Tuesday, May 22, 2018

My 2017/2018 Television Report Card

I realize things have been quiet on the blog lately because I just haven't been reading as much as I'd like.  I wouldn't call this a slump--I want to read, but I'm having trouble doing it as much as I'd like.  Let's just thank some eye issues that are putting up quite the obstacle--although I do think those are starting to abate a big.

When I have free time and am not reading or writing, I've been trying to keep on top of my favorite television shows.  This past year has been easier than most because it wasn't actually a great viewing year for me.  I do think television is currently experiencing a bit of a renaissance, but it doesn't seem to be extending to broadcast television.  Is it just me, or are the offerings on the big four networks more likely to be subpar than usual?  There are some great offerings in streaming--I'm especially surprised with what I've found on CBS All Access so far--but it's hard to have enough self-discipline to watch a season of a streaming series over a long period of time, as opposed to watching it over only a week or so.

Since I don't have much to say about books at the moment, I thought I'd dip into what shows were the highlights and lowlights for me this past year.  These are not all the shows that I watched (there were a number of new shows that I tried for a few episodes before dropping and then some others that I've watched for years--and continue to watch--but didn't stand out for me this season.  Instead, I have 3 new shows I loved, 3 (+1) returning shows that stood out, and 3 shows that I dropped.  If you are interested in comparison, last year's television report card is here.

All photos were taken from IMDB.com.

My 3 favorite new shows this season


I never thought I'd be a Star Trek person.  I've seen various series over the years, but usually because other people were watching it and I was somewhere in the vicinity.  I remember Star Trek: The Next Generation being especially popular among my high school friends and more than a few get-together viewing parties, but I usually paid more attention to the snacks than the show.

Then Star Trek: Discovery came along.  I already had CBS All Access--when we cut our cable and realized that our antenna didn't pick up our local CBS Affiliate, I had to get All Access to continue watching The Big Bang Theory--and I thought my husband would enjoy this (also, he was on about his 6th viewing of the entire season of Star Trek: Voyager and I needed a break).  I realized about 15 minutes into the first episode that I was hooked.

Everything about this show is light years (heh heh) ahead of the other series.  First of all, it is visually stunning--everything from the sets to the CGI to the makeup is big budget movie quality.  It is quite possibly one of the most beautiful shows I've ever watched.  The acting is also head and shoulders above most of the acting on previous series (exception being Sir Patrick Stewart, of course!).  While there were a number of new (to me) faces here, there were also actors who I've enjoyed in other roles: James Frain, Michelle Yeoh, and Jason Isaacs.  Isaacs is especially good and he plays probably the most fascinating character in the show.

The story of this show is also far more nuanced and progressive than I've seen in any other Star Trek venture.  I won't go into details (because you really should watch it!), but the writers did a triumphant job of weaving in Star Trek cannon while going places no Star Trek has gone before.  Also, this show features the first F-bomb in franchise history.  Seriously, it's ground breaking.

***

I've learned to be wary of television shows filmed in Oregon.  Sadly, they have always sent me into a rage spiral (this one being, by far, the worst..), and Everything Sucks! also ended in a rage spiral for me, but not the usual rage spiral.

Everything Sucks! is a sweet little coming of age story, set during the 90s in Boring, Oregon (a real place, but the show was actually filmed in Oregon City, Oregon).  Many viewers compared it with Freaks and Geeks, which I never watched.  Admittedly, I am about a decade older than these characters, but I still enjoyed all the organic 90s nostalgia.

Teenaged actors make up the majrity of this cast and that can be, well, iffy.  I will admit that I probably came in with lower expectations just because I didn't think that such a young cast would be able to pull of something especially deep.

I was wrong.

The actors here are simply astounding, especially Jahi Di'Allo Winston and Peyton Kennedy, both of whom carry the emotional bulk of the story telling.  I'm simply amazed at how perfect these two were.  I also enjoyed Patch Darragh and Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako in the adult roles, both of whom were endearing and authentic.

So, where did the rage spiral come in.  To be fair, Everything Sucks! itself did not bring on the rage spiral.  Instead it was the fact that Netflix canceled this show after one season!  Not only is this upsetting because the show ended by setting itself up for a second season, but also because there are so few intelligent shows for young adults right now.  I'm convinced that Netflix shot itself in the face with that move.

***

When Young Sheldon was announced, I remember thinking, "What a stupid idea."  I mean, why would I want to watch a show about the childhood of a character I already knew, and about whose childhood I had already heard about?  Plus, Sheldon Cooper is, despite being a genius, not the most dynamic character.  But, heck, I decided to give it a shot.

The first thing to know about this show is that it doesn't feel like The Big Bang Theory.  It actually feels much more like one of my favorites of years ago, The Wonder Years.  The second thing to know is that while the show is called Young Sheldon, Sheldon is actually not the draw for this show.  Sheldon is Sheldon--a child genius, who is less obnoxious as a child but still pretty socially awkward.  Instead, it is his family--his football coach father who is living in the aftershocks of his own failings, his devoted mother who knows how "special" Sheldon is, his free-spirited "Meemaw" who is making the most of her twilight years, his older brother whose football skills are not enough to bring him out of Sheldon's shadow, and--my absolute favorite--his twin sister who more street smart than Sheldon is book smart with an attitude to match.

I worried that there would be a fair amount of retconning with this show to force it to match up with what has been said about Sheldon's childhood in The Big Bang Theory, but instead the writers did something very clever.  They've set adult Sheldon up to be an unreliable narrator.  They've made it clear that what Sheldon remembered about his childhood may have been what he perceived happened, but not what actually happened.

I realize that this is time-limiting show and that I already know certain things that are coming in future seasons, thanks to it already being mentioned on its parent show.  But I'm okay with that...I'm just here to enjoy this one while it lasts.

My 3 favorite returning shows (+1)


I almost think that Call the Midwife is the perfect show.  It has survived through numerous cast changes (it is the only show I know of that actually improved when the main character left!) and has kept up with its own timeline.  Its long arc story lines are well executed and its episodic plots suck you in.  And I have cried in every single episode of this show.  Yes, every one.

I know a number of people felt that this past season was a disappointment compared to earlier seasons, but I disagree.  There was the problem with one of the main characters (and my favorite character) being absent for a good chunk of the season due to the actress's pregnancy, but many shows deal with that and as long as the character isn't pregnant only because the actress is pregnant, it isn't a big deal to me.

One thing that makes this show so remarkable is how well they deal with social issues of the time (I believe we are now in the mid-1960s).  I also enjoy how they deal with the changing social views: instead of just saying that things that were once looked down upon are now accepted, they show the characters changing their views.

I have a friend of mine who is a doctor and we've talked about how hard it is for her to watch medical shows because the medicine is usually so unrealistic.  This show, however, is the one that she says is one of the most realistic medical shows on the air.

***

Staying in mother England, another favorite show in our household is The Crown.  I think I read somewhere that it is the most expensive show Netflix has done, and it shows.  Every detail is perfect and nothing is missed.  As a history buff, it's great fun to see how they bring everything alive.  And, even as a history buff, I watch this with my good friend Wikipedia nearby.

I honestly felt that this second season was even better than the first.  While we don't have (other than one quick scene) the fantastic John Lithgow as Winston Churchill, we do have some pretty in depth character development from our Windsors.  Elizabeth is coming into her own, Philip is winning everything except Father of the Year, and Margaret is really, really bitter.  In some ways, it sounds like the most exquisite soap around and, in some ways, it is.  We haven't yet hit the tabloid-y period (I'm guessing we'll be there in 2-3 more seasons), but there is still plenty of fun stuff going on in this family.

If you haven't wanted this yet, please do.  I mean, I know it sounds like it might not be your cup of tea, but if my sci-fi and action-loving husband can get sucked into this, you can two.  The performances are all gold standard, especially that of Claire Foy as Elizabeth.  I'll admit I'm sad that she's done with this role--they switch out the cast every 2 seasons and Olivia Colman will be the next Queen Elizabeth (and PEOPLE!  HELENA BONHAM CARTER WILL BE THE NEXT PRINCESS MARGARET!)--but I am so glad that this is giving her the career catapult she deserves.

***

On a completely different note, I'm back with one of the best comedies on television...The Good Place.  I gushed about this last year and the second season did not disappoint.  In fact,  I think the second season was actually much better than the first.  The two seasons are vastly different (and I suspect season 3 will be its own animal), which is what makes it work.  

This sitcom has perfected the art of moving the plot forward better than any other sitcom I've seen.  Each episode builds on the previous ones and puts the characters in a different place, so to speak.  I've found sitcoms to be generally static--how long have Sheldon, Amy, and Leonard occupied the same apartments?  How long did Monica, Ross, Chandler, Rachel, Joey, and Phoebe go to the same coffee shop?  I think this static nature is sort of a trademark of the genre and I find it very brave that this show is completely bucking the trend.

Here's the thing, though.  If you haven't seen this, you need to start with the very first episode.  So, yes, you (currently) have 2 seasons to watch.  But don't worry!  The seasons are only 13 episodes long and the episodes will suck you in completely and, in no time, you won't stare dumbly at someone who responds to your request with, "I can't be your Janet."

***

Okay, here is my +1 to this category.  This is a returning show, but I didn't start watching it until this year...and then I was completely hooked.  

I never watched The Good Wife when it was on air (the hubs and I actually just started watching it last night and are only 2 episodes in...), so I'm not quite sure what possessed me to give the sequel, The Good Fight, a try.  But I will say this, from the first scene of Christine Baranski watching the Trump Inauguration in pure horror, I know I was all in.


If you have watched The Good Wife, this particular show is centered around Diane Lockhart (one of the partners at the law firm in the first series), who is now the only white partner at an African-American law firm.  Diane is great, and there is no one like Christina Baranski.  But she is hardly the only character in this show and the cast, through and through, is excellent.  They've also had some top notch guest stars--Matthew Perry, Alan Alda, Megan Hilty, and Bebe Neuwirth have all made appearances.

If, like me, you are here for Trump bashing, you will not be disappointed.  They take Trumpism on without hesitation and it is simply wonderful.

3 Shows I quit watching this season


Guess what happened this year!  Hell froze over!  I have been with Grey's Anatomy from the beginning.  I've stuck with it through ghost sex, toxic blood, pink mist, and that gawd-awful musical episode.  I watched series regulars get hit by buses, by cars, crash in airplanes, perish in a mass shooting, and--once--someone die of the hiccups.  I've celebrated or suffered through MerDer, Slexie, Gizzie, Calzona, Burkina, Japril, and whatever the hell Minnick and Arizona were.  And I've stayed.

Until now.  I've had enough. I'm done.

Last year in my TV Report Card, I bemoaned how horrible season 13 had been, but had a good feeling for season 14, which would be under the helm of a new showrunner.  Oh, how foolish I was.  The season started with a character all of a sudden having a brain tumor in the part of her brain that controls personality--and, of course, that tumor had been there the entire time this character had existed in Shondaland.  And, of course, this character was one that audiences didn't particularly like.  So, the brilliant brain surgeons remove the tumor from the, ahem, brilliant brain surgeon and she has a whole new personality!  (Did I forget to mention that this brain tumor was discovered when she was masturbating in an MRI machine?)  Look, one thing (well, one of the many things) I can't stand in TV is a personality transplant.  It's just lazy writing and this was one of the most blatant examples of it I've seen.  And, the thing is, that isn't even what did it for me this season!

Basically three things happened this season that caused the perfect storm:
1 - It became very clear that the show is, once again, trying to center itself around the character Meredith Grey.  You would think this is a no-brainer, except that they've never been able to successfully do this in the 14 seasons the show has been on the air.  They are great when they pair Meredith with someone, be it Derek or Ellis or Cristina--and the show is best when it is a true ensemble piece.  But, sadly, Meredith Grey is not a strong enough character (and Ellen Pompeo is not a strong enough actress) to carry this show on her own and I really don't relish having to watch the show make the same mistake over and over again.

2 - They started pushing a relationship between 2 characters who, really, should have no interest in each other.  Nothing in either character's personality indicates that they would be the least bit attracted to the other.  Also one character's mother is married to the other character's biological (but not legal) father.  Look, there is nothing wrong with this--it's not incest.  Well, except for the fact that the show kept talking about how it was incest and kept giving us great lines like, "But what if you want to sleep with your sister?"  I mean, DUDE!  Do they really think making people think of incest is going to make this any better?

3 - They "opted not to renew" the contracts of the actresses playing my two favorite characters.

I'll be honest, if it were any 2 of these 3 things, I'd probably still be watching.  But all three?  Even I, and my long-term commitment to this show, cannot withstand that.

Adios Grey's.  It's been wild.

***

I was re-reading what I posted last year and I noticed that I was already having qualms about This is Us.  I get that people love this show--I just don't know why people love this show.  I found the first half of this season particularly enlightening and disappointing (I opted not to return to this show once it came back from its winter hiatus).  

I think that my reading life greatly influences my television viewing in that I catch onto what stories are doing.  For example, I don't think that the fact that The Good Place actually moves its plot along episode to episode would even be on the radar of someone who doesn't read 100+ books a year.   

The flip side of this is that while everyone was crying and wondering how Jack died, I was more concerned with the fact that the stories here were going absolutely nowhere.  The way the show had set itself up, everything in the "modern" characters plots hinged on how Jack died...and then they didn't bother to let us know how he died until over halfway into the second season (and then it was....death by crock pot?  Seriously?).

I feel like the show had a chance to get things going and opted to just idle in neutral.  I spent my time with this show realizing that I didn't like any of these characters, had little to no sympathy for them, and generally didn't care what happened.  I also found, for the most part, that the acting is not as good as people seem to think.  Yes, Sterling K. Brown is amazing and I do think he deserves all the accolades he has received.  But the rest of the cast is much more unremarkable.

Also, I never cried in this show.  Well, I did mist up in the very first episode and then I cried in the Memphis episode, which I believed aired shortly after my own mother's death (so, I'm not sure I can give the show all the credit).  Yet, the show's entire marketing plan is YOU ARE GOING TO CRY!  And then I don't.  Which means that the show didn't deliver on what it promised.  Which means it failed.

Yeah, I'm harsh here.  But I'm also gobsmacked that this show, which is not nearly as good as it purports itself to be, is such a hit.  All I got from watching this show is that they wanted nothing more than to manipulate the audience for no other reason than they felt that they could...and that they didn't know what to do with their own story.

I'm a little nervous because there is exactly one new network show next year that I'm excited about, and it is already "supposed to be the next This is Us."  Since I'm watching the show for an actor I especially like (otherwise I would just not watch), I'm rather peeved about this.  If I wanted to watch This is Us, I'd watch This is Us...and I don't want to watch it.  Sigh.

***

So, my 3rd dropped show is a bit different as I didn't drop it because I didn't like it.  In fact, I'm not sure it will stay dropped, but we'll see.

You see, I had to give up on The Handmaid's Tale.  Don't get me wrong--it's an excellent show with fantastic writing and top notch acting.  The problem was that it might be too good.  I realize it is not an "enjoyable" show and I never expected it to be, but I did find that the first few episodes of this season were much harder to take than all of season 1.  Granted, I've read the book so I knew what to expect in season 1 and season 2 is all "new" material, but it still caught me all by surprise.

I was very unsettled after watching these episodes to the point that I think it actually triggered my anxiety.  I still won't say that I thought it was gratuitous, but it was, well, realistic.  At this point in the world, I feel like I need my television viewing to be an escape, and this show is anything but that.

I do hope that, in a few years, I'll be able to return to this show.  Right now, though, I just can't do it.

***

So, there you go...the highlights and lowlights of my TV year.  There are a few things I'm looking forward to this summer--namely the return of Harlots and Trial and Error, and I have 140+ episodes of The Good Wife to catch up on.  Next year, though...well, we'll see how things hold up!

Also, if you do any sort of season-end TV recap of your viewing, please let me know in the comments  I'd love to know what everyone is watching!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Saturday Snapshot - May 19

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.

A couple of weeks ago, we took the kids, as well as my husband's cousin and her son, to Champoeg State Historical Park, which is just outside of Newberg, Oregon (about 30 minutes from our house).  This is one of our favorite parks and we tend to visit it a couple of times a year.  In fact, my daughter and I had been camping there with her Girl Scout troop a few weeks before.

Champoeg is the site of a now-disappeared settlement that was the site of the territorial vote in 1843 on whether Oregon should become a US Territory or a British Territory (spoiler: we went for the US).  Unfortunately, the town was wiped out by a massive flood as it sits on a flood plain next to the Willamette River.  I guess urban planning was not a skill that most of the pioneers understood.

We went down to visit on Founder's Day, the 175th anniversary of that vote.  As usual, they had historical re-enactors, plus the descendants of those who voted were recognized.  My pictures here are a bit limited, as I didn 't feel comfortable including our nephew in any of the ones that I chose to share widely on the internet (but, hey, my kids are apparently okay!), but I have a few to share.


We put the kids to work, carrying up items from the fur traders' canoes.  Yes, there were fur traders who arrived by water all the way from Eugene.

Here is my son making a book mark with one of the artisans

On top of the "real" wagon

And a photo op inside the wagon!


Friday, May 11, 2018

Saturday Snapshot - May 12

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.

First of all, I'd like to apologize for no Saturday Snapshot post last week.  I normally have these posts ready to go before Friday, but this is May and, as anyone with kids in school will tell you, May is crazy.  Anyway, I found out on Friday that we would be having houseguests that evening--and, since my house was a mess, I had to go into frantic cleaning mode and did not have a chance to write up the Saturday Snapshot post.

I hope this never happens again, but if you ever discover that my Saturday Snapshot post is not up as scheduled, you can check my Facebook or Twitter accounts for updates.

Okay, back to the business of the day!  A few weeks ago, the kids and I decided to explore a new-ish park in our town.  I think the park actually opened over a year ago, but this was our first chance to visit it (even though it is only a 10 minute drive from our house).  We've recently gotten into geocaching and I knew that there were 3 caches hidden there, so the hunt was even more of a reason to head over.


There was a cache hidden somewhere on this bridge, but we weren't able to find it.


My son called this "the forest of faces"

We finally found a geocache!  This was my son's first find!


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Book Review: "My Oxford Year" by Julia Whelan

My Oxford Year Julia Whelan
Date Finished: May 9, 2018
Date Pubished: April 24, 2018
ISBN: 9780062740656
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins
Recommended

Summary:
American Ella Durran has had the same plan for her life since she was thirteen: Study at Oxford. At 24, she’s finally made it to England on a Rhodes Scholarship when she’s offered an unbelievable position in a rising political star’s presidential campaign. With the promise that she’ll work remotely and return to DC at the end of her Oxford year, she’s free to enjoy her Once in a Lifetime Experience. That is, until a smart-mouthed local who is too quick with his tongue and his car ruins her shirt and her first day.

When Ella discovers that her English literature course will be taught by none other than that same local, Jamie Davenport, she thinks for the first time that Oxford might not be all she’s envisioned. But a late-night drink reveals a connection she wasn’t anticipating finding and what begins as a casual fling soon develops into something much more when Ella learns Jamie has a life-changing secret.


Immediately, Ella is faced with a seemingly impossible decision: turn her back on the man she’s falling in love with to follow her political dreams or be there for him during a trial neither are truly prepared for. As the end of her year in Oxford rapidly approaches, Ella must decide if the dreams she’s always wanted are the same ones she’s now yearning for.

My Thoughts:
When I was 20, I spent the summer studying at Cambridge University and it is one the fondest memories of my college career.  So, when I saw this book about someone spending a year at Oxford (yes, I know Oxford and Cambridge are not the same thing!), I jumped at the chance to read it.

Upon finishing this book, I'm of two minds.  On one hand, I found a sweet, easy read.  It's the perfect book to take on vacation.  I loved how Whelan recreated the world of Oxford, England (although I felt that world of Oxford University was a bit thin).  I recently listened to an interview with Whelan and her genuine affection for the area shows through.  The story is well-paced and the dialogue is natural and entertaining.  This may sound a little strange, but I actually heard (most) of the characters speak with a British accent in my head as I read.

So, here's the rub: While I generally enjoyed this book and the story, I felt that it just could have been...more.  I don't want to spoil anything, so I won't go into specifics other than to say that the subject matter of this book is actually rather heavy and I felt that Whelan's treatment of it was too light at times.  This is the kind of story that could suck me in emotionally, but it just never reached those heights.

I will say that I would recommend this book, with the suggestion to manage your expectations.  The matter of the story doesn't match up to the mass of the story, which is too bad...but it doesn't mean you can still enjoy a light read.

About the Author:
Julia Whelan is a screenwriter, lifelong actor, and award-winning audiobook narrator. She graduated with a degree in English and creative writing from Middlebury College and Oxford University. While she was in England, her flirtation with tea blossomed into a full-blown love affair, culminating in her eventual certification as a tea master.


Find out more about Julia at her website, and connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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




Want to read some other opinions?  Check out the other stops on the blog tour!




Friday, April 27, 2018

Saturday Snapshot - April 28

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 past week, my son had a field trip at Jackson Bottom Wetlands, which is a beautiful area near their school.  I've posted pictures from there before because our family likes to go for evening walks in the summer.  But, this is the first time I've gone with a school group (my husband went when my daughter did this field trip).  We had a beautiful day (which is always iffy this time of year) and my son had a great time.

I have a few pictures from the field trip to share--because other kids were in so many pictures, I had to limit myself to ones of just my son or ones where you can't see the faces of the other kids.


Pretending to be a bat

Bird watching

So, here is hold a container he used to make it "forest smell."  Spoiler: It smelled like grass.



Friday, April 20, 2018

Saturday Snapshot - April 21

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.

A "new to us" place that we visited during this trip to Arizona was Mt. Lemmon.  The twisty road (although not as twisty as the one up to Kitts Peak) goes up over 8000 feet to a ski area and village.  Along the way are some amazing views!  Unfortunately, we realized that we didn't do too well with high elevations, so we didn't spend too long up at Summerhaven.


I'm not sure why they are so excited here, but it made for a cute picture!

These rocks reminded me of the Needles in Custer State Park, SD

During our brief stop in Marshall's Gulch in Summerhaven.  The kids handled the altitude better than we did!

Obligatory family picture



Thursday, April 19, 2018

Book Review: "The Address" by Fiona Davis

The Address Fiona Davis
Date Finished: March 24, 2018
Date Published: August 1, 2017
ISBN: 9781524741990
Genre: Historical Fiction (Late 19th Century US / 1980's US)
Source: Library
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Historical mysteries, architectural novels, books about New York City

Summary:
After a failed apprenticeship, working her way up to head housekeeper of a posh London hotel is more than Sara Smythe ever thought she’d make of herself. But when a chance encounter with Theodore Camden, one of the architects of the grand New York apartment house The Dakota, leads to a job offer, her world is suddenly awash in possibility—no mean feat for a servant in 1884. The opportunity to move to America, where a person can rise above one’s station. The opportunity to be the female manager of The Dakota, which promises to be the greatest apartment house in the world. And the opportunity to see more of Theo, who understands Sara like no one else...and is living in The Dakota with his wife and three young children.

In 1985, Bailey Camden is desperate for new opportunities. Fresh out of rehab, the former party girl and interior designer is homeless, jobless, and penniless. Two generations ago, Bailey’s grandfather was the ward of famed architect Theodore Camden. But the absence of a genetic connection means Bailey won’t see a dime of the Camden family’s substantial estate. Instead, her “cousin” Melinda—Camden’s biological great-granddaughter—will inherit almost everything. So when Melinda offers to let Bailey oversee the renovation of her lavish Dakota apartment, Bailey jumps at the chance, despite her dislike of Melinda’s vision. The renovation will take away all the character and history of the apartment Theodore Camden himself lived in...and died in, after suffering multiple stab wounds by a madwoman named Sara Smythe, a former Dakota employee who had previously spent seven months in an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.


One hundred years apart, Sara and Bailey are both tempted by and struggle against the golden excess of their respective ages—for Sara, the opulence of a world ruled by the Astors and Vanderbilts; for Bailey, the free-flowing drinks and cocaine in the nightclubs of New York City—and take refuge and solace in the Upper West Side’s gilded fortress. But a building with a history as rich—and often tragic—as The Dakota’s can’t hold its secrets forever, and what Bailey discovers in its basement could turn everything she thought she knew about Theodore Camden—and the woman who killed him—on its head.

My Thoughts; 
One of my favorite things in my reading life is finding that not every author falls victim to the Sophomore Slump.  I read Fiona Davis's first novel, The Dollhouse, when it was released in 2016 and enjoyed it.  While I'm always wondering if the second novel will live up to the first, this one actually surpassed it.

Like her first novel, Davis uses an iconic New York building as not only the background, but also a character.  This time, it is the Dakota Apartments, which is probably best known now for being the site of John Lennon's assassination (which is only mentioned in passing in the more recent story line in this book).  I'm not a New Yorker--I've only spent 3 days there in my entire life, but this was a building I recognized by sight, if not by name, and was immediately interested in how Davis would use it.

There are two story lines going in the book--one set in 1885 when the building opened and one in 1985, which embodies the (ahem!) classy taste of the mid-80s.  Davis blends these two stories together well.  More weight is given to the 1885 plot, which makes sense since it was the more complex of the two stories.  However, I was still interested in the tale of Bailey of the 80's and never felt like I was suffering from literary whiplash when she switched between the two.

The earlier story line, Sara's, is where most of the plot happens, but it unfurls in a way that kept me guessing.  It was interesting because I already knew where it ended (not a spoiler!), but I wasn't ever sure what would happen next.  Sara is an interesting character, and one that I could understand.  She is sometimes blind to the facts and makes a poor decision or two, but it makes sense that she would do so.

Now, Bailey's story was a different experience for me. While I believed that Davis created the world of 1885 for Sara, I knew she created the world of 1985 for Bailey.  It helps that Bailey is an interior decorator so visual details are important to her story.  And, oh boy, are those details dripping with the 80s!  Bamboo walls!  Bright Colors!  Koi Ponds!  I loved how much it all made me (and, luckily, Bailey) cringe.  While Bailey's story is much more straight forward, I still found it a fun romp through a historical period (oy!) that I have lived through.

I really enjoyed both stories and how they wove together.  If I had one quibble, it would be that there was a plot twist that was just too convenient for me to really buy and it led to a bit of a too-clean ending.  This is something that I can accept with little effort, but I still feel that the ending could have been a bit stronger had that been reworked.

If you are looking for a strong historical novel that captures not only the time (or times!), but also the place, this would be an excellent option.  Don't blame me if you start planning a trip to New York City as soon as you finish the last page!

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Book Review: "The Elizas" by Sara Shepard

The Elizas Sara Shepard
Date Finished: March 31, 2018
Date Published: April 17, 2018
ISBN: 9781501162770
Genre: Thriller
Source: Publisher
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Pretty Little Liars, books with unreliable narrators, psychological thrillers, The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

Summary:
When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness.

Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it?


The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins.

My Thoughts:
Have you ever read a book where, for pretty much the entire book, you have no clue what is going on? And did you love every minute of it?  That, my friends, was my experience with this book.

The author, Sara Shepard, is best known for her book, Pretty Little Liars, upon which the television series is based.  I have neither read nor seen PLL, so I wasn't familiar with her style.  I have, however, been on a thriller kick lately.  Thrillers are like drugs, the more you read, the more you need.  This was definitely a book that hit the right receptors and made me want to keep coming back for more.

Here's the thing, I never knew what to believe.  There are two stories going on here, Eliza's own story and the novel that she wrote.  In many ways, this novel reminded me of another book that I loved, The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson.  The two stories are so intertwined that the line between fact and fiction blurs and then disintegrates.

Shepard's writing style is the perfect fit for this story.  She has the conversational, dry tone necessary to capture the narcissistic world in which Eliza lives, but she is still able to keep the momentum growing as Eliza's life spins further out of control and closer to the truth.

In many ways, this book seems primed for a film or television adaptation.  While I won't say it is "action-packed," it does spend far more time with the characters doing things than sitting inside someone's thoughts...which is surprising considering the subject of the novel.

I've tried to not get into the meat of the novel because I don't want to spoil anything (trust me, you'll thank me).  But I will say this...the end will give you shivers.  This is a fantastic psychological thriller and one that I would readily recommend to anyone.

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



Friday, April 13, 2018

Saturday Snapshot - April 14

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.

Another spot we always make sure to visit when we go to Arizona is the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson.  As we have a membership to the Oregon Zoo, we get discounted admission to RPZ.  We really enjoy it because, due the change of climate, they have a number of animals that the Oregon Zoo does not.  They also offer the opportunity to feed the giraffes, which the kids love.








Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review: "My Dear Hamilton" by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

My Dear Hamilton Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Date Finished: March 31, 2018
Date Published: April 3, 2018
ISBN: 9780062466174
Genre: Historical Fiction (Revolutionary America)
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins
Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Hamilton, books about historical women

Summary:
A general’s daughter…

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

A founding father’s wife...

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

The last surviving light of the Revolution…


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

My Thoughts:
I finished this book a few days ago and I've been struggling with how to express my feelings about this.  There are so many wonderful things about this book...and then there are other things that just keep me from completely loving it.

I think we all know that Alexander Hamilton is having a moment right now, and rightly so.  As a history buff (and major--from the same university as one of the authors!), I've always liked the guy and I'm glad that he's finally getting his due.  I'm also eager to dive into works about him, which--strangely--may have led me to not enjoy this book as much as I otherwise would have.

Let me start with what I enjoyed.  The writing is just wonderful.  I'm more than a little wary of novels with more than one author as sometimes it you can painfully tell when one writer stops and another begins.  I don't know how Dray and Kamoie wrote together, but they were able to come up with a unified voice that is readable and poetic.  The Epilogue is especially beautiful and I'm glad that the book ended on that note.

They also have their history down.  Very little of this was new to me, but I was still interested in all the details they included and I felt that they were able to clearly outline some rather complicated situations.  Most of the time--I'd say about 80% of the time--they are able to seamlessly weave facts and dates into the narrative, although the rest of the time did tiptoe into info-dump territory.

While I enjoyed this book more often than not, there were things that just didn't sit well with me.  One of these things I worried would come to fruition when I first started the book.  I have found that it is incredibly tricky for a historical biographical novel to be told in first person, especially when the subject is more of a history-adjacent character.  What tends to happen, and does happen at times here, is that the main character becomes overly important against the actual history.  There were times when it almost seemed like Eliza Hamilton was the impetus for events in which, in actual history, she had no involvement.  This book seems to assert that Alexander Hamilton would not have been Alexander Hamilton, had it not been for Eliza.  While that idea is definitely true for some couples in history, it really isn't the case for the Hamiltons.  Eliza was not the sort of woman who molded her spouse and it wasn't until his death that she truly came into her own.  This problem is usually easily remedied by putting the book in third, rather than first, person and I think the authors could have successfully told this story that way.

And that brings me to another irritation.  The most fascinating part of Eliza Hamilton's life, and of this book, is what happened after Alexander died.  Of an approximately 600 page book, only the last 100 or so pages deal with that.  Considering that was over 50 years of her life, and when she did most her work, I felt robbed of what I really wanted from this book.  I already know about Alexander Hamilton and there are plenty of other works that go into his life, so I feel that Dray and Kamoie missed a real opportunity here.

My final complaint is one that I realize is probably quite personal, but I still feel it needs to be addressed.  I started this book on March 18 and finished it on March 31.  On March 24, I saw the musical Hamilton.  I loved Hamilton and have nothing but wonderful things to say about it, but I also recognize that it is a completely different animal from a historical novel.  Because the musical was so fresh in my mind, I was aware when parts of this book seemed a bit derivative.  There were lines of dialogue that were similar, but not exact, to lines in the show and certain moments that were featured in the musical were strangely emphasized here.

I realize that if you have seen Hamilton, or even haven't seen it recently, this will not even be an issue.  However, for me, it set off a whiff of fan fiction that lingered throughout the book which seemed to cheapen the reading experience for me.  This book was strong enough that it didn't need tiny nods to a modern work.

Despite all these complaints, I did quite enjoy this novel.  As far as historical novels go, this one is one I would recommend, even with the bits that irritated me.  I just wouldn't recommend reading it right after seeing Hamilton.

About the Authors:
Stephanie Dray is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal & USA Today bestselling author of historical women’s fiction. Her award-winning work has been translated into eight languages and tops lists for the most anticipated reads of the year. Before she became a novelist, she was a lawyer and a teacher. Now she lives near the nation’s capital with her husband, cats, and history books.


Find out more about Stephanie at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.




Laura Kamoie is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction. She holds a doctoral degree in early American history from The College of William and Mary, published two non-fiction books on early America, and most recently held the position of Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy before transitioning to a full-time career writing fiction. Laura lives among the colonial charm of Annapolis, Maryland, with her husband and two daughters.

Find out more about Laura at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.



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


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