Book Review: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Paperback Release Date: September 13, 2016
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed. With stunning revelations and multiple threads, and in prose that is vibrantly alive and original, Groff delivers a deeply satisfying novel about love, art, creativity, and power that is unlike anything that has come before it. Profound, surprising, propulsive, and emotionally riveting, it stirs both the mind and the heart.

Fates and Furies is the portrait of a marriage. The first half, Fates, is about Lotto, the narcissistic playwright who is married to Mathilda. They meet at the end of college and marry two weeks later. Mathilde lovingly supports Lotto while he struggles with his acting career. She remains a devoted wife after gives up on acting and becomes a supremely successful playwright. However, because of his extreme self-centeredness, he actually knows little about her other than the fact that, in his words, she is a saint. Lotto’s section is a little slow and he is not that likeable, although at times he was so pathetic that I did feel sorry for him. I considered abandoning this book a couple of times.

The second half of the novel, Furies, is Mathilde’s story. It begins in her childhood and continues throughout her entire marriage to Lotto, replaying its key moments from her perspective. We learn that Mathilde is not who Lotto thought she was. At all. I am so glad that I kept reading. It reminded me of Gone Girl, in that while reading the first part, I was thinking, sure this is okay but what is everyone making such a fuss about? And then BAM, the story takes a turn that leaves your head spinning. I’m so glad I didn’t give up on this book. The second half made it totally worth it.

Since this book got off to a slow start, I didn’t read very carefully in the beginning. Upon finishing the book, I wish I had and I’m tempted to go back and re-read Lotto’s story since so much of Mathilde’s story is Lotto’s story turned upside down.

(Side note: President Obama named this book as his favorite of 2015. I have to mention that I was kind of surprised that he named this book as his favorite because there is fair amount of sex in it and some of it is on the strange side. It isn’t super graphic but it is descriptive. I’m not saying that I think Obama should be a prude. I’m proud of him from not shying away from putting this book on his public favorites list and not worrying that his detractors would call him perverted or something.)

Fate and Furies is any examination of one marriage that raises the question for any marriage: Can you ever really know your partner? I think it would make a great book club selection to discuss this question further. Thanks for recommending this book Obama!

Week-End Ramblings – March 11-17, 2017

This was a low-key week with routine activities like Scouts and soccer practices. We watched the latest Ghostbusters movie for family movie night and Neve is obsessed to say the least. She has watched it at least four times this week and has been following me around quoting lines from it non-stop. One of the quotes has the word dammit in it. I told her that is a bad word and she can’t say it. She informed me that she says it at school all the time. I told her to knock it off! I’m surprised I haven’t gotten a call from the teacher because Neve is not exactly soft-spoken.

I’ve listening to Amy Schumer’s book The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo and reading Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I chose it because President Obama listed it as one of his favorite books of 2015. My mom disagreed with him just a bit. Here’s her review from Goodreads:

I couldn’t finish this book and hated the parts that I did manage to read. This was one of President Obama’s favorite books in 2015? Now I keep looking at photographs of Obama and wondering in what carefully concealed, renegade segment of his brain this book found a home. The fragmented, tortured prose, hollow, unlikable characters, plot tediously unrolling into nowhere, all made for a miserable reading experience.

Don’t you wish my mom had a blog? She does not mince words. Love you mom! I think my opinion is going to end up being somewhere in between Mom and Obama’s.

How was your week?

Audiobook Review: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Publisher: HarperAudio
Release Date: June 28, 2016
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

J.D. Vance grew up in Middletown, Ohio. His grandparents moved there from the hills of Kentucky in search of a better life. However, you can take the hillbillies out of the hills but you can’t take the hills out of the hillbilly. Vance’s life was chaotic. His mother was married multiple times and none of the men were really any good. She was also a drug addict. J.D. alternated living with her and his Mamaw (grandma), a tough as nails old woman who didn’t take any guff from anyone. She loved Vance fiercely in her own way and was the one stable, caring person in his life, other than his sister Lindsey.

Vance was a terrible student and almost didn’t graduate high school. He put off college to serve a four-year stint in the Marines and only then did he mature and learn how to navigate the adult world. Growing up in a blue collar world, he didn’t know that a person should wear a suit to a job interview. He didn’t know that you should shop around for a lower interest rate instead of financing your car through the dealership. He didn’t know what sparkling water is. Okay, that one is probably not essential knowledge, but still! Armed with the maturity the Marines gave him, Vance was able to graduate with honors from Ohio State and go on to Yale law school.

Hillbilly Elegy has been touted as THE book to read if a person wants to understand why our current president was elected. It supposedly gives insight into what people in the rust belt were thinking when they voted for him. While I thought that Hillbilly Elegy was a good memoir and that Vance had an interesting life story that is worth telling, I didn’t feel like I knew any more about why his people voted the president.

At the end of the book, Vance talks about how hillbillies have a choice whether or not to overcome their upbringing and become successful like he did. But then he says that he never could have done it without the stabilizing force of his Mamaw and the maturity he learned in the Marines. He flat out says that he doesn’t know how hillbillies can pull themselves up by their bootstraps but they just should. And he knows for sure that government policies aren’t the answer. Did I mention that Vance works at the investment group that the president’s buddy Peter Thiel founded? Vance didn’t vote for the president however – he voted for Evan McMillin (who?). Neither of these facts are in the book.

In part because of the success of this book, Vance plans to move back to Ohio and set-up a non-profit that will focus on the opioid crisis and improving vocational education. So he is looking into solutions now. I think it would be great if he wrote a follow-up book in a few years to give us an update on how it’s going. I think improving vocational education is a fantastic idea. Not everyone is cut out for college and some blue-collar jobs pay quite well.

I listened to the audio version of this book. Vance narrates it himself and does a good job. Because of the nature of this book, I think that reading the print version wouldn’t be much different.

I don’t want to sound like I didn’t learn anything from Hillbilly Elegy. I did, I just didn’t have an epiphany like the hype led me to believe I would. However, it is a good memoir that was enjoyable to read.

Audiobook Review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Born a CrimeBorn a Crime by Trevor Noah
Publisher: Audible Studios
Release Date: November 15, 2016
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.

If you’re an American, you probably know Trevor Noah as the guy who replaced Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Unless you’ve already read this book, I’m guessing you don’t know about his childhood growing up in South Africa.

Noah was born to a black mother and a white father. In South Africa, a person of mixed race is called colored. Under apartheid, it was illegal for a black person to have sex with a white person. Having a colored child was concrete evidence that this had occurred. Thus, Trevor was “born a crime.”

Born a Crime is not a chronological time line of Noah’s childhood. Rather, it’s organized of snippets related by themes such as going out in public with his white father, church with his ultra-Christian mother, school life and so-on.

I was constantly amazed at the events Noah recounted from his childhood – the extreme poverty, his abusive step-father, life during apartheid. Through all of this, his mother remained a steadfast source of unconditional love and support – the kind of mother who would literally take a bullet for her child.

Noah’s memoir ends when his childhood ends and young adulthood begins. He briefly mentions that his traveling the world performing as a comedian but only because it was essential to understanding a story about him and his mother. He makes no mention of any details about why he chose comedy, how he got his start, nothing. Don’t go into this expecting to get any scoop on his career. But here’s the thing: Even if Trevor Noah wasn’t famous, his memoir would still be extremely compelling as a glimpse into growing up as a colored person in South Africa. It’s a miracle that he turned out to be as successful as he is with everything he went through growing up. I was thinking about him for days after I finished this book.

I listened to the audio version of this book which made me feel like I was having a conversation (albeit one sided) with him. I love his accent and the accents he did of all the people in his life. Hearing him speak in his mother’s accent was delightful. I also liked knowing the correct pronunciation of all of the unfamiliar African words.

Born a Crime is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read and I predict it will have a high spot on my best of picks for the year. I highly recommend it to all.

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Week-End Ramblings

Hi everyone! I’m late posting because I spent all day yesterday sick in bed. Of course the one Saturday in ages that I don’t have anything to do, I end up getting sick!

This week’s highlight was the Daddy/Daughter dance at Neve’s school. She was so excited. I took her for a manicure the afternoon of the dance and she could not stop talking to everyone in the shop about going to a dance with Daddy. They had a great time!

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Book Review: Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

Wilde LakeWilde Lake by Laura Lippman
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Paperback Release Date: February 14, 2017

Publisher’s Description:

Luisa “Lu” Brant is the newly elected state’s attorney representing suburban Maryland—including the famous planned community of Columbia, created to be a utopia of racial and economic equality. Prosecuting a controversial case involving a disturbed drifter accused of beating a woman to death, the fiercely ambitious Lu is determined to avoid the traps that have destroyed other competitive, successful women. She’s going to play it smart to win this case—and win big—cementing her political future. 

But her intensive preparation for trial unexpectedly dredges up painful recollections of another crime—the night when her brother, AJ, saved his best friend at the cost of another man’s life. Only eighteen, AJ was cleared by a grand jury. Justice was done. Or was it? Did the events of 1980 happen as she remembers them? She was only a child then. What details didn’t she know? 

As she plunges deeper into the past, Lu is forced to face a troubling reality. The legal system, the bedrock of her entire life, does not have all the answers. But what happens when she realizes that, for the first time, she doesn’t want to know the whole truth?

Laura Lippman writes the Tess Monaghan series but Wlilde Lake is an unrelated stand alone novel about new state’s attorney Lu Brandt. When a woman is found beaten to death in her apartment, Lu takes the case on herself, her first homicide case in her new position. She thinks she knows who the killer is and the greater question is what was his motivation? In flashbacks, Lu tells the reader about her childhood when her father was the state’s attorney.

Lippman uses first person narration when Lu is telling the reader about her childhood. However, present day events are told in third person. I liked this technique. It allowed foreshadowing and a great build up in suspense because first person Lu already knows what will happen to third person present day Lu. When we read what is happening with Lu in the present day, she has no knowledge of where her actions will eventually lead her.

Fans of Lippman’s should know that this book isn’t a typical crime novel or thriller like most of her other books. There is a murder but the book is about more than that so it doesn’t have the fast pace like you might expect. I think most of the critical reviews I’ve read of this book are because the reader’s expectations were not met. However, the pace quickens to a breakneck speed in the last few chapters and then there are so many surprise twists that my head was spinning. I enjoyed the slow burn of Wilde Lake. Lu was a well-developed, complex character and the story was layered as well. Nothing was as it seems. Highly recommended.

Other books by Laura Lippman I’ve reviewed:
I’d Know You Anywhere
After I’m Gone

tlc tour hostThank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of Wilde Lake. Check out the other stops on the tour!

Tuesday, February 21st: The many thoughts of a reader
Wednesday, February 22nd: 5 Minutes For Books
Thursday, February 23rd: Joyfully Retired
Monday, February 27th: Readaholic Zone
Tuesday, February 28th: Books and Bindings
Wednesday, March 1st: Booked on a Feeling
Thursday, March 2nd: Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Friday, March 3rd: Stephany Writes
Monday, March 6th: Fictionophile
Tuesday, March 7th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, March 8th: Book by Book
Wednesday, March 8th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Thursday, March 9th: Helen’s Book Blog

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Page to Screen: Hidden Figures

Hidden FiguresHidden Figures is the movie based off of the book of the same name. But while the book is non-fiction, I would call the movie historical fiction. The basics of the book are there. It’s still the story of the black female mathematicians, or computers, as there were called, who worked for NASA – their trials and tribulations. It portrays their struggles to get an education. It portrays the racism and sexism present as NASA – getting passed over for promotion in favor of white men, getting paid less than white men and being excluded from important meetings that only white men were invited to.

However, some of the instances of overt racism were added for dramatic effect. The bathroom scene and the coffee pot scene never happened. Other events have also been embellished or dramatized, I think mainly to help the film flow more smoothly with a stronger narrative. Most of the men working in the film who worked at NASA were composite characters.

I actually didn’t mind all of the changes because I knew the true story going in. As I said in my review of the book, I found the book too slow and technical for my taste. I was hoping I would like the movie better than the book and I definitely did. And really, the important thing about the movie is that it is bringing awareness to the very existence of the black mathematicians who worked at NASA and most people will not pick up a semi-dry non-fiction book to learn more about them. I think the movie is a good thing. And it’s a good movie in and of itself – it was nominated for three Academy Awards. The acting is superb, especially Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe who play the three main characters. I know Octavia Spencer was the one nominated for the Oscar but Janelle Monáe and her  character were my favorite. My BFF, Jim Parsons, plays one of the bad guys at NASA. It was hard to watch Sheldon being so mean!

Go see this movie if you haven’t already. It’s important, dramatic and fun. Just keep in mind, it’s based on historical events, not a re-telling of them.

Week-End Ramblings

Did you watch the Oscars last Sunday? What did you think of the snafu with the Best Picture Award? I’ve been a rabid fan of the Academy Awards for as long as I can remember and I have never seen anything like that before! And it was because the guy from PriceWaterhouseCoopers was too busy tweeting to pay attention to  what he was doing. He’s a managing partner. As a person who used to work for a Big 6 (it was the olden days, now it’s the Big 4) accounting firm, I can tell you, that is a high level position – one of the highest. He’s not a naive little staff accountant. You would think he would be more professional than to be deliriously star-struck by Emma Stone.

Huge side note: I actually dreamed of working at Price Waterhouse solely because I wanted a shot at getting to count the Oscar ballots. Then in college, I discovered that I hated auditing and changed my focus to tax accounting. So my Oscar dreams were dashed.

In other news, I got my bi-monthly Stitch Fix box which is always fun. You can check it out on yesterday’s Stitch Fix Saturday post. There’s not much else to report. I spent much of the week up at the Mayo Clinic for my yearly check-up. Not exactly a dream vacation!

How was your week?

 

Stitch Fix Saturday!

Stitch FixIt’s been a while since I’ve posted about one of my Stitch Fix boxes. I’m still getting them every two months and loving it, I just haven’t taken the time to write up posts about them. A quick recap of how Stitch Fix works since it’s been a while:

Stitch Fix is a online personal shopping service. When you sign up, you fill out a detailed questionnaire with your sizes and style preferences. It even asks you which areas of your body you’d like to accent and which you don’t. New since the last time I posted about them is they now carry shoes, plus sizes, petite sizes and men’s clothing!

Then you schedule when you’d like your Stitch Fix box to arrive. You can either have it sent to you automatically every month or two or just request a Fix randomly whenever you’d like one. I love it because I love clothes but I’m not a good shopper and with three kids, I don’t make the time to shop very often. You can request things from your stylist to include in your Fix so you don’t have to go shopping. In the past, I have requested to be sent a few choices of dresses to wear to weddings I knew would be coming up. I also requested a Fix of all pants one time when I was desperate for some pants that weren’t jeans. And sometimes, I don’t request anything because I want to be surprised! I love that these items come right to my door. Most of the time, the items are things that I would have walked past in the store but end up looking great on me. Like I said, I’m not a good shopper!

Your Fix will include five items. You keep the ones you want and send the rest back in the convenient pre-paid envelope that they include. If you keep all five items, then you get a 25% discount. But don’t be disappointed if you don’t like every item. That’s only happened to me twice! Stitch Fix says their goal is that you’ll love 2-3 items. And as your stylist gets to know you better through the feedback you leave, your chances of getting more pieces that you love will increase. So on to what I got this time!

The first three items of this Fix were: 41 Hawthorn  Meera Split Neck Top, Lila Ryan Liza Skinny Jean and Athena Alexander Allegro Square Ballet Flat:

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I really like the top. I think the cut is flattering and I’ve been wanting to add a leopard print top to my wardrobe. KEEP

I also liked the jeans but I had bought a pair of white jeans just a couple of days before this Fix arrived! See, my stylist and I are so in sync – she knew I wanted white jeans and I didn’t even tell her. Unfortunately, I was one step ahead of her. RETURN

Here’s a close-up of the shoes:

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I have been looking everywhere for the perfect pair of black flats. I requested a pair for this Fix and the one my stylist chose comes very close. I love everything about them except for the bows. Friends suggested I keep them and take the bows off but I was too scared that would ruin the shoes so RETURN

Next – Le Lis Grenaa Knit Blazer:

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I don’t know if I can fully express how much I love this blazer. It’s the perfect fit, comfortable and so versatile – for starters it goes perfectly with the leopard top! KEEP

Last, but not least – Skies are Blue Avena Split Neck Top:

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This top didn’t grab me. I already have a three plaid shirts and something about this one is just not my style. I think part of it is that the colors don’t look good on me. And it may be a bit boxy. RETURN

Here’s a peek at the style card that comes with each Fix. It gives both a casual and dressy option for styling the pieces in your Fix:

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Even though I only kept two items from this Fix, I consider it a massive success. The two pieces I kept are practically perfect for me and I know I’ll wear them a lot. And honestly, it would blow my budget if I kept all five items every time! If you’d like to sign up for Stitch Fix, I’d love it if you’d use my referral link. Thanks!

 

Book Review: Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space RaceHidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Paperback Release Date: December 6, 2016
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens.

Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.

Hidden Figures is the story of the amazing and largely forgotten black female mathematicians, or computers, that worked for NACA (The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) and when it later became NASA. There, they faced both discrimination and sexism. They worked in the West Computing office, which was far from the East Computing building where the white computers worked. There was a separate table for the black people in the cafeteria and separate bathrooms as well. Both black and white women were passed over promotions, with the jobs being given to white men with less education and less experience.

However, the biggest struggle for the women came long before they started working at NACA. Trying to get an education in Virginia, one of the most racist states in America during that time, was extremely difficult. The schools for black people were run down and most didn’t even offer advanced courses. The governor refused to comply with Brown vs. The Board of Education, going so far as to chain the doors of Virginia schools that attempted to integrate.

I wouldn’t call this book a biography of the computers. The main focus is on their work lives at NASA, there isn’t much personal information about their private lives. There was too much technical math and space information in it for me – I thought it made the book move very slowly, especially the first few chapters. However, I’m sure a lot of people will appreciate having this information included. Even if not everyone reads the book, the publicity behind it and the movie are still bringing awareness to these women’s accomplishments. That said, Hidden Figures is an important story that needs to be told and I recommend reading it.

(I received a complementary copy of this book for review.)

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