Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Book Review: "Lift And Separate" by Marilyn Simon Rothstein #TLCBookTours #LiftAndSeparate

Lift And Separate Marilyn Simon Rothstein
Date Finished: July 5, 2017
Date Published: December 1, 2016
ISBN: 9781503940307
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy / TLC Book Tours
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Stories about women of a certain age, books that balance humor and emotions

Summary:
Marcy Hammer’s life has been turned upside down. Her husband, the head of a global brassiere empire, didn’t think twice about leaving her after thirty-three years of marriage for a 32DD lingerie model. Now Harvey the Home-Wrecker is missing in action, but Marcy’s through thinking about what a cliché he is. What she needs now is a party-size bag of potato chips, a good support system, and a new dress.


Striking out on her own is difficult at first, but Marcy manages to find traces of humor in her heartbreak. Even while devastated by Harvey’s departure, she still has her indomitable spirit and her self-respect. She has no intention of falling apart, either, even when her adult children drop a few bombshells of their own and she discovers a secret about her new, once-in-a-lifetime friend. Life may be full of setbacks, but by lifting herself up by her own lacy straps, Marcy just may be able to handle them all.

My Thoughts:
This is a book that had been on my radar for quite some time--I mean, just look at that title.  I also follow the author on Facebook (she is hilarious), so I felt like it was going to be the perfect vacation read.  And it was, but it wasn't quite what I expected.  I went into reading this thinking it would be a light romp featuring a more mature heroine.  Instead, I found a more thought-provoking and sensitive novel, which still led me to laugh more times than I could count.

I appreciate that Rothstein was able to balance humor and seriousness.  The scenario of a long-standing marriage in jeopardy is not a funny one and Rothstein never tries to make light of it.  Instead, the humor comes from Marcy's insight and reactions.  Not only does this lighten the mood, but it adds great depth to Marcy.  I found her to be a believable and sympathetic character, and one that I rooted for.

Around Marcy is a colorful cast of characters.  Rothstein hits the sweet spot for the size of her supporting cast.   Every character plays an integral role in Marcy's life and they help to propel the plot forward.  Each person was distinct and fleshed out, with the exception of Harvey.  But, honestly, this book isn't about Harvey.  He's obviously important to the situation, but what is going through his mind isn't important to the story.

Once I was able to devote time to this book, I was hooked.  The plot moves smoothly and swiftly and Marcy's experiences were authentic and believable.  There were many times when I really wasn't sure what decision Marcy would make and, even if I didn't agree with what she chose, I could still believe that she would choose it.

This was an entertaining novel with more depth than I expected.  It is one that I would recommend to anyone wanting something humorous and deceptively un-fluffy.

I purchased my own copy of this book, but I was solicited for this honest review.




If you would like to read more about this book, please visit some of the other stops on the blog tour.


Thanks to TLC Book tour, I have one print copy of Lift And Separate for one of my viewers.  This giveaway is open to readers in the US and Canada and will run until midnight (Pacific Time) on July 25.




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Friday, July 14, 2017

Saturday Snapshot - July 15

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.

Here are a few more pictures from the 4th of July, but from earlier in the day.  That morning we took the kids on a little hike on Bainbridge Island.  The hike was in Grand Forest Park and our guidebook indicated a 2 mile trail.  I think we may have not done exactly what it said, but it was still a nice walk.

Setting off on the trail

We found this decorated bench less than a mile into our hike


I'm  not really sure what the story about this is--maybe they are trying to summon their own Blair Witch?--but my kids contributed to the stone towers!


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Book Review: "Kiss Carlo" by Adriana Trigiani #KissCarlo #TLCBookTours

Kiss Carlo Adriana Trigiani
Date Finished: July 4, 2017
Date Published June 20, 2017
ISBN: 9780062657275
Genre: Historical Fiction (mid-20th Century USA)
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Stories about big families, novels about the theater, coming of age books,

Summary:
It’s 1949 and South Philadelphia bursts with opportunity during the post-war boom. The Palazzini Cab Company & Western Union Telegraph Office, owned and operated by Dominic Palazzini and his three sons, is flourishing: business is good, they’re surrounded by sympathetic wives and daughters-in-law, with grandchildren on the way. But a decades-long feud that split Dominic and his brother Mike and their once-close families sets the stage for a re-match.

Amidst the hoopla, the arrival of an urgent telegram from Italy upends the life of Nicky Castone (Dominic and his wife’s orphaned nephew) who lives and works with his Uncle Dom and his family. Nicky decides, at 30, that he wants more—more than just a job driving Car #4 and more than his longtime fiancée Peachy DePino, a bookkeeper, can offer. When he admits to his fiancée that he’s been secretly moonlighting at the local Shakespeare theater company, Nicky finds himself drawn to the stage, its colorful players and to the determined Calla Borelli, who inherited the enterprise from her father, Nicky must choose between the conventional life his family expects of him or chart a new course and risk losing everything he cherishes.

From the dreamy mountaintop village of Roseto Valfortore in Italy, to the vibrant streets of South Philly, to the close-knit enclave of Roseto, Pennsylvania, to New York City during the birth of the golden age of television, Kiss Carlo is a powerful, inter-generational story that celebrates the ties that bind, while staying true to oneself when all hope seems lost.

Told against the backdrop of some of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies, this novel brims with romance as long buried secrets are revealed, mistaken identities are unmasked, scores are settled, broken hearts are mended and true love reigns. Trigiani’s consummate storytelling skill and her trademark wit, along with a dazzling cast of characters will enthrall readers. Once again, the author has returned to her own family garden to create an unforgettable feast. Kiss Carlo is a jubilee, resplendent with hope, love, and the abiding power of la famiglia.

My Thoughts:
Oh, I love me some Adriana Trigiani!  There are few authors who can create such lively personalities and families that I just want to crawl into the book and live with them.  Kiss Carlo is no exception!  This epic book follows Nicky Castone, the Palazzini family and the Borelli theater company as they navigate their way through the wilds of mid-century Philadelphia (okay, I know Philly doesn't sound too exotic, but it really works here).

I have read many, but not all, of Trigiani's books and this is the first one where the clearly main character is a man.  In my experience, writers who generally focus on main characters of one gender try writing a main character of the other gender sometimes have problems.  Trigiani does not--Nicky is a fun, likable, and believable young man.  He's the sort of guy who could easily step into the "book boyfriend" role, yet still comes across as complex.

Like many of Trigiani's other works, this one features a large cast of supporting characters.  Most of the characters fall into one of two categories: the Palazzini family or the Borelli theater company.  I will admit that some of Nicky's male cousins ran together in my mind, but their wives were all distinct and interesting, as well as his matriarchal Aunt.

Despite having so many characters, as interesting as they are, Trigiani is still able to tell a fairly well-defined story.  There are a few things that either should have been better integrated or omitted--mainly the split within the Palazzini family that seems to be mentioned at the beginning and again at the end, but not really at any point in between.  Even though this book is a bit of a chunkster, I enjoyed the narrative so much that I would not have minded more pages to expand on that plot point.

I'm always a little wary of movies made from books, but this is the first novel that I've read in quite some time where I realized that it would make an excellent film!  The plot moves at the right clip that would translate well to the screen and, well, Nicky is so wonderful that I want to actually see him.  So, for all you film execs who read this review, you know what to do!

All in all, Kiss Carlo was the perfect book, both heartwarming and enthralling.  I would invite anyone to crawl inside this world to experience it for yourself.

About the Author:
Adriana Trigiani is the bestselling author of 17 books, which have been published in 36 countries around the world. She is a playwright, television writer/producer and filmmaker. She wrote and directed the film version of her novel Big Stone Gap, which was shot entirely on location in her Virginia hometown. She is co-founder of the Origin Project, an in-school writing program that serves more than a thousand students in Appalachia. She lives in Greenwich Village with her family.

Visit Adriana at her website: www.adrianatrigiani.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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

To read more about this title, check out some of the other stops on the blog tour!





Friday, July 7, 2017

Saturday Snapshot - July 8

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.

I'm writing this on July 5th, up at my father-in-law's house...I thought I'd better get this post ready to go in case things get crazy on Friday (the plan is that we will still be here, but that may change) and I don't get a post up in time.

Anyway, we had a great 4th up here..the weather cooperated (which is always a big question mark!) and my husband had a good stockpile of explosives to entertain the kids.  Here are a few pics from the day...

We pulled the kids away from their shenanigans just long enough to get one family picture!

A lot of the fireworks we had this year were ones that my husband purchased in Oregon and brought up.  Oregon has much stricter fireworks laws, which meant we had a lot of fountains (but we also had some mortars from Washington!)

I'm not super happy about this, but here is my husband teaching my son how to set off bottle rockets....


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

My 2016/2017 Television Report Card

I actually don't watch that much television, partially because I don't have the opportunity (4 people in one house with 2 televisions means that at least one person doesn't have the remote control) and partially because I'm as persnickety about what I watch as I am about what I read.  Let me tell you folks, I can be a real joy when you make me watch something I don't think is up to snuff.

This past television season, I decided to keep track of what I watched, whether I finished the season, and what I thought.  And you, my friends, are the lucky recipients of my judgments!

A couple quick disclaimers.  First of all, these are only network shows, although some of them I streamed and/or binged.  I'll probably do a post on my streaming shows in the future--but, for the purposes of this post, it is hard to equate them with broadcast shows.  Also, I have 2 shows at the end which don't quite fit in...because I either haven't finished or haven't started the current season, which I will explain when I get there.

Got it?  Good.  Here is what I watched this year, in objective alphabetical order.


The Big Bang Theory
This is really a standard for me.  Let's just say my husband has some Sheldon-tendencies (and I often feel like Amy), so some of the jokes really hit home.  All that being said, I was pretty meh on this season.  There were some funny episodes but, more often than not, things fell flat for me.  I know this is almost blasphemous, but I think it is time for them to end this show.  With comedies, there is a point when they get too far from their original premise and this show is there.  Still, the season finale was fabulous!


Black-ish
I actually didn't start watching this show until last summer, when I streamed the first 2 seasons so that I could be up-to-date when the 3rd season started.  Like, The Big Bang Theory, this show had its high points--but more often than not it didn't live up to previous seasons.  Plus, there was a period in the middle of the year where they obviously shuffled some episodes--which is normally fine, except the lead female character (not actress, just the character) was pregnant, so she would be more pregnant in one episode, and less pregnant in the next...which is very strange...

Designated Survivor
I will admit that the pilot for this show was fabulous.  I think I forced house guests watch it...  Unfortunately, it quickly went downhill after that.  It was so terrible at its mid-season hiatus, that I had decided to turn it off--until I heard that they were bringing in new show runners.  And, it was better when it came back--for about 2 episodes before it started sliding again.  Finally, I just gave up on it....  I didn't make it through the first season and it won't be returning to my TV next season.

Downward Dog
I know I've been rather negative so far (and, trust me, I'll be getting a heck of a lot more negative later...), but if I had to choose my best show of the year, it would be this one.  It's about a woman and her dog...from the dog's point of view.  It has so much heart and humor that I can hardly bear it...and, I'm guessing because of all that heart and humor, ABC canceled it.  Of course they did...  The good news--or at least the prospect of good news--is that they are shopping the show to other networks, so hopefully we haven't seen the end of Nan and Martin yet.  If you haven't seen this, you must check it out.  It is available both on OnDemand and Hulu.

The Good Place
The season for this show ended in January, but I watched the entire season over 3 days last week after hearing people gush over it.  It's definitely unique and pretty dang funny. If you aren't aware of the premise, it is set in the afterlife (where no one can swear, and now I say, "What the fork?" far too often!) and, well, that's all I'll say about it.  The season finale was especially good and it will definitely be on my viewing list next season.


Great News
You may have missed this one as NBC ran double episodes for about 6 weeks at the end of the season.  Basically, it is 30 Rock set in a TV newsroom.  With an overbearing mother.  I'll be honest, it didn't work for me more often than not.  The 30 Rock comedy doesn't easily translate from musical variety set to new set and I didn't find the main character that interesting.  However, Tina Fey is supposed to appear next season, so I may stick with it a bit longer.

Me...after this season ended....
Grey's Anatomy
Folks, I have been with this show from the beginning...that's is 13 seasons/12.5 years.  I've been with this show longer than I've been with my husband and I've sat through the great, the good, and the musical episode (just thinking of that makes  me itch).  This past season was...forking terrible!  Honestly, nothing happened.  Other than one plot point, which was basically dropped when it should not have been, the show was in exactly the same place at the end of the season finale that it was at the beginning of the season premiere.  Plus, there were so many dropped story lines and mind-bendingly bad attempted couplings that I just wanted to rip my hair out.

But, here's the thing.  I've been with this show so long that I'm not going to stop watching.  Probably the only thing that would get me to turn it off is that if they decided to embrace rape culture by having one character sexually assault another and then have the two fall in love.

Speaking of which....

Grimm
Sigh.  I'm going to try to contain myself here....

Oh, forget it...there's no way I can control my anger and frustration over this one.

Here's the deal...I really love the cast of this show and it was filmed here in Portland and I'm all about supporting the entertainment industry here.  But then this happened....and I turned it off.  The ratings for the previous season swirled down the crapper and, while it was renewed for another season, the series order was cut in half and it was announced that this past season would be the last one.

I knew I shouldn't tune back in, but...as I said, I love this cast.   And I hoped that the abysmal ratings for the previous season would have convinced that show runners that, no matter what 15 or so people on Twitter said, pairing a rapist and her victim was not a good idea.

Wrong. Wrong.. WRONG.

I turned it back on and, yep, they were still pushing the rapemance and for that, the show runners--David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf--will never be forgiven...and their work will never be allowed on my screen again (of course, with my luck, they'll hire the same cast for their next project...).  Just pulling that stunt should get them blacklisted from every network.  As long as networks (prime time AND daytime...I know what goes on in the soaps!) continue to allow this, they will continue to support rape culture, and that cannot be tolerated.

But enough of that...for this post (trust me, ranting and raving about that will never be enough).  There were plenty of other problems with this show.  First of all, the show runners do not have the ability to tell a story.  We're talking hundreds of dropped story lines (yes, there are lists of them out there), no adherence to any sort of logic, no rules to the universe, as well as superfluous characters, blatantly stolen plot devices, and character assassinations/miraculous redemptions (both of which are signs of unskilled and lazy crafting).  If this were a book, there isn't an agent around that would risk their career by trying to shop it around.

And the writing...oh, lordy!  You know, the series started out strong enough but somewhere around the end of the third or beginning of the fourth season, they seemed to have replaced their writers with 3rd graders learning cursive.  Well, during the 5th season (I turned it off 2 episodes into that season), they apparently replaced their 3rd graders learning cursive with kindergartners learning their alphabets.  Folks, I cannot tell you how horrendous the dialogue and scripting was in this show--I think I spent the entire time watching this with a cringe on my face from the unbelievably corny dialogue.  I know that I haven't seen every show there is, or even the smallest percentage, but of what I have seen, I can say that Grimm had the worst story-crafting and writing of any scripted show.

As with season 5, I made it 2 episodes into the 6th--and final--season before I realized that I just could.not.do.it.  My life is too short to waste on offal like this.  Plus, my family really didn't deserve to live with me for about 2 days after I watched an episode.  I think I'm just going to stop acknowledging that seasons 5 and 6 exist and that the show ended after season 4.

So, I wish the cast the best and I'll be watching to see where they land and I'll watch them in anything--as long as it has nothing to do with David Greenwalt and/or Jim Kouf.

(Okay, shake it off!  Shake it off!)

(Also, I'm sorry if I insulted any 3rd graders or kindergartners.  I know that any child could come up with a better story than what I found in this show).

Life in Pieces
On a more positive note...I watched both seasons of this one in the past couple months.  I don't know how I missed this when it started last year, but it is absolutely....frighteningly delightful.  Look, sometimes shows are just so true that they are painful and that is this show (at times).  I'm saying all this in the best possible light!  Family comedies are my favorite types of sitcoms and this one definitely ranks up there.

Making History
I think my original description of this show, "It's like Timeless, except it is a comedy...on FOX" pretty much says it all.  The first 2 or 3 episodes--where the time travelers accidentally prevent the American Revolution and then have to start it, are pretty hilarious.  After that, though...it doesn't work at all.  It is no surprise that it was canceled pretty quickly.

Modern Family
With the exception of the pregnancy, pretty much everything I said about Black-ish could be said about Modern Family.  Still, though, I have to love Ty Burrell and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.  And, honestly, all shows have seasons that don't work as well as others and, ultimately, I still think this one is worth watching.





Pitch
I had high hopes for this one and we started watching it but, frankly, I just never felt compelled to tune back into it.  I wish I could give you an actual reason, but I just can't put my finger on what was not working for me in this show.  Too bad....

Powerless
What a weird little show.  It's a sitcom set in the DC universe with sort of second (or fourth) string characters.  So it is sort of like the DC version of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, except it is a completely different sort of show.  I mean, we really liked it.  Unfortunately, not enough other people liked it and it was canceled before all the episodes had even aired.




Superior Donuts
I watched two episodes.  I laughed once.  How this was renewed and Downward Dog was not will never make sense to me.... (Yes, I know they were on different networks...but there is still no fairness in the universe).

Timeless
Before the season started, this was the show I was most looking forward to watching.  Time travel?  Yes please!  But, I barely made it halfway into the season.  I wasn't impressed with much of the acting (especially the two leads) and, sadly, the writing seemed a little late-season-Grimm-like to me.  I learned my lesson with Grimm and I opted not to waste any more time on this one.

This is Us
Okay, I know that people love this show.  And I will say that this is the one show I made the point to watch live each week.  But, I'm not quite as in love with it as many others seem to be.  This show's highs were ah-maz-ing.  The episode entitled "Memphis" is one of the best things I've seen on television...ever.  But, if I take those high points out of the equation, there is still quite a bit left and I found all that to be only moderately better than just okay.

This is Us is also one of those shows that I just find to be manipulative.  It feels like they are far more concerned about trying to get a reaction than trying to tell a good story.  I'm also a little concerned about how they are going to sustain the success they had in the first season in subsequent seasons.  I don't think there is any way a show can keep what this show has going for long and I'm afraid that they don't have anything to back it all up.


Trial and Error
On paper, I should not have liked this show.  My husband and I sort of stumbled on it and we were both hooked.  It's a very absurd little show--it is a short run series--about a murder case in a small Southern town.  The humor definitely leans to the wacky, something that doesn't always work for me.  But, sometimes, wacky can be smart and that is definitely the case here.  This one was definitely worth our time and I am so glad that it will be back next season.

Now, the two "extra" shows.  Right now, we're in the midst of watching Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Turn: Washington's Spies.  In the case of Agents of Shield, we had decided to give up on the show after the previous season, but then I've read how good this season is so we decided to give it a try.  I don't think we're halfway through the most recent season yet, so I'm withholding judgment for the time being.

I missed a big chunk of the last season of Turn: Washington's Spies, thanks to us cutting cable and trying to figure out which streaming service we wanted (the answer was apparently "all of them.").  The fourth, and final, season just started airing, and the third season just dropped on Netflix.  So, right now, I'm rewatching the first 3 seasons so it will all be fresh when I finally get to the current season.

And that, my friends, is what I thought of broadcast TV during the 2016/2017 season.  I'll admit that there are quite a few shows coming up next season...so stay tuned!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

It's Monday...What Are You Reading - July 3 #IMWAYR

Guess what!  I survived VBS* week!  It always seems like such an accomplishment when we're all done, but my kids love it and I feel like I should help out (until my daughter is old enough to be youth helper, then it is all on her!).

Anyway, VBS is one of those physically, mentally, and emotionally tiring experiences for me, so I didn't do much besides that this week.  My daughter did end up have 3 play dates (which my son loved as he got me to himself for 2 of those play dates).  Two days out from the end of VBS and I'm still recovering!  Oh, and you'll see how this all was reflected in my reading below.

Oh, one more thing.  Last week, I talked about some changes I was making to this blog and how I do things around here.    Among the changes was that I would be doing fewer book reviews and any books that I would review in sort of a "traditional" way would be solicited.  I also mentioned that I would be more selective so, you know...don't expect too many.

Well, I wish I had looked at my schedule before I said that.  My plan for the summer is 3 posts a week--the Saturday Snapshot, this Monday update, and something else.  This coming week will be a non-book post (all about television, with a foray into rant land...) but then it looks like I have nothing but book reviews for the rest of the month!  So, yes, I am making changes...it just won't seem like it for a while!

*VBS is Vacation Bible School--basically a day camp many churches do.  It's great fun, full of songs that will never leave your head, but oh-so-tiring!

Anyway, on to this weeks, 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!  Also, if you are participating in the meme, please be sure to link to your blog in your comment so that I can visit!


Why, yes, that is same the collage from last week...because I did not finish a stinkin' thing this week.

Now, to be fair, I did make time for some reading (although not as much as I would have liked, thank you VBS), but here is the problem.  My next review is Kiss Carlo on July 11th and that book is HUGE!  I realized that, at the rate I was going, I wasn't going to finish it in time.  So, midweek, I put everything else (other than In Her Shoes, as that is my audio re-read) aside to concentrate on Kiss Carlo.  I'm pretty sure I'll finish it soon, and I don't have too much left in  Lift and Separate, so I'm expecting to finish at least those two this week.

So, I'm hoping for a lot of quality reading time this week...and a brand new collage for my next Monday update post.

Last week's posts:
Book Review: "Monticello: A Daughter and Her Father" by Sally Cabot Gunning
Saturday Snapshot

Friday, June 30, 2017

Saturday Snapshot - July 1

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.


This week was Vacation Bible School week for us (my kids go every year and I volunteer), and that has pretty much been our life.  Because of that, I have another set of unrelated and scattered pictures to share this week...

My kids at VBS.  There is a new theme each year and this one was a hit!

My daughter had a play date after VBS on Monday, so I had a lunch date with my son at his favorite restaurant: McDonalds

My daughter's Girl Scout troop decided to use part of their cookie earnings to buy diapers or pull-ups for a local charity that helps families living in poverty in our area.  The agency specifically asked us for large-size pull ups, so that is what they got--over $300 worth!  We finally had a chance to bring these in this week (and get them out of the back of my car!)

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!