Book Review: “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow (5/5)

“While reading the scene in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy in which the tenderhearted Uncle Toby picks up a fly and delicately places it outside a window instead of killing it, Burr is said to have remarked, ‘Had I read Sterne more and Voltaire less, I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me.'”

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Penguin, 2004, 818 pages [hardcover]

Here I am! Hi! Hi!!! I don’t even know if it is worth apologizing for not posting a review in so long; it’s unacceptable, but with everything that I have going on right now my reading and reviewing has suffered the most. :\

Work is good but super busy, and we’re also beginning to navigate the very, very stressful process of purchasing our first (and hopefully only) house. But a new, big house means more space for books, am I right?

In the time since I last posted I have definitely joined the Hamilton bandwagon. I have always been interested in American history, especially earlier American history, but never realized just how fascinating Hamilton’s life was in comparison to the other founding fathers until listening to the soundtrack from the show and then reading this book. Even though I have a lot of nonfiction and biographies on my TBR, I always seem to gravitate to fiction more, but this was really wonderful and maybe I will seek out nonfiction to actually read more often now.

I think with the growing popularity of the musical now, a lot of people know the basics of Hamilton’s life so I won’t really go into that in this review. What I want to talk about here is Chernow’s skill as a biographer and a writer. Unlike many other biographies, I think that Alexander Hamilton provides an extremely well-rounded and honest portrait of a quite complicated man: as much as there is to love and respect about Hamilton, he was a very vain, rather elitist guy who would do pretty much anything that he could to move up in the world and obtain more power. Chernow doesn’t shy away from this at all and continuously reinforces Hamilton’s personality traits, both positive and negative, as explanations for why he made many of the questionable decisions of his career. The writing was persuasive, emotionally effective, and often funny and sarcastic. Even though there was a very large cast of characters, between Hamilton’s wife and eight(!!!) children and his many political comrades and enemies, I felt like I knew everyone so well by the end (and we all know how it ends).

It’s also hard for me not to mention that since I was familiar with (OK, memorized all of the songs) the musical soundtrack prior to reading the book, it just reinforced for me how much of a genius Lin-Manuel Miranda is. It was really great for me to continuously find quotes and/or descriptions from Chernow that matched song lyrics. I can’t say exactly when I’m seeing the show (the tickets are a “surprise” from my husband), but I know that it is at some point in the not too distant future, and having read Alexander Hamilton is only going to enhance my experience.

Not surprisingly, I am giving Alexander Hamilton 5 stars. If you already love the musical/soundtrack, you have nothing to lose by reading this, except maybe time, since it did take me almost a month of train reading to get through it. If you have an interest in American history/founding fathers/colonial America etc., this is also a great choice. Despite the length and depth of this book I really never felt bored at all while reading it – I don’t know how much of that can be attributed to Chernow’s talents and how much to the fact that Hamilton’s life as compared to many of his contemporaries was simply very interesting, but those two factors have created a great combination and I’m so glad that I read it.

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Hope to be able to post a bit more regularly, but do not want to make a promise that I can’t fulfill. Miss you all though.

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Book Review: “The Bookseller” by Cynthia Swanson (2.5/5)

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Harper, 2015, 352 pages [hardcover]

I had seen some reviews of this floating around Goodreads and other blogs and I was very intrigued. It was also in the staff picks at my library which definitely made me think that I was in for a treat. I always gravitate towards “books about books” which includes books about bookstores!! Unfortunately, though, I did not love this book as much as I hoped to. Looking again at other reviews I feel I might be in the minority so I hope I can do a good job explaining why it didn’t work for me.

The Bookseller tells the story of Kitty Miller who runs a bookshop in Denver in the early 1960s with her best friend. She’s in her late 30’s and doesn’t have any real romantic prospects but is OK with it and has come to terms with being single. However at night Kitty starts dreaming of another life, where she is Katharyn Andersson, married to handsome architect Lars and the mother of three children. As time goes by and the dreams become more vivid Kitty starts to become quite confused as to what really is a dream and what is reality, and starts to wonder where she truly belongs.

There were honestly some things about this book that I adored. I am a huge fan of mid century modern architecture, decor, and just… stuff (products? housewares?), and Swanson’s descriptions of the Anderssons’ 1960s house were so very on point with this. Her writing is truly transportive (is this a word? it’s late here) in this way; I felt extremely integrated into the politics and society of the time, from the gender roles, attitudes about marriage and parenting, fashion, and even the growth of suburbs.

So why didn’t I love this? As great as many of the descriptions were much of the story was a bit boring. I thought that the Kitty/Katharyn character really lacked a spine and I just couldn’t relate to her at all. I love a good twist as much as anyone could but the twists that the author pulled out here just left me feeling kind of hollow. Also without giving anything more away even though I really did feel transported to the 1960s including the politics and attitudes of that time there were a few comments and insinuations made about parenting that as a hopefully future mother some day (in a few years, Mom, I know you are reading this) just upset and angered me (I would be happy to explain more privately just to avoid spoilers).  These faults and more just overpowered the generally good writing for me. 2.5 stars but would not rule out a future Cynthia Swanson book.

Book Review: “The Boston Girl” by Anita Diamant (4/5)

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Scribner, 2014, 336 pages [hardcover]

I got this book from the library after several recommendations from friends (and my mom, my faithful reading buddy). Anita Diamant is probably most well-known for writing The Red Tent which was adapted into a TV miniseries and which I actually have not read! I do have it now from the library though, and after my experience with The Boston Girl I think I will be reading it sooner rather than later.

The Boston Girl made me feel very nostalgic because my grandmother passed away three years ago, almost to the day, and this book takes the form of an 85-year-old grandmother (Addie Baum) narrating to her granddaughter (Ava), telling her all about her life beginning with her childhood in Boston in the early 1900s. My own grandmother was born just 17 years after Addie and had some similar experiences growing up in terms of being one of the first in her family to go to college and really work hard to make a name and future for herself. It made me miss her a lot and wish that I had spent more time with her finding out more about her past while she was here.

It took me a little while to get used to the second-person interjections that Addie’s character often made to Ava. I feel that second person is pretty uncommon especially in historical fiction, but in general I did think that it worked in this scenario, with an older woman basically recounting specific stories from her past in response to her granddaughter asking: “How did you get to be the woman who you are today?”

I found the greatest strength of this book to be in the characterization. Throughout changing times, cultural adjustments, family, financial, and personal struggles, Addie really remains true to herself which I respected. Other characters are also presented strongly such as Addie’s mother who really struggles with a life in America and finds it highly challenging to let go of the “old ways” of living. Although the plot was slower at times, this was definitely a solid 4-star read for me.

 

Quick Update

I just wanted to write a quick post to say hi to everyone and promise that I am going to get a couple of reviews out this weekend. I started a totally unexpected new job at the end of September, and I am loving it so, so much, but I never expected that I would have a job where I’d be so busy that I didn’t have time to do my blog anymore :\ it is just a totally different style of work than I had before (I finally feel like a real lawyer, which is wonderful) and also commuting to Brooklyn between 3 and 4 hours total each day means that when I get home most nights I just want to sleeeeeeeeep. I am over two months behind on reviews and that makes me so sad because the long commute also means that I’ve been reading a ton!

I really hope that I can catch up with my reviews and also try to set aside a little bit of time every day to interact, too. I promise all of my followers & especially friends I’ve made through blogging that I do not intend to ever stop blogging, just am in the middle of this adjustment period and hopefully can get back into the swing of things soon!

 

xoxo

Top Ten Tuesday #18: GIVE ME YOUR NEXT BOOK NOW, PLEASE (if you haven’t already)

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, participating bloggers create a list corresponding to a particular theme. This week, we are listing our top ten debut authors who have us looking forward to their sophomore novels, and/or top ten sophomore novels we loved just as much as the debut book! I know I haven’t been around here much lately because of work but this is a topic that I enjoy and I’m happy to join in for once (scheduled post of course). I will do 5 that I want a sophomore novel of and 5 sophomore novels I liked:

  1. Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus: I have seen mixed reviews but I absolutely adored this book and I really really would like to see her next book soon, I know it’s in progress.
  2. Andy Weir, The Martian: You can see my review for this book here.
  3. Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Jinni: You can see my review for this book here.
  4. Rene Denfeld, The Enchanted: You can see my review for this book here.
  5. Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies: I know that 2 more books are in progress
  6. Kiera Cass, The Elite: Ok this is cheating but I’m tired :p
  7. Gillian Flynn, Dark Places: Much preferred this one to her debut (Sharp Objects) actually, and found Gone Girl the best of the 3 so far
  8. Caitlin Moran, Moranthology: I loved the randomness of this compared to How To Be A Woman
  9. Deborah Harkness, Shadow of Night: I think that the first 2 books in the trilogy slightly edged out the third for me, but those first 2 were quite close.
  10. Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere/StardustNeverwhere was his first solo novel following Good Omens with Terry Pratchett, so I could count both of these as the sophomore novel depending on how you look at it.

As ALWAYS please share your TTT below. I know that I have been busy and not as active on here but I will respond to any of your comments and check out your own posts as well.

WWW Wednesday #15

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WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. Participating bloggers answer 3 simple questions:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What are you going to read next?

Currently Reading

  • Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien de Castell – been on hold for a while though
  • Dark Witch by Nora Roberts: this is the first in a trilogy. I read about half today on my commute, I am liking it more than I was anticipating based on some other reviews so I will probably continue with this trilogy and review all 3 books in one review.

Recently Finished: SO MANY REVIEWS TO DO

  • The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
  • The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson
  • The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes
  • Bird Box by Josh Malerman
  • Demelza by Winston Graham
  • The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
  • Among Others by Jo Walton
  • The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
  • The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

Planning to Read Next

  • Jeremy Poldark by Winston Graham
  • Might try reading fewer books at a time and taking a small reading hiatus in order to catch up on all of these reviews.

Have you read something great lately? How is your reading progress this week? I want to know 🙂

Top Ten Tuesday #17: Ten Wishes for the Book Genie!

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Another scheduled post. Work is actually sucking the life out of me. Not even actual work which I enjoy, just commuting. I feel like all I do is ride the train. I have another great(?) train story to rival the horrible women who teased me a few weeks ago. Today I was looking forward to a good trip home because I was sitting in the unofficial quiet car on the train with my book and had caught the last direct train to my house without a transfer and this extremely drunk man came on into my car and was yelling unintelligibly the entire time until the cops escorted him off the train at the first stop! Keep in mind this was about 6PM and he was out of his mind wasted. Anyway……..

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, participating bloggers create a list corresponding to a particular theme. This week is a chance for us to get really creative and list ten wishes we would ask the book genie to grant us! I am going to GIF it up so enjoy.

  1. A watch that would let me stop time for a while whenever I felt like I needed some extra reading time in the day. And some extra blogging time, too!

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  2. Unlimited funds for new book purchases! (So that I could stop feeling guilty whenever I buy a book full price…)

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  3. Complete set of Harry Potter prequel(s) and accompanying movie(s). Like exploring Lily/James/Sirius/Snape et. al.’s time at Hogwarts and afterwards until where Sorcerer’s Stone picks up. I can’t be the only one who wants this. Come on genie

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  4. Meet Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling and Stephen King! (really meet Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling and Stephen King and not faint, I don’t have a great track record with meeting celebrities and remembering to breathe)

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  5. A brand new reading chair. It needs to recline and be super soft and cozy. My couch is good, my bed is fine, leather desk chair OK, but none of these are THE ONE.

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  6. Double my reading speed but retain ability to process and enjoy everything so I can read twice as many books

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  7. New books from all of my favorite authors, it isn’t even worth listing specifics because there are so many who I wish would write more just for meeeeeee

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  8. Ability to select and make the perfect food and drink to go along with whatever book I am reading. Because why not?

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  9. The ability to actually DNF something, as I discussed in last week’s TTT. PLEASE.

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  10. Continued contact with people who enjoy discussing books with me! This means you 🙂

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Please share your TTT below. Would love to see what you are wishing for!

WWW Wednesday #14

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WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. Participating bloggers answer 3 simple questions:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What are you going to read next?

Currently Reading

  • Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien de Castell – been on hold for a while though
  • The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (audio)
  • The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
  • Demelza by Winston Graham

Recently Finished: More reviews to come, hopefully over the weekend

Planning to Read Next

  • Cousins O’Dwyer trilogy by Nora Roberts (something a little witchy for October)
  • Among Others by Jo Walton

Share your week in reading in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday #16: My Top Ten Dream Author Duos

*this is a scheduled post! I am at work right now as you read this! I am trying so hard to be better with blogging!*

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, participating bloggers create a list corresponding to a particular theme. This week, we’re asked to come up with our top ten author duos we would love to see write a book together. This is so hard! And apologies if any of these already did happen, but I really don’t think so! Also if these are not original… this really was hard :p but I haven’t seen anyone else’s, as it’s still Monday night while I’m actually writing!

  1. Neil Gaiman & V. E. Schwab – a crazy twisted London story
  2. Andy Weir & Ernest Cline – sci-fi
  3. Gillian Flynn & Paula Hawkins – thriller of thrillers
  4. Liane Moriarty & Jojo Moyes – so much more than just “chick lit”
  5. Hilary Mantel & Philippa Gregory – Tudor Time
  6. M.R. Carey & Josh Malerman – ultimate creepy factor
  7. Brandon Sanderson & George R.R. Martin – EPIC EPIC FANTASY
  8. Deborah Harkness & Laini Taylor – paranormal? What do we call these? I just think they could be a good pair.
  9. Deborah Feldman & Julia Dahl – Julia Dahl already wrote what I thought was a great thriller exploring issues in Hasidic Judaism. Feldman wrote a memoir describing her childhood within a Hasidic sect and how she eventually left. I think it would be interesting for Feldman’s experiences to influence Dahl’s knowledge about this for future works.
  10. John Green & Markus Zuzak – whether this would be historical or contemporary, the feels would be guaranteed.

What authors would *you* love to see team up and write a book or two? Let me know by sharing your own TTT in the comments! 🙂

**Oh, and if someone wants to post this on the Broke and Bookish link up thing for me, I’d love that. Don’t feel obligated though, I can always do it when I get home from work! ❤

Book Reviews: “Smoke and Mirrors” and “Fragile Things” by Neil Gaiman

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I wanted to review these two Neil Gaiman short story compilations together. I think that with the completion of both of these books, I have read just about all of Gaiman’s full-length published works for adults! Although to call these “short story” compilations isn’t exactly fair. Gaiman fills both of these with poems, essays, and other types of writing that go far beyond just stories, which makes his work such a pleasure for me to read.

Smoke and Mirrors is subtitled “Short Fictions and Illusions” while Fragile Things is subtitled “Short Fictions and Wonders.” I found Smoke and Mirrors to have a generally darker tone though both books experiment with the fantastic and supernatural. Smoke and Mirrors is an older book (first published 1998) and for me really carried a lot of the feeling of books like American Gods. My favorite story of anything that appeared between either of these two books was “October in the Chair” from Fragile Things. I adored this story, which described a meeting of the personified months of the year as they gather to hear a rather dark tale told by the character of October. There are also many retellings of myths, fairy tales, and references to other works by Gaiman and otherwise, but of course also much that is completely unique. I read these two collections one after the other and I think they sort of just blended together in my mind but if I was going to pick one I did prefer Fragile Things slightly more.

One problem that avid Gaiman fans might have with both of these is the fact that there is not much original material in either of them, but this wasn’t a problem for me personally and just about everything was new for me – just something to think about if you do follow a lot of the literary magazines and other sources where his work appears. For me I feel like no matter how much Neil Gaiman I read there is always something totally original and very out-there for me to find. I think he has one of the most vivid imaginations of any contemporary author and hope he continues to harness this to provide more books for me to read! I’m giving 4 stars to both Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things.