Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Book Review: "Monticello: A Daughter and Her Father" by Sally Cabot Gunning #Monticello #TLCBooktours

Monticello: A Daughter and Her Father Sally Cabot Gunning
Date finished: June 20, 2017
Date published: September 6, 2016
ISBN: 9780062320452
Genre: Historical Fiction (post-Revolutionary US)
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Novels about the "women behind history," stories about the Founding Fathers, female-centric books

Summary:
After the early death of her mother, young Martha Jefferson accompanied her father, Thomas Jefferson, on his first diplomatic mission to Paris. Five years later, father and daughter have come home to Monticello, the family’s beloved plantation set high in the lush hills of the Virginia countryside. 

Though Monticello has suffered from her father’s absence, Martha finds it essentially unchanged, even as she has been transformed. The sheltered girl that sailed to Europe is now a handsome seventeen-year-old woman with a battle-scarred heart, who sees a world far more complicated than it once seemed. 

Blessed with her father’s sharp mind and independent spirit, Martha has long abhorred slavery and yearned for its swift end. Yet she now discovers that the home she adores is burdened by growing debt and cannot survive long without the labor of its slaves. Her bonds with those around her are shifting, too. As the doting father she has idolized since childhood returns to government, he becomes increasingly distracted by tumultuous fights for power and troubling attachments that pull him further away. And as Martha begins to pay closer attention to Sally Hemings—the beautiful light-skinned slave long acknowledged to be her mother’s half-sister—she realizes that the slave’s position in the household has subtly changed. Eager for distraction, Martha welcomes the attentions of Thomas Randolph, her exotic distant cousin, but soon Martha uncovers burdens and desires in him that threaten to compromise her own.


As her life becomes constrained by the demands of marriage, motherhood, politics, scandal, and her family’s increasing impoverishment, Martha yearns to find her way back to her childhood home; to the gentle beauty and quiet happiness of the world she once knew at the top of her father’s “little mountain.”

My Thoughts:
This is only the 3rd of Gunning's novels that I've read, but she has become one my favorite Historical fiction authors.  She seamlessly weaves historical fact in her novels without sounding the least bit didactic and her characters, even the ones readers think they already know, leap to life on the pages.

Monticello is slightly different from the other Gunning books that I've read (Bound and Benjamin Franklin's Bastard) for two reasons.  First of all it is essentially a Southern novels, whereas Gunning's other novels are set in Philadelphia or on Long Island.  This may not seem like much of a distinction--unless you've lived in the South.  I spent 4 years in Virginia and I have a deep love for the state and the residents, but it is quite different from "the North" (and the Pacific Northwest).  When I first heard of this title, I was a little apprehensive because I wasn't sure that Gunning would be able write what is essentially a Southern novel, but my worries were unfounded.  Gunning is able to capture Virginia in all its beauty and all its flaws.  The place of Monticello is almost its own character and, if you can't afford a trip to Charlottesville, this book is a somewhat close second to being there.

The second way that I found this book to be different is that it is much more character driven.  Much of the story is Martha's view of the world, which could very easily have fallen flat.  I've read too many such books where staying in the head of the characters just become overly tied up in itself.  Gunning is able to escape this trap by not letting Martha wax on too much and having her to take action on her thoughts.  Martha struggles with more than a few things--her aversion to slavery, the situation with Sally Hemmings, her alcoholic husband among these--on her mind, but she also takes action on her thoughts around them.  So, while this is a character-driven novel, the character is a very a strong driver.

I did want to mention the Sally Hemmings aspect.  I've always had a bit of a problem with depictions of the Sally Hemmings/Thomas Jefferson relationship in entertainment.  It is usually told as a love story and I just can't buy that.  There is a "right" answer to what their relationship was, but no one alive really knows that, so authors and filmmakers and whoever are left to speculated.  I get that it could have been that they had a deep loving relationship, but I just don't think it is likely.  I don't see how a slave would ever be in a position to give true consent to a relationship with his or her master.  Yes, I understand that whatever it was began while they were in France and Hemmings was free while there, but Jefferson was still her master and, ultimately, she "chose" slavery.

I bring this up because this was one other thing that I was nervous about when I started this book.  Ultimately, I think that Gunning handled it well.  Martha has some clear animosity towards Sally, which makes sense.  I mean, I can't think of any woman who would have warm fuzzies about their father taking up with a woman her age.  But Martha also has some strong views about slavery and Sally embodies much of the contradictions that Martha is working through.  I found her reaction to Sally to be very realistic.

I don't normally comment on what authors put in the "Author's Note", but I will here.  Gunning addresses the Sally Hemmings issue and, while she comes out more on the romantic side than I would have, I do appreciate that she took the time to think through the problems with Sally Hemmings' relationships with both Thomas Jefferson and Martha Randolph.  If someone were looking for a book that explores Sally Hemmings and the Jeffersons, this is definitely one that I would recommend.

This book was one that I was not able to put down (and the fact that I ended up reading it over Father's Day was an extra bonus) and am so glad that I read.  I highly recommend this to anyone, but especially to those who love Historical Fiction as it is among the best.

About the Author:
A lifelong resident of New England, Sally Cabot Gunning has immersed herself in its history from a young age. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Satucket Novels—The Widow’s War, Bound, and The Rebellion of Jane Clarke—and, writing as Sally Cabot, the equally acclaimed Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard. She lives in Brewster, Massachusetts, with her husband, Tom.


Find out more about Sally at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.



To read other reviews of this title, please visit some of the other stops on the blog tour!


Sunday, June 25, 2017

It's Monday...What Are You Reading? - June 26 #IMWAYR

Okay folks, I'm going to hijack this post for a bit...

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will have notice that things have been pretty quiet around here lately.  Other than Saturday Snapshot posts and the occasional Monday update posts, it's just been crickets.  There are two reasons for this.  Again, regular readers here know that I lost my Mom a couple of months ago and that has thrown me for a loop, to say the least.

The second reason is that the whole reading and reviewing thing just got to be too much for me.  I was constantly on a deadline and no longer had the freedom to just read what I felt like.  I got to the point where I couldn't even bear to pick up a book and I just needed a break.

So, during this break (which lasted longer than I had intended) I thought about what I wanted to do with this blog.  I knew that I didn't want to give up blogging--I've enjoyed the other bloggers that I've met and the outlet it gives me.  However, I didn't want to get back onto the hamster wheel that is book reviewing.  I've also started getting back into writing--something I was devoted to for all of my childhood and that went by the wayside once I got to college (and ended up having to do so much other writing).

With all of this, I decided to make some changes:

  • I won't be posting as many book reviews.  The only reviews that I'll post will be solicited reviews, and I've become very selective on what I accept to review.
  • Saturday Snapshot will stay...as well this Monday update post (or at least I will try to be a bit more regular with this meme!)
  • Books will be featured in a different format.  This could be a group of short reflections on a number of books at once, or grouping books together by theme, or whatnot.  Basically, whatever I feel like...
  • I'll talk about more than just books.  TV, Film, whatever....I'll talk about it all.
  • Eventually I'll be moving the blog.  This one is way down the pipeline, but I'm looking to move the blog and do a revamp.  When I do so (which may be a year from now!), I'll be ditching the "West Metro Mommy" title, although I haven't yet decided what I'll opt for instead.  No worries, I'll give a lot of notice before I do anything.  I have more than a little planning and a multitude of decisions to make on this one.
I'm going to sort of phase all this in during the summer.  My goal is one non-meme post a week until the fall when I hope to ramp it up a bit.  

So, there you go...things are changing, but I'm hoping it will all go fairly smoothly.  There is one little change that has already happened...my Instagram handle is now melinda_ott.  My twitter handle remains @westmetromommy (only because I can't figure out how to change it without just starting a new account).  I'm moderately active on both, so it is an easy way to reach or follow me!

Now...


It's Monday...What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.  Please visit her blog to link up and join the fun!  Also, if you are participating in the meme, please be sure to link to your blog in your comment so that I can visit!





Again, these are not all the books that I'm "currently reading," but rather the books I made progress on this week.  And, again, I have too many books going at once.  ONE DAY, I will get this under control!

I'm reading Kiss Carlo for review and I jumped at the opportunity.  I've enjoyed Adriana Trigiani's books in the past and this one looked like it would be a hit.  I'm only a bit into it so far--I really need to carve some more reading time for me (as opposed to reading to my son) during the day!

Lift and Separate is another blog tour book, although I actually owned my copy before the tour so it was good motivation to push it to the top of my TBR.  I'm really enjoying it--which isn't a surprise as I follow the author on Facebook and she's forking* hilarious.

Each year, our library chooses a book for their Hillsboro Reads program and this year that book was The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates.  I'll be honest, I'd never heard of this book before it was chosen, but I thought I'd give it a try.  It is fascinating so far (again, I need more me-reading time!) and one I think is very important and an excellent tool to understand some of the ills in current American society.

A miracle happened this week and I caught up on all my podcasts, which  meant that I was able to get back to my listening re-read of In Her Shoes.  I still maintain that this is probably my favorite book by Jennifer Weiner and is probably the first one that I recommend to people.  That being said, the narrator (who is not, after all, Karen Ziemba...so disregard the picture) isn't the greatest.  I can't really put my finger on what it is--the only thing I can think of is that she sounds a bit too old.  She's not horrible--and certainly doesn't warrant me to put this aside.  But...I would probably recommend reading rather than listening to this one (unless you get the Karen Ziemba version....)  The movie is also quite good but, really, read the book.

So, that's where I am right now.  This coming week is VBS week, so I may have even less reading time.  I just hope that I don't have to use the same collage....

*Why, yes!  I did binge watch the entire season of The Good Place this week!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Saturday Snapshot - June 24

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Well, it seems like summer has finally arrived here!  We've had a lot of family stuff going on until now with my Mom's memorial, so this has been the first week that has felt like a vacation for the kids.  Here are a few pics from the week...

Here is the Summer Solstice Sunset (say THAT 10 times fast!)

I'm determined not to let my children fall victim to the summer slide

How my daughter has been spending much of her free time--and I cannot complain!

We're heading into a heat wave, but the kids found a way to cool off!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Saturday Snapshot - June 17

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

So, a bittersweet Saturday Snapshot this week.  Tomorrow/Today/Saturday is my mom's memorial service.  I was charged to put together a slide show for it and, in doing so, I came across some old pictures of her.


Here she is with (one her many Boston Terriers named) Bosco

This one had "Our 'boy' Jo" written on the back

I'm not exactly when this picture is taken, but I love that dress!

This was her 3rd birthday. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Saturday Snapshot - June 10

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Every year, I seem to forget how hectic the last few days of school are.  This year was doubly so, thanks to the fact that it is the first year that both kids are in school full-time.  Well, were in school full time.  Yes, folks...we are now in summer mode.  Thursday was the kids' last day of school and here are a few pics of the day...



Our tradition is that we go out for lunch on the last day of school (which is a half-day).  This year, my son chose a local Mexican restaurant or, as he calls it, "the chip place."

This is a pretty important picture--it is the first time my son ever picked up a book without being prompted and actually READ it (instead of just looking at the pictures).  It's amazing to think that he was still working on learning his letters at the beginning of the school year!



Friday, June 2, 2017

Saturday Snapshot - June 3

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Last weekend I was able to actually cross something off my bucket list.  I've been back in Oregon and living in the Portland area for 17 years and, that entire time, I've wanted to visit the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden and never made it.  The park is open all year long, but you really want to go when the rhododendrons are in bloom, roughly April and May.  Well, this past weekend, I pretty much made a demand that my husband take us there...and he obliged!  Well, I will admit that he grudgingly obliged, but he enjoyed it once we were there.







Friday, May 26, 2017

Saturday Snapshot - May 27

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

It has been a lovely week in my neck of the woods--Spring has FINALLY decided to make an appearance.  At home, we are hunkering down for the last few weeks of school (I'm really not ready for summer break). I'm looking forward to a pleasant and relaxing Memorial Day weekend, and hopefully I'l have some pictures from our adventures next week.  In the meantime, here are a few snapshots from this week:

This is Alice's new favorite spot, especially when the weather is warm enough for us to open the windows, but not so warm that we need the air conditioner

This picture really does not do justice for the alfalfa fields in our area (to be fair, it was taken out of a car going about 55mph).  They alfalfa blooms have been gorgeous, although they are starting to fade now.

Our roses are finally blooming!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Saturday Snapshot - May 20

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Well, folks...I had a different post planned for tonight.  Unfortunately, my high-tech method of emailing myself pictures from my phone has failed me (I'm sure the pictures will arrive right after I press "publish" on this post).  So, you get silly (and about 2 year old) pictures of my kids.  Enjoy!






Sunday, May 14, 2017

It's Monday...What Are You Reading? - May 15 #IMWAYR

Happy Mother's Day to all the mother out there (yes, I know that Mother's day was Sunday and this is a Monday post, but I'm typing it up on Sunday evening).  I think the best thing I can say about this Mother's Day is that I got a lot of reading done.  We didn't do much else today, except go out to one of our favorite restaurants for dinner.

Here's a tip...don't go out for dinner on Mother's Day.  The place was crazy busy, which was to be expected.  However, it is a family-run restaurant and I think they gave mom the night off and, well, the men just couldn't cut it.  Luckily, every other meal we've had there has been excellent, so I'm not holding this one against them (especially after they comped my husband's meal--because the forgot it!).

Anyway, onto the week ahead and the update!


It's Monday...What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.  Please visit her blog to link up and join the fun!


The thing about the collage above is that I am not currently, or have not read in the past week, any of these books.  However, this is what I will be reading this week.

I finished 2 books today (more on that below) so I'm starting 2 new books today and/or tomorrow--I may not have time to start both tonight, but we'll see how it goes.  The other two I wasn't able to continue to read this past week, but they are a priority for this coming week.

I realized as soon as it was announced that Paula Hawkins was releasing another book that I had to read it early, before the hype got too bad, or just not read it.  So, when the Book of the Month club offered Into the Water as an add-on this past month, I jumped on it.  It normally takes me a while to get to my BOTM books, but I stuck this one up at the top of the queue.  I think it will be a pretty fast read, so I'm looking forward to that.

I received Kindred through one of my postal book groups, which was providential because I've been wanting to read it for ages!  I already had an eBook version of it, which is what I'll be reading,  I've heard such great things about Octavia Butler and I'm excited to get to know this author's work.

In other news, I've caught up with all my podcasts (there was period in April--read past posts and you'll know why-when I just couldn't concentrate on podcasts, so I had quite the backlog).  Anyway, now that I have that taken care of, I can actually listen to In Her Shoes outside of the gym--which is good because I haven't been so great about going to they gym lately.

This past week was crazy in the after school hours, so we haven't had any opportunities to read any further in Wildwood this week, but my daughter has been asking about it.  So, we're going to make it a priority this week.  Besides, we want to be done with it in time for prime hiking season!

Now, what I finished this week today.  The first was Miss Jane by Brad Watson.  If you follow me on Litsy (please do, I'm MelindaOtt over there), you'll see that this one was only so-so for me.  I enjoyed reading it--the main character was interesting and the writing was complex--but I was still waiting for the story to begin when I got to the last page.

The Girls is this month's selection for my IRL book club (suggested by one of my close friends), and it was fascinating.  If you don't know about it, it's about a girl who is attracted to a cult, which is a fictionalization of the Charles Manson group.  While this was definitely worth the read, the end is pretty brutal.  That, of course, was not surprising, but that didn't make it any easier to get through.







So, that was my week!  I'm hoping to get some more dedicated reading time this week, so we'll see if I can get through a book or two...

Oh, one other thing....I have a small favor to ask.  If you are participating in the IMWAYR meme, can you please somehow let me know what your blog is in your comment?  I can't always visit all the participating blogs each week, but I do make a point to visit those that comment here.  However, I sometimes can't figure out who comes from what blog just from the comments.  Thanks!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Saturday Snapshot - May 13

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Phew!  We are in the home stretch of the school year, which means things are crazy!  When I went through my pictures from the week, I thought I'd actually have more to share.  I actually did have quite a few pictures, but most of them included other people's kids, which I don't like to share.  So, I just have 2 of my own kids...

My kids had their Spring program last Friday and, despite how it appears in this picture, they were very excited.  The primary grades put on a musical called "Noah and the Zoo Cruise for 2" and my daughter had a speaking role and sang a duet. My son was in the chorus and they've been singing the songs ever since.

Today was HAT DAY at school (they are doing an alphabet count down to the last day) and both kids were excited to get some more use out of their Easter Hats.