September 21, 2018

Mini Theme: Off the Deep End

Of the book reviews I had yet to post, a handful of them had a rather dubious connection: characters that went off the deep end, taking others with them. Unfortunately, these stories all happened to be true. Yup.

It is fascinating to read about dysfunction--more so than happiness, I'm sorry to say. Unless the happiness has been hard-won after some bouts of misery. I had a writing professor say once that "Only misery is interesting." I suppose that has some truth in it.

So these books have their share of misery, coupled with some generous doses of mental illness. So if you find yourself drawn to these types of stories, dive in! Leave me a comment letting me know which was your favorite on the list.

p.s. Yes, the first one on the list was from nearly a year ago! High time to get this review published and out the door!

Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy, by Paul Thomas Murphy

3 stars: Interesting, but very detailed; a bit long to get through in parts.

Did you know that there were 8 different attempts on Queen Victoria's life during her reign? I didn't either. In fact, there's a lot I didn't know about Queen Victoria prior to reading this book.

For each assassination attempt, Murphy goes into detail about the man who was behind the weapon. His background, family situation, previous employment, mental health, and much more. The steps and planning leading up to each crime were similarly brought forward, with a blow-by-blow account of each attempt at the climax.

Then we learn about what happened to each of the men, including their trials, and any incarceration or other punishment meted out. This leads into side discussions of the judicial system in England at the time, various prisons and their histories, and so on. Back to the main topic, we also see how Queen Victoria and Albert handled each incident, and the effect on the monarchy itself. Surprisingly, each attempt greatly strengthened the love of the people for their Queen and the influence of the monarchy itself.

I liked this one; it was a good read. I just had to take it a bit at a time and keep coming back to it. I didn't realize that Victoria and Albert had 8 children, nor did I remember that he died so young leaving her a widow. Their love story was neat to learn more about.

Though they were diversions off the main topic, I was also interested in the way the law changed over the years, to deal with these men. The original crime for "taking a pop at the Queen" was high treason, with life imprisonment if the Queen pardoned him, or hanging if not. It became clear over time, however, that some of the attempts were copycat crimes, or for notoriety rather than actually wanting to kill the Queen, or even as a ticket out of poverty at the expense of the crown (prisoners had their room and board provided, after all) and so on. So the law and subsequent punishments were changed to administer public shame and embarrassment, rather than death or life imprisonment.

If you liked this one, here are 2 more for you about the lives of royal ladies: To Be A Queen.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester

3 stars: Quite interesting.

Writing and compiling the definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary was a huge undertaking, spanning several decades, and eventually filling several volumes. The head of the project for most of that time, James Murray, decided on an extra thorough and time-intensive approach. He solicited quotations from the general public. The idea being that each quotation, from all types of literary and old texts, would show the various nuances of the word in question. The quotations then had to be read and checked and decided upon one at a time for inclusion into the OED or not.

So, in the meantime, there was a Dr. Minor, who suffered from hallucinations and delusions and who murdered a man based on these delusions. Dr. Minor was locked up in an insane asylum for this murder. It was, however, certainly not a padded cell. He had a sitting room and over the years procured quite an extensive library. He lived most of his life in this asylum.

During his incarceration, he heard the call for submissions for the dictionary. This type of quotation treasure hunt amongst his books was just what he needed to fill the long days. He became one of the most prolific contributors to the OED, and even would contact Murray at times to see what words were being worked on and if there were any in particular that still needed quotations. Murray didn't realize that Minor was in the asylum until many years into their correspondence.

* * * * *
I'm glad I read this one. I enjoy learning more about these niches of history that otherwise I would know nothing about. Now I want to go peruse the OED, though I doubt our small-town American library would have a copy.

Content: Many of Minor's hallucinations were sexual in nature. While not graphically described, I wouldn't give this one to my kids to read.

Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier, by Tom Kizzia

3 stars: Chilling, but with some hope at the end.

The Pilgrim family consisted of Papa and Mama, and 15 children. They moved up to the tiny Alaskan village of McCarthy, and proceeded to make themselves right at home. In fact, they set up living in an abandoned copper mine a ways out from the settlement, and began building a home, and making roads in to their place.

As far as anyone knew, they were God-fearing Christians, who all had a bent for folk music. They were quite charming in their homemade clothes, and the children were not shy about making friends and talking to the other folk in the town. They seemed like a happy, homeschooled, "back to the earth" type bunch, who didn't care what other people though about them.

The longer they lived there, however, the more trouble started sprouting up around them. It seems they didn't actually purchase the land they had settled on. Also, the National Park Service was getting pretty bent out of shape about the roads (bulldozed through federally protected land). When the NPS sent out a representative to start a dialogue about it, however, the Pilgrim family resisted mightily and vocally. McCarthy soon became split in its views as to whether or not the Park Service had the right to kick out the Pilgrims.

That wasn't the worst of it. The cracks began to show in the Pilgrim family's fa├žade of brightness and goodness, too. The children more often than not appeared woefully neglected; and became downright surly to anyone trying to talk with them. People began missing things from their homes or yards, and there began to rumors flying about the living conditions up at the Pilgrim's homestead.

All was not right in the world of the Pilgrims and before it was all said and done, their story would be big news.

* * * * *
This book had me at "Alaska Frontier." I am quite predictable that way. Anything featuring my home state immediately perks up my interest.

This was quite the story. An entire family completely held captive, basically, by their father--a man who reinvented himself as needed to make his next conquest. A man who ruled his little kingdom with an iron fist, while claiming to have sanction from God. The worst kind of evil--evil that masquerades as God's will.

Those poor kids, growing up in a home rampant with all kinds of abuse and neglect. It goes most into the story of the oldest daughter, and what she did that brought everything to light. The author first came across this story as a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News.

I found the land use debate quite interesting as well. Though it was sparked off by this family's resistance to government "meddling," it was more of a backdrop to what was really going on with them.

Content: Physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. For adults.


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Have you read anything lately that would fit my mini theme?

September 19, 2018

Pat of Silver Bush, by L. M. Montgomery

I am slowly trying to read every L.M. Montgomery book and review them all on this blog! So, I found this one that I had never read before. I love the cover art in the edition I got. However, this book has sat on my bookshelf untouched for many months before I finally picked it up the other day.

Pat of Silver Bush, by L. M. Montgomery

2 stars: It was okay, I guess. My least favorite of hers so far.

Pat Gardiner lives at Silver Bush, along with her family and the family's old nurse Judy who has been with them forever and ever. Our little Pat is a precocious girl, who is fiercely attached to everything and everyone that she loves: each member of her family, Judy, and Silver Bush itself. She is violently opposed to change of any kind coming into her world, but particularly change that effects any of the inner circle.

In fact, she despises change so much that she is inconsolable when her father shaves off his mustache, and quite distraught when her favorite aunt gets married. Yes, little changes and even happy events cause no small amount of heartache to Pat. She does get over such things, eventually, and sometimes even comes to prefer the new state of things to the old. Not that she will readily admit it.

No matter what happens, though, Judy is there to give her counsel, tell her ghost stories, or comfort her. Judy is the rock around which her little world spins. Thank goodness for Judy!

* * * * *
I had a hard time getting into this one. One obstacle was Judy's speeches. She was almost more of a main character than Pat, and had quite a bit of dialogue on nearly every page, all of it written in dialect form. It took some getting used to. You almost had to read some of the passages out loud to figure out what she was trying to say. So that was distracting and kept pulling me out of the story.

Secondly, and I almost hate to say this, but I didn't care for Pat all that much. She was so deeply affected by every little thing and would get so upset about it. I had to just shake my head a lot. She would be difficult to live with in real life, that's for sure. If you couldn't so much as rearrange the furniture without her heart breaking over it; as a parent, I would have a hard time putting up with it. Or I would I laugh at it, which no doubt would make her my mortal enemy.

Judy's sayings were at times funny, but she really stole the spotlight for most of the book. I think it should have been called "Judy of Silver Bush," really. She was much more interesting than poor little Pat of the deep emotions.

I think I will read Mistress Pat, just to check it off my list, but I'm not looking forward to it much.
(A sad thing to say about any L.M. Montgomery book.) Maybe the sequel will redeem the first.


September 16, 2018

September Bloom Day

Boy, it's been awhile since I've done one of these posts! 
There has been so much else to do, my camera hasn't ever been the same since the fire, blah blah blah. Anyway, I'm ready to get back on the bandwagon! 

So, without further ado, here's a peak at what's blooming in my garden right now:

Sunflowers! These are in my cutting garden, and I have had way more than I could use or sell this year. Hoping to change that next year, with better marketing, but for now they have sure been a cheerful addition to the backyard!
Check out that gigantic bloom front and center! Loving that!

Also for cutting, these Bells of Ireland just keep going and going!
This is my first time growing them, and I am amazed at how prolific they are.
I've cut some to dry as well--they turn a beautiful ivory color when dry.

These bachelor's buttons are also part of my cutting garden.
I love the burgundy! I've also got blues, pinks, and purples still going out there, as well.

Moving up front now:

The English roses along the front fence have put out a handful of blooms this year.
Since I only planted them in April, I wasn't expecting much more than that.
I am already looking forward to the day when they will cover the fence with those gorgeous, peachy pink blossoms. This variety is 'A Shropshire Lad.'

In my front oval bed, the perennial bachelor's buttons are coming around again.

I had to get a picture of that huge bumblebee that was buzzing around the blossoms.
I've pulled out handfuls of dead or dying leaves and blossoms, and the plants seem to be reviving now. At first I was carefully cutting out the dead parts, but lately it has literally just been grabbing and yanking. The stems break off near the bottom and away we go.
Earwigs seem to love the inner layers of these, and I especially dislike earwigs, so I am happy to take away their habitat.

Same bed.
This lovely purple is hummingbird mint, or agastache.
Yes, I have seen hummingbirds sipping nectar from it on several occasions this summer.
It is so tall and airy. It's a bit too big for this bed as is, but I think as everything grows a bit more around it, it will be just right. 
Those gorgeous roses behind it have bloomed all summer, as well. They go from a soft yellow/orange, to sunset peach, to a cream with hot pink highlights.  I wish I knew what kind they were, but they were already here when we moved in.

So, that's just a little of what I've got blooming.
What's going on in your neck of the woods? 
Check out May Dreams Gardens for more Bloom Day posts.
And yes, I am late! (Usually they go up on the 15th of each month.)

September 14, 2018

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick

I just read this one a few days ago, on the morning it was due to go back to the library. My daughter had been trying to tell me about it, but the details were getting a bit mixed up, so I decided to just read it for myself. I'm glad I did. It has been awhile since I've read middle grade fiction, actually, so it was a nice change of pace.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick
2008 Caldecott medal winner

4 stars: Nice mix of narrative in picture and word forms.

Hugo is a boy who lives in a train station in Paris. His father repairs clocks and anything mechanical at a museum. There's an automoton that his father comes across in the attic of the museum. It's broken. Together the two of them begin to fix it, excited to see what it will do once it's back in working order.

Then his father dies in an fire at the museum. Hugo is left on his own, under the care of his drunken uncle, who is the timekeeper at the train station. Eventually, the uncle leaves too, so Hugo is truly on his own. He knows enough about the clocks (from his uncle) and has enough mechanical know-how (from his father) that he is able to keep the clocks going himself. He has managed to salvage the automaton from the ashes of the museum, so he does his best to start repairing it again as well. He steals food every day and tries to stay out of sight and away from the Station Inspector.

Then one day he steals something from the toy shop booth in the station, and the old man who runs the booth catches him. Piece by piece, his carefully constructed world comes crashing down. What arises in its place will surprise him.

* * * * *
This book is at least half illustrations. Many sections of the story are told entirely in pictures, then the narrative picks back up in words. The book itself is very large for a middle grade book, for that reason.

I enjoyed the mix. Selznick did a great job of integrating the two forms, so that it was fairly seamless. There didn't seem to be any holes in the plot from going back and forth. It was interesting to see what the pictures conveyed vs. what the text said. Obviously, with the text you get to "hear" what the character is thinking, and understand more of their backstory, and the motivations behind their actions. The pictures are more visceral, bringing the emotions to the forefront, and leaving quite a bit as a mystery.

It was very well done. I can see why it won the Caldecott. It would be especially great for kids who aren't very strong readers. It's such a huge book, but goes by so quickly with all the pictures, I would bet they would really feel proud of themselves for finishing it. I can imagine they would be that much more motivated to read the words, too, to find out what's going on in the pictures.

I really liked the ending.

Now I need to check out Wonderstruck again! (I got it for my daughter after this one, but she's already read it and sent it back to the library.)

Do you have a favorite of Selznick's books?