Sunday, September 24, 2017

Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Look at me. I actually finished another IRL book club book. I had this one, bought from Half Price Books for 50 cents (what a deal!). It turned out to be a very quick read, and a pretty good one at that.

I've only read one other book by Tracy Chevalier - Remarkable Creatures - and really enjoyed her style of writing and the way she writes historical fiction.

For Girl, we learn the (fictitious) story of the girl who posed for the painting of the same name for Johannes Vermeer.
Very little is known about Vermeer except he left behind about 35 paintings and left his large family in debt when he died. Chevalier takes us to 1660's Holland so we can see how the painting came to be.

Griet is sixteen years old when she is told she is to live with the Vermeers and become their maid. Her parents are living in poverty due to her father losing his sight in a kiln explosion, causing him to lose his trade. Her brother, Frans, is apprenticing at the tile factory because their father saved up money to send him there to carry on the trade. Griet will be the one who brings in money for the family.

Vermeer's wife, Catharina, takes an instant dislike to Griet, as does the current maid,Tanneke. Griet tries to stay out of sight and trouble and do her job well. The children in the house, for the most part, are decent kids. Cornelia immediately starts out as a problem and Griet slaps her face on her first day there. Not a good start.

One of Griet's tasks is to clean Vermeer's studio but to leave everything exactly as it was. Griet comes up with a way to clean and make it appear nothing has moved. Vermeer happens to come in and see her cleaning the windows and is mesmerized by the light hitting her face. And thus, we start the somewhat downhill trek of Griet.

Griet meets a butcher and his son, both called Pieter. The son has eyes for Griet and soon pursues her. It's becoming apparent that Griet has eyes for Vermeer and that it's reciprocated.

Chevalier delves into Vermeer's techniques of painting which were very interesting to read. Using the camera obscura and painting "false" colors, it gave new insight (to me at least!) on Vermeer's technique.

Did this really happen? Doubtful. But it's a great story to put with the painting.

There is a movie based on the book, although I have not seen it. I might be curious about it, but, knowing myself, I probably won't watch.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

1) I think it's appropriate to be drinking red wine while writing this. Who didn't drink in this book? No wonder everyone made dumb decisions, they were all drunk.

2) This audiobook was so long that I forgot what happened in the beginning (and middle) of the book so I looked it up for assistance.

I started Feast immediately after A Storm of Swords and was so disappointed. I wanted more of what Storm brought me, instead I was thrust into this other timeline of people I didn't care about. I've been keeping up with the HBO series and decided to come back to Feast to see if I liked it any better. Why yes, I did. Now that I was further along with the series, I enjoyed going back to hear the back stories and in-between stories of some of the characters I now really love.

Yes. I know the books < > the show.

So we start with Lord Tywin being killed by Tyrion (YAY!) and Tommen on the throne with his crazy-ass mother, Cersei, as Queen Regent. The show didn't show us much in Tywin's after death scenes but Feast goes in to all of it. ALL of it.

We get many chapters of Sam Tarly heading to the Citadel on orders of Lord Commander Jon Snow to become a maester. Gilly is with him and we get very long descriptions of the boat trip and all of Sam's adventures. He had more adventures in the book than he did in the show, so yay Sam.

One of my favorite characters from the show is Brienne of Tarth and she's featured fairly prominently in the book but I have to admit to despising "A highborn girl of three and ten, fair face and auburn hair" because it was repeated ad nauseum. But I did enjoy Brienne's adventures with Pod. I'm not happy with how Brienne's story was left to us so I sincerely hope something more happens in the next book.

The Dornish women were really featured, which was a bit surprising, as they didn't seem like such big characters in the show. Who knew the craziness that was happening in Dorne??

Jamie the Kingslayer is out on missions from his sister Cersei, but when she needs him most, he's doesn't respond (good for you! She crazy!). I was happy that the High Sparrow dealt with Cersei in the same way I was familiar with. What is with that woman?

Lots of main characters were not even mentioned in Feast, but we did get some glimpses into Sansa and Arya Stark. I'm looking forward to A Dance With Dragons to keep catching up.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Whistler by John Grisham

I've been away from Grisham books for a bit. I like legal thrillers but I think I got overrun by them. So I stepped away and, for reasons I can't recall, decided to try this one. As far as Grisham books go, it's not my favorite but it was a good one nonetheless. I got caught up in it and finished it up pretty quick.

Lacy Stoltz and Hugo Hatch are lawyers who work as investigators for the Bureau of Judicial Conduct. Essentially, they are underfunded, overworked, and chase down complaints of corrupt judges in Florida. Lacy receives a call to meet with a mysterious person about a corrupt judge. Hugo and Lacy head to St. Augustine to meet with Greg Myers, ne. Ramsey Mix, a corrupt lawyer who went to prison and now wants to help take down a judge who seems to be in bed with the Coast Mafia.

We get into all sorts of things in this investigation: mafia, crime lords, Indian casinos, etc etc. It was a lot thrown in to the book but, for the most part, worked. It felt a little too easy in taking down a crime lord, but what do I know about that? Once the FBI was brought it, it all fell into place and that seemed a little far-fetched as well. (j/k FBI).

Not a bad book to pass the time.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Dangerous Minds by Janet Evanovich

I'm on a roll! I found this book at the library on the new shelves and, since I like Evanovich, I decided to try this new series. Yup, I started at book #2. What the hell, Amanda?? To be fair, it just says A Knight and Moon Novel on the front. Not the number of the book in the series. Well, I liked this one enough to go find the first book.

I do like Evanovich's partners-in-crime that she creates. They are great characters who play off of each other very well (and I love the names - Knight and Moon, Fox and O'Hare, etc). This is another set of partners who end up on madcap adventures. In Dangerous Minds, a little monk is included in this group.

Riley Moon  works for the estate of the Knight family, which is immense. The estate and all the wealth was left to eccentric Emerson Moon, who has been studying Buddhism and wants no attachments, including his manor and the things and animals in it. Moon is trying to make sense of the finances for Knight when a little monk walks in with a complaint that his island has disappeared. Wayan Bagus, the monk, was booted off his island by people in khaki and when he tried to go back, it was just gone. Just the type of mystery that Knight gets involved in.

Knight, Moon, monk and Vernon (Knight's childhood friend who accepts his description of "horndog" happily) are off to investigate the island and other National Parks that are similar. All the parks have had mysterious tourist "accidents" and are on top of volcano plumes.

This spirals into a crazy adventure involving Rough Riders (yup, those Rough Riders), Parks, Volcanoes and strange matter. So far fetched and out there but a damn fun ride.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

One Shot by Lee Child

Hey look, I started another series out of order! *sigh*

Luckily, I don't think it  matters. I heard Ann from the Books on the Nightstand podcast talk about Lee Child like I talk about John Sandford, ie. as soon as the author has a new book out, life stops until we read it. Ann always gave good advice on what to read next so while I was shopping at The Book Nook in Anderson, I found One Shot and picked it up (for $1!). Little did I realize that Jack Reacher is a series character. I also didn't realize it's a movie series with Tom Cruise....and I'm confused about that. Reacher is described as huge, in height and muscle mass and... well, I'm bigger than Tom Cruise. Anywho... on to the book.

We cold open with someone setting out to mass murder people in a plaza in a small town in Indiana. He sets up his position, seemingly very careless about leaving behind evidence, and ends up killing 5 people with 6 shots.  The evidence is overwhelming, down to fingerprints on a quarter left in a parking meter, and James Barr is quickly arrested and thrown in jail. He refuses to speak except to say "Get me Jack Reacher". DundunDUN!

Lawyers are hired by Barr's sister but the case seems hopeless against him. Helen Rodin is going to try to defend him anyway because the sister is so insistent that her brother would never do this. Except when he did.... fourteen years previously in Kuwait City where Reacher very nearly got him put away for it. But again, circumstances intervene and Barr doesn't serve time and everyone parts ways.

Reacher sees Barr on the news while in Florida and realizes Barr has acted out the same murder spree he did in Kuwait City and Reacher sets off to Indiana to finish him.

But things really aren't this open and shut, are they? Reacher makes some grand leaps that are needed to move the story along, and honestly, if I knew Reacher's background better I may not have seen them as leaps but as excellent intuition and experience, but alas, I started at book #9. Reacher's character is incredibly resourceful, strong and just the person you want on your side. You definitely don't want this dude against you.

More and more people enter in to this story and the open-and-shut case gets all muddy and confusing. It was a good story that really kept me guessing and a quick read, to boot, because it was so fast paced. Looks like I found a new author to keep after.

(so apparently the Jack Reacher movie is based on this book, although I can't tell that by the trailer)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich

It always pleases me when I get a book I wouldn't normally pick up on my own and find myself lost in it. It doesn't happen all the time but it happens enough for me to keep reading out of my comfort zone.

Quite possibly coming from my perspective as a perpetual single person, this book made me angry. It's clearly a marriage that has gone on too long, one that should have ended years before. Irene and Gil have three children, who alternate between wanting their parents to divorce and wanting them to stay together. Both parties are faulted with the bad marriage, both manipulate, both use and take. I couldn't find sympathy for one over the other until near the end.

Gil made his art career out of painting portraits of his wife. She never paid much attention to what he painted, she just sat for him and became increasingly bitter towards their marriage. When she finally sees what Gil has done to her image, possibly what he thinks about her, she's angry. So she drinks. When Gil starts reading her diary, she makes a new diary and keeps it in a safety deposit box. And she drinks. She decides to keep writing in the diary that Gil is reading in order to manipulate his emotions, knowing full well his anger is violent. She drinks.  She's angry when he starts hitting the children but she keeps going, keeps writing stories of affairs in the diary to make him angrier.

Gil refuses to grant a divorce, refuses to leave. He even envisions that they will spend their afterlife together. Gil is an artist with such delusions that I couldn't stand one iota of his character. He clearly uses and takes advantage of Irene to keep his career going, claiming his love and devotion, but hating her all the same.

They have a terrible, toxic, love/hate/hate relationship and it was, at times, painful to read. Of all the characters, I felt for the children. I wished for their sake something would happen with their parents to help them get away from that abusive house.

Ironic. Considering the ending. I was surprised at what I read, enough that I had to go back and re-read other passages to realize what I had missed.

What started off as a good study in a terrible marriage, ended in shock and surprise.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Just You Wait!

I spent a night in Chicago, a city I love to visit, because I scored tickets to Hamilton (surely you know about Hamilton?). I got them in November 2016 and made sure my two friends got seats to go with me. One friend always goes to musicals with me and the other is a Hamilton fiend. We made arrangements for hotel and travel and then waited....for almost a year.

I watched the PBS documentary in preparation before we left. It's excellent if you haven't seen it!

We explored the city a bit but the underlying excitement was there the whole time. HAMILTON! Finally! I met up with my friend who lives in Chicago and her excitement for us was palpable. She had already seen Hamilton and gave us some pointers (sippy cups for alcohol and make sure you have tissues handy). There's a place right across the street from the theater called Grillroom Chophouse and Wine Bar that has food and Hamilton inspired drinks. I indulged in the Gentleman's Agreement (Gentlemen Jack Whiskey, lemon, grapefruit, amaretto, orange bitters) but was too excited to actually eat.

Finally, through the doors of the beautiful PrivateBank Theater on Monroe Street. I had to make sure I got a drink, of course. Another Hamilton drink in a souvenir sippy cup, please!

Now, to Hamilton:

Based on the biography Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, Lin-Manual Miranda wrote a musical using hip hop, rap, and pop influence and it debuted in 2015 and it became a smash Broadway hit. Well deserved. A minority cast plays the majority of the roles but you really don't notice it, to be honest, when George Washington comes out as a tall, stately, handsome black man with great pipes, because, well, you are in the moment.  

"Our cast looks like America looks now, and that's certainly intentional", Miranda said.

I had downloaded and listened to the soundtrack so I would be familiar with the music but just listening doesn't do it justice. The actor's subtle gestures, or not so subtle gestures, make this musical what it is and make the songs convey exactly what they need to convey.

A shout out first to the cast:

Alexander Hamilton - Miguel Cervantes
Eliza Hamilton - Ari Afsar
Aaron Burr - Colby Lewis
Angelica Schuyler - Jennie Harney
George Washington - Jonathan Kirkland
Marquis de Lafayette / Thomas Jefferson - Chris De'Sean Lee
Hercules Mulligan / James Madison - Wallace Smith
John Laurens / Philip Hamilton - José Ramos
Peggy Schuyler / Maria Reynolds - Aubin Wise
King George - Alexander Gemignani

A shout out because they were absolutely amazing. Their voices were fantastic, their acting was fantastic and their ability to make me tear up.... on point.

One of the most famous songs, My Shot, happens right off the bat. It's enough to get you geared up and cheering for this bastard orphan immigrant, Hamilton.

Rise up! When you're living on your knees, you rise up!

I was curious how they would enact Satisfied and was just in awe at how they rewound the entire scene. Beautiful work.

Thomas Jefferson breaking into the Carlton Dance was not expected in the slightest and I kinda lost my shit laughing at that. Proof that the soundtrack doesn't give you everything you need.

King George....oh, he's a dandy!!! The actor portraying him was great with the subtle gestures and dance moves. King George during the Reynolds Papers scene? Holy shit.... Listening to the lyrics, talk about an abusive relationship!

I wasn't entirely sure why my friend suggested tissues but found out in the second act. When Phillip, Hamilton's son, was killed in a duel, I teared up.

The song, It's Quiet Uptown, is what got me. The stage got blurry, I couldn't see the actors anymore. I'm not ashamed to admit that one hit hard when I saw it on stage. My heart ached for my dad and for my friends who have passed. My throat constricted, the tears came and I was done for.

Burr's Wait For It was more powerful than I expected. Burr essentially followed in Hamilton's footsteps the whole time, only because Burr was a cautious person while Hamilton steamrolled ahead without thought for consequence. It's an interesting paradox: be the slow-burning fire or the explosion that engulfs everyone? In the end, Burr is remembered only for killing Hamilton in a duel but is that the way he should be remembered?

Death doesn't discriminate between the sinners and the saints, it takes and it takes and it takes and we keep living anyway

If there's a reason that I'm still alive while everyone who loves me has died, I'm willing to wait for it.

I am the one thing in life I can control.

It's funny. I've been thinking about the musical ever since Friday night. I'm inspired, in many ways, by what I saw and heard. I want to learn more about American history - since we seem so dead set on repeating it - and I'm inspired to start writing again. Hamilton was a prolific writer, a writer who stirred people into action. Words are powerful, they have meaning and punch. They have the ability to build up and the ability to tear down.

It's also a lesson in your legacy. What will you leave behind? Who will write your story? Are you living a story that's worth writing about? What will people remember about you when you are gone?

If you get a chance, see Hamilton.

Our (unzoomed) view

The adventure gnomes are everywhere


We made it

And for fun