Alexander Hamilton

Title: Alexander Hamilton Author: Ron Chernow
Pages: 818 Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Recommended: If you like history, especially of the American variety or politics of any kind.
Song: The Hamilton soundtrack. The whole thing. Over and over.

The Hamilton Hype is for real, and this is the book that started it all.

So while the broadway smash is sold out for months and the soundtrack is on repeat in my ears, I’m having a hard time separating the book from the play.

This biography blipped my radar because I wanted to listen to (and better understand) the soundtrack. (Yes, I will watch a movie without reading the book, but that’s just not very often.)

A Good Biography

51P1c42DyLL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Lively or boring. Protective shield or exposé. A good biography can be all of these. Most of these is that I believe it. The second is that I leave it with the feeling that this person’s life impacts me personally; that the world, my world is less without them.

Alexander Hamilton may have died 200 years ago, but he’s still the face on the $10 bill. Youngest founding father, first Secretary of the Treasury, BFF of George Washington and Lafayette, husband and father of eight. He wasn’t perfect, but it takes a big person to openly admit that. He fought for America’s success, and he won. Hard.

That being said, I kept wondering when Aaron Burr was finally going to take his fatal shot. The amount of detail is cray-cray and government policy building isn’t really my thing.

Inspiring Great Things

Ron Chernow’s hard work paid off with this one. Broadway talent Lin-Manuel Miranda (LMM) happened to pick up this book during a vacation and it lit a fire that resulted in the hip hop Broadway smash.

I too laughed when I heard Miranda say that Alexander Hamilton embodied hip hop, but as I read this book, I began to see the connection. Hamilton fought hard for everything he had. He defended himself. He refused to be less than the best.

So, book or play? If you can get tickets, DO IT. Read the book after to get the rest of the details and have songs to enliven the text.

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Shadow and Bone

Title: Shadow and Bone. (The Grisha #1) Author: Leigh Bardugo
Pages: 358 Genre: YA Fiction/Fantasy
Recommended: If you like most YA books.
Song: “Just Like Fire” by P!nk

This book is all about magic.

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Yes, it’s YA

The appreciation scale of YA literature ranges from “ga-ga” to “bitter hater”. I fall somewhere in between, where I’m all-at-once ambivalent, swoony, and ready to criticize. “Shadow and Bone” follows the typical YA plot: adolescent separated from their normal life and sent to a strange place with equally strange people, strange new skills and strange drama. High school + magic = best seller in the bag. (Not even joking. At Grisha High there are social cliques based on magical ability.) Insert love triangle and betrayal for added fandom.

One particularly entertaining commentary on female YA characters sums it up perfectly. Thanks, Nataliya on Goodreads!

So, Why Read?

I fell under the spell of “Six of Crows“, published by the same author in 2015. Now that Leigh Bardugo has a few successful novels under her belt, I can see where she has become stronger over time (S&B was published in 2012).

What I loved about “Six of Crows” was the depth, variance, and internal struggles of its characters. This I missed in “Shadow and Bone”, where the characters fit into main fairytale and YA archetypes.

That being said, “Shadow and Bone” does have some interesting villian building. I love myself a good villian: one really bad day at work had my buying the Funko pops for Maleficent and Sauron.

Magic Doesn’t Rule

Power breeds power, right? Not in Ravka (setting). Usually, those with magical powers call the shots. In this book, the Grisha (people with magical ability) fit more into the skilled worker role. While an interesting dynamic, I missed explanation of what stopped the Grisha from taking over a long time ago.

Magic As A Talent

Magical trainer Bagda says, “It’s not something separate from you…your power serves you because that is its purpose…because it cannot help but serve you.

Another YA trope: finding your power within yourself. I think this is what has me returning to the genre over and over again. I like when people find that everything they are looking for is right there in their hearts.

Audiobook

Narrator Laruen Fortgang does a great job. I especially like the voice she does for The Darkling. She also narrated a part in “Six of Crows” and was amazing there too.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Title: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking Author: Susan Cain
Pages: 352 Genre: Nonfiction, Psychology
Recommended to: Anyone who wants to understand introversion better
Song: When You Say Nothing At All

imgresMany people confuse introversion is shyness and antisocial behavior. This is a strong misconception, and “Quiet” dispels the many myths surrounding this important personality spectrum.

Quiet first explores the characteristics of introversion, and then covers how introverts can both succeed and fail. It tells stories of specific introverts and how they function in what, in many ways is a society that encourages extreme extroversion.

Finally, “Quiet” explores some habits introverts can employ to thrive.

As an introvert, I had long had this book on my TBR list. In reading it, a gained not only a new appreciation for introversion, but a realization that I’m not quite as introverted as I thought.

Go Set A Watchman

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Title: Go Set A Watchman Author: Harper Lee
Pages: 278 Genre: Fiction
Recommended to: Anyone who loves “To Kill A Mockingbird”, or wants a good story that makes you think deeply.
Song: (In honor of the setting) “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Unbelievable Discovery

It was always so sad, so tragic that Harper Lee was a one hit wonder. What would it be like to have just one masterpiece that at first sweeps the nation, and is then taught in schools for the next 50 years?

And then have a lost manuscript on a related storyline suddenly (if unbelievably) found and published just in time for the end of your lifespan..that’s even more incredible.

I will say three things about “Go Set A Watchman”:

  1. It is amazingly well-written. I loved it.
  2. I remain skeptical as to the origins of the novel. As much as I want Harper Lee to be the author, the timing of its discovery and release is strange.
  3. Reese Witherspoon is the perfect narrator for the audiobook.

Lovable Characters

Every character is perfectly fleshed in “Go Set A Watchman”. For better or worse, I bonded with Jean Louise (a.k.a. Scout), her boyfriend Hank, Atticus Finch, and even the old-fashioned aunt Alexandra.

Complicated Relationships

I’m tortured by Scout’s (Jean Louise’s) views of marriage. I want her to be in love with Hank. But I love how Hank just plain GETS her. Given her past, her skepticism of the future makes sense. She expresses the doubts that future generations of women would use to shape their own relationship decisions. Jean Louise has options and she knows it. While being reluctant to pursue matrimony with Hank, she also holds respect for the institution. After all, why make a commitment to something that you don’t think will last?

I have and will always love Atticus Finch. He is the ideal father of the modern woman, since he accepts and loves his daughter for who she is. He doesn’t lose himself in parenthood, but instead shares his viewpoints with his kids (i.e. reading to them whatever he was reading instead of children’s books).

The Old to the New

The 1960s were a time of great change, especially in the south. Lee respresents this in Jean Louise’s feminism, Macomb’s struggles with civil rights, and the stark difference between New York City and rural Alabama.

Among other women, I’ve often shared Scout’s sentiments. “She could not talk to them for 5 minutes without drawing up stone dead. “I can’t think of anything to say to them. They talk incessantly about the things they do, and I don’t know how to do the things they do.”

Or the idea of what a gentleman is. When Alexandra question Hank’s lack of manners, Scout counters with: “That’s not the trash in him; that’s the man in him.” (I now say this to myself when my husband breaks wind.)


Or the pursual of a liberal arts education and career: “To Alexandra, there was a distinct difference between one who paints and a painter; one who writes and a writer.” (If I had a nickel for every weird look I get when I say I’m a writer…)

Most people still need to work on this one: “Don’t you study about anyone else’s business ‘til you take care of your own.”

Universal Message

Jean Louise discovers that “Every man’s watchman is his conscience”. This is as true today as it was 50 years ago. This world is one giant gray area. To be at peace with yourself, you need to do what you feel is right.

War and Peace

Title: War and Peace

Author: Leo Tolstoy

Pages: 1392

Method of Reading: Audiobook via Overdrive

Genre: Fiction

Thoughts: It’s a classic for a reason. Take the plunge…it’s worth it.

Synopsis: Napoleon follows his hubris into Russia, where the military sets up massive conflagration. In the wake of war, five aristocratic families try to find peace, with themselves and their fellow men.

Recommended To: Everyone. Just…Everyone.

Song for this Book: For a work like this, I think an entire playlist is appropriate. But that’s for another blog.

Review:

Y’know those books that perpetually sit on your “to-read” list/shelf? You have every intention of tackling them, but ultimately get squirreled away with a more tantalizing choice?

If “War and Peace” is on this list for you, I really don’t blame you; reading this bad boy is no small task. I’ve spent most of my life intimidated by it and then the past two months tackling it. Now it’s on my “have read” list and I can confidently say this: it’s not a classic piece of literature because of its length: this book is..well..a masterpiece.

At its center, War and Peace is the story of life, love and family amidst the swirling environment of Napoleonic invasions. Life and love and all of its intricacies, joys and heartaches moves on despite the outside world.

Though the characters live in a completely different time period, their challenges mirror those of today. Take Natasha Rostov: she’s just trying to find “the one”. Dating is rough, and you do a lot of growing up when you find that handsome, rich men aren’t all they are cracked up to be. Pierre Bezukhov just wants to have fun until he realizes fun ≠ fulfillment. Andrei Bolkonski is haunted by his past and confused about his future. And Dolohov…he just wants to partaaay.

Most of the commonly accepted drawbacks of “War and Peace are the lengthy expositiories into war strategies as well as the social and political issues of the time. Though the story does need some of this for adding meaning and the motives of the characters, large portions of the novel could be removed without compromising the plot.

But for real. Put yourself in Tolstoy’s position. The poor guy lives in Russia before centralized heating and Amazon deliveries. Other than drinking a (likely) ready supply of vodka, what else is this guy supposed to do during the long, dark Russian winter?  Obviously, writing deep thoughts.

War and Peace started out as one of the classics to check off my list. (What kind of book blogger would I be, if I weren’t well-read?). This book turned out to be more than a bucket list experience and more of one that I will take with with me in years to come.

Don’t be intimidated by the length, the number of main characters, or the sweeping expanse of Russian countryside. This book is well worth the time invested.

Tips: Read at 1.75 speed and check out the 2016 Lifetime mini series.