 7, 2016

It's Monday; let's talk books!

Hello again, literary gals and guys. How are things in your neck of the woods?

I think the general mood in our house is exhausted. It feels like someone or multiple someones has been sick for forever and life just didn't stop to compensate. I would gladly take a few days to sleep, get the house back in order, and just catch up on life. I'm hoping February and March are a bit kinder.

This week, I read The Hours Count and Making It Home. Both were good, although the second was "ignore everything on a Sunday afternoon until you finish" good. On the blog, I posted about chapters 20-26 of Alexander Hamilton and reviewed The Queen of the Night

          The Hours Count    Making It Home

I have two long-term reads going right now. The first is Alexander Hamilton, which I am reading along with the other history fans at Reading Rambo. The second is Headstrong, a look at the often forgotten female scientists who have changed the world. That readalong is hosted by Doing Dewey Decimal.

         Alexander Hamilton   Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World

Next up for me is The Gone-Away World, from my shelves, and The Bluest Eye, which will be my first Morrison. I know, I know, I will be returning my English degree shortly...

           The Gone-Away World    The Bluest Eye 

What are you reading this week?


Friday, February 5, 2016

Hamilton: Chapters 20-26

Alexander Hamilton   

So my household was hit with two different plagues. Much like Aaron Burr with his heatstroke, I stayed home and tried to keep it together for the next several months....oh no, I'm sorry. We just took a week. But you do you, Aaron Burr.

Anyway, I did the reading for last week but didn't find time to write anything. This week, I am back. This is good because we need to talk about Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson's tendency to act like middle school kids. These six chapters seemed to be mostly Washington pleading with his kids to get along. They said they would try, and then went back to pulling each other's hair and writing in their burn books. Of course, the eighteenth century equivalent of that was each supporting a newspaper whose main purpose was to write nasty things about the other under clever ancient pen names. 

We read a lot in these chapters about the French Revolution and America trying to decide exactly how cozy it is willing to get with England and/or France. Jefferson seemed to think France and the revolution was great, even after heads started to roll. Hamilton, as usual, reminds him that the government needs some power or you are advocating for anarchy. This comes in handy when a giant feud breaks out over a whiskey tax. AHam and Washington get to play soldiers again as they assemble America's armed forces for the first time and quash the rebellion.

As I was reading this week, I realized that Aaron Burr is not as central of a character in this book as he is in the musical. I find it so fascinating that Lin-Manuel Miranda decided to make him the narrator and really, the second protagonist. However, Aaron Burr does play into the Maria Reynolds drama when he becomes her lawyer. It's tough to tell if Maria was or is being portrayed as a victim or a wily woman determined to get ahead. Regardless, it's difficult to read about, because I have a lot of respect for Eliza (as one should).

When we reach the end of this section, Hamilton is retiring from the government. I am simultaneously excited and nervous to discover what shenanigans he will get himself into next...

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Review: The Queen of the Night

Lilliet Berne is a renowned soprano who has carefully built her career and built a public persona. When she is approached at a ball about originating a role in a brand new opera, she is thrilled at finally achieving the last honor for a singer. But as Lilliet listens to the story line of the opera, she realizes with panic that it is the story of her own life. Thousands of people may have heard her sing, but only four people know the truth of her past - one loves her, one wants to possess her, one has likely forgotten her, and one is dead. Lilliet traces her life back to its painful beginning as she confronts each person who truly knows her. As she does, she takes readers from the ring of a circus tent to the secret corridors of palaces and onto the stage of the Paris Opera.

The Queen of the Night promised to check off many of my literary loves. A book about music and the opera? Check. Historical fiction? Check. Secrets and a carefully crafted persona? Check. Phantom of the Opera vibes? Check.

Alexander Chee appears to have great fun tossing readers down one rabbit hole after another. Because Lilliet is thinking backwards, she starts to explain one thing but then detours to explain something else first. The stories themselves are so interesting that the reader doesn't even mind taking so many stops on the trip. Mr. Chee has done an immense amount of research and each place he takes us is meticulously and wonderfully crafted.

Lilliet is constantly discovering the power of  having a voice and the power of silence, As a Falcon soprano, her voice is one that can sing a greater range than most singers but it also means that her voice is more prone to injury and a short career. As her singing brings her acclaim, she also finds that people in power want to use her voice and her influence for their own ends.

The Queen of the Night feels like an opera. There is passionate love and great tragedy, bold characters, twists and turns, and beautiful moments worthy of an aria. It is sprawling and ambitious and delicious. This is the kind of book that you will be happy to get lost inside. 

The Queen of the Night
By Alexander Chee
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt February 2016
576 pages
Read via Netgalley