Thursday, May 18, 2017

March and April 2017 Book Report

Better late than never!

1. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

It's a classic and everyone on Goodreads gave it many stars and kudos. I listened to a fun British guy read it on Audible, too. And YET, I didn't like it and I didn't finish it. All the chapters I listened to were familiar - how he meets Little John and how Robin sneaks into an archery contest. Yes, but did you know how he BECAME Robin Hood? I didn't. He killed a guy who made him mad. The guy bet Robin that he couldn't hit a deer with an arrow from 200 meters away (or some ridiculous distance). Robin did it, then the guy wouldn't pay up. So Robin killed him. I got the feeling I was supposed to be on Robin's side in this dispute, but I wasn't.

I did keep reading/listening after that. Then Robin robs and embarrasses a guy simply because the guy had a warrant for Robin's arrest. Robin killed a guy! He should go to jail! Of course there is a warrant out for his arrest. I don't know. Breaking the law and getting away with it doesn't sound like a good time to me. The Merry Men split up their earnings and gave food to widows and children, which is nice. It seemed like they were doing it to keep people quiet more so than out of kindness, though.

2. The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir and Our National Parks by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mordecai Gerstein

Remember how I'm a National Parks Nerd and a big fan of Theodore Roosevelt? This children's book imagines the exchange between John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt during their famous camping trip in what is now Yosemite National Park in 1903. Roosevelt got a first-hand look at the wilderness that needed protecting with the most famous advocate for wilderness preservation, John Muir. As a result of that camping trip, Roosevelt would establish the National Parks System.

Historical non-fiction picture books are my favorite! This one is so good. The illustrations are fantastic.

3. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

I was more than halfway through Alexander Hamilton when we went to New York in March. After seeing where he lived and worked, I had to finish the book. He is hands-down the most interesting Founding Father. The attention his life is getting after all these years is kind of awesome.

"Americans often wonder how this moment could have spawned such extraordinary men as Hamilton and Madison. Part of the answer is that the Revolution produced an insatiable need for thinkers who could generate ideas and wordsmiths who could lucidly expound them. The immediate utility of ideas was an incalculable tonic for the founding generation. The fate of the democratic experiment depended upon political intellectuals who might have been marginalized at other periods."

By now everyone knows the story of Alexander Hamilton, growing up father-less and then orphaned completely in the West Indies. He submitted poetry to the local newspaper and a letter of his describing a terrible storm that mostly destroyed the city he lived in was published in the newspaper. That letter ended up catching the eye of people with money who were willing to send him to America to get an education. They hoped he'd come back to the West Indies after that and be an asset to them, but he ended up staying.

Hamilton spoke French and English fluently and the amount of words that he wrote down in his life makes it seem as though that's all he did while he was alive. He became General Washington's aid de camp (sp) during the Revolutionary War. It sounds glamorous, but it was copying hundreds of letters, responding to minutiae, and bunking with five or six other guys in uncomfortable places. Nope! Hamilton wanted to head his own regiment and make a name for himself as a war hero, like, the whole time he was with Washington. (One of my favorite stories from this time period in the book was Benedict Arnold's betrayal. Chernow did a fantastic job laying out the facts, but keeping the emotion.)

Since Hamilton was hitched to Washington's star (even when they didn't agree, Washington always believed in Hamilton's abilities), he became a political heavyweight in New York. People either loved him or hated him. He made an enemy of New York's governor, which hurt him during the Continental Congress. Hamilton made enemies of quite a few people by never shutting up. Like, ever.

The big scandal with him and Mariah Reynolds was teased for what seemed like forever in the book before we actually got to it. Washington was President, Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton loved to rescue women in distress - his own mother was a woman in distress. If he'd had therapy today, they would definitely make a connection there. Anyway, Mariah Reynolds came to Hamilton and cried and told him her husband abused her and if only she could get Hamilton's help... Reynolds was setting him up. She and her husband made the plan to extort him together and they sound like super trashy people. Someone saw Hamilton at the Reynold's home (many low-brow discussions took place between Hamilton and Mariah's husband and Hamilton did pay them several times to keep the affair secret) and thought he was giving away financial secrets he would know about because he was Treasury Secretary.

Like a dummy, Hamilton spent hours confessing every disgusting detail of his infidelity to the two men investigating him (one was James Monroe) as proof that he was not selling state secrets. No one wants to know all that! Also, interesting that it meant so much more to him for people to know he wasn't that kind of liar, only the kind of liar who cheats on his wife. Tomato/Potato.

The *spoiler* I found at the museum was one of Hamilton's sons was killed in a duel. Awful. So sad. It was very similar to Hamilton's duel with Aaron Burr later. Hamilton advised his son to throw away his shot (did you sing that part? I do every time). In Hamilton's view, obviously missing his opponent would mean both of them would live and his son would come away honorably. The other guy, however, didn't know Hamilton Jr (can't remember his name!) had missed on purpose. What a stupid way to die.

Alexander and Eliza got over the very public and humiliating cheating scandal with Mariah Reynolds, but Hamilton's political career never recovered. He went back to being a lawyer to try to get out of the money pit of working in public service. I loved that Hamilton argued for the law instead of going with the waves of emotion against pro-British citizens. Anyway - the Hamiltons enjoyed a few years at Hamilton Grange, their country house north of Manhattan (now Harlem). They had lots of kids and even took in orphaned children. Eliza became a great advocate for orphans. And she championed her husband and defended him until she died, which was on the eve of the Civil War.

So, yeah, Hamilton wasted his own shot and dueled with Aaron Burr in an effort to defend his honor. Burr was finished after he killed Hamilton. He went on living, of course, but he was finished.

I haven't even scratched the surface of all the interesting stories in this book. Chernow is amazing.

4. Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

This is a story about a 13 year-old boy named Patrick Ashby, a twin, who appeared to commit suicide just a few months after his parents were both killed in a boat accident. Eight years later, a close friend of the Ashby family meets a man who is a dead ringer for Patrick in a bar in London. This "friend" decides to coach the man (Brat Farrar) and have him claim the family fortune instead of his twin, Simon.

I think the British (all Europeans?) were obsessed with this scenario. Probably a lot of people were lost during the war, lost at sea and presumed dead, ran away... It must be excruciating to not know what happened to a loved one.

Anyway! Brat seems to be pulling off his acting job brilliantly for everyone, except the twin brother. Simon is POSITIVE this is not Patrick. When Simon sees that he can't convince anyone else and he's starting to look crazy, he subtly tries to get rid of Brat.

There are side stories about horses and breeding and Brat starts falling in love with one of the Ashby girls (ew). The writing is engaging and the Audible performance is great. I mostly knew what was going to happen, which is always a little disappointing with a mystery. There was a final twist that I didn't see, so that's fun.

5. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

This is a pretty trashy, soap opera-y novel. I watched the HBO mini-series for 15 minutes and it was so disgusting and so far off the mark that I couldn't endure it. The reason I kept reading, and mostly enjoying, the book was because it was making me ask questions about my own life and my own parenting. I think it's a good thing to examine those things.

The story is following a handful of moms (the book takes place in Australia, so "mums") of kindergarten-age children. (The TV version has them in California with first graders. Meh.) One of the mums, Celeste, even has twin 6 year-old boys - like me! There is a whole hierarchy of mothers and lots of posturing to show the other mothers how they should be doing the whole parenting thing. The women seem all wrapped up in their little kindergartners lives and how their education and socialization might affect their precious psyches. Then we look at their home lives and every single one of these mothers is a bona fide MESS. They expect this 23 year-old kindergarten teacher to be acutely aware of every little thing their child is experiencing, yet these mothers (and fathers) are blind to how their marital relationships are affecting their children.

The longer I'm a parent of children who attend school, the more I recognize that what happens at home to reinforce any learning is THE THING. Teachers can spend every minute doing the best possible job teaching my child, but if nothing happens at home then it won't catch.

I already knew that nobody's life is perfect no matter how it may look on the outside, so that message wasn't revelatory to me. For one of the 40 year-old mums, it is a revelation that someone's "perfect" family isn't so perfect. Sad to go that long in life and not recognize that. On the other hand, there are people (and I feel like I'm one of them) who do live happy lives and don't feel like they need to hide things. So, not everyone is secretly miserable and putting on a show of being happy and put-together.

Moriarty did a good job of portraying strong female friendship. I really liked that part. From what I saw (and what I've read in reviews) of the HBO series, the main focus was the sex lives of the women. Why? Aren't we all bored by that? Let's talk about the million other things that make up relationships and marriage and life experience in general. Moriarty showed that you can't hide from your children - they pick up on everything. Didn't someone say in a recent General Conference talk to give children something great to imitate? Also, seeing your life through the eyes of your child makes decisions much easier. (It's the ONLY way Celeste finally sees her marriage clearly. That was interesting.)

There are swears and a few scenes of violence in the book. I listened to Caroline Lee (no relation) read it and her Australian accent is a delight. I think this might be a beach read.

6. Anatole by Eve Titus, illustrated by Paul Galdone

In the mouse world created by Eve Titus, mice husbands and fathers provide for their families by going out at night and "stealing" leftovers and garbage from humans to feed their families. Anatole hears humans complaining about mice eating their food and he is shocked. What?! Humans don't like mice being in their kitchens and scurrying around their food?!

Anatole can't live with this information and decides to find a way to "pay" for the food he takes. He sneaks into a cheese factory and finds his solution. Anatole takes a bite of every cheese (shudder) and leaves a note on each one telling them how to improve the flavor or when the flavor is just right. The humans see these notes and are, like, "Awesome! Now our cheese factory will be the best in the world!" No, really. That's what they do.

The take-away is, earn your own way in life. And, always trust notes that are left on your food even if all the doors were locked and there are no signs of a break-in... No, man! It was a mouse! A mouse was eating your cheese and writing reviews of it! :)

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