Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pip & Tad's Playlist - Don't Rain On My Parade

My kids already have very eclectic musical taste - we listen to music a lot, and they have very definite opinions about what they like and what they can do without. I have a feeling this won't be the only thing they have opinions on......

It was the tv show "Glee" that first turned them on to this song, but now whenever they hear ANY version of it they are mesmerized. I can't help but feeling a teensy bit proud of this one....


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Book Thoughts - Love, Fiercely by Jean Zimmerman

Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance by Jean Zimmerman
published 3/13/12

Synopsis from publisher:

The New York love story of a beautiful heiress and a wealthy young architect, captured in a famous John Singer Sargent painting.

In Love, Fiercely Jean Zimmerman re-creates the glittering world of Edith Minturn and Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes. Contemporaries of the Astors and Vanderbilts, they grew up together along the shores of bucolic Staten Island, linked by privilege; her grandparents built the worlds fastest clipper ship, his family owned most of Murray Hill. Theirs was a world filled with mansions, balls, summer homes, and extended European vacations.

Newton became a passionate preserver of New York history and published the finest collection of Manhattan maps and views in a six-volume series. Edith became the face of the age when Daniel Chester French sculpted her for Chicago's Columbian Exposition, a colossus intended to match the Statue of Liberty's grandeur. Together Edith and Newton battled on behalf of New York's poor and powerless as reformers who never themselves wanted for anything. Through it all, they sustained a strong-rooted marriage.

My thoughts:

First Impression (3/15/12) - I think this book could be right up my alley. I love a good biography about a strong, passionate, intelligent woman, and Edith Minturn certainly seems to fit the bill. The writing has been nicely detailed, but not so much that I feel like I am reading a history textbook. And I appreciate the humor of an author who chooses to include things like the Stokes' family summer vacation checklist:

"....ten servants, Miss Rondell, one coachman, three horses, two dogs, one carriage, 5 large boxes of tents, 3 cases wine...stove pipe, 2 stoves, 1 bale china, 1 iron pot, 4 wash stands, 1 bbl. of hardware, 4 bdles. of poles, 17 cots and 17 mattresses, 4 canvas packages, 1 buckboard, 5 barrels, 1 half barrel, 2 tubs of butter, 1 bag coffee, 1 chest tea, 1 crate china, 12 rugs, 4 milk cans, 2 drawing boards, 25 trunks, 13 small boxes, 1 boat, 1 hamper..." (location 855)

(Seriously! And my dad thinks my mom packs too much to go to Arizona for the winter!)

I am currently 35% of the way through the book, and Edie has just refused Newton's first marriage proposal - can't wait to see how this love story continues!

Second Thoughts (3/21/12) - I am definitely still enjoying the story of Edith and Newton, but less because of their romantic relationship and more because of the fascinating times they found themselves living in. Newton is one of the leaders of the movement to provide safe, affordable housing for immigrants. Edith leads the way in the creation of kindergartens for all children. I am really finding the details about their lives and the work they choose to be quite interesting. Much of what they do is ahead of their time (who knew that legal adoption was almost unheard of during this time?). It's interesting to speculate on what makes them choose the specific paths they take.

However, I am not caught up in their supposed romantic relationship. In the prologue, the author calls their story "the greatest love story never told", but I am not getting the sense of that romance at all. If anything, I can see their relationship as a extremely pragmatic decision on Edith's part. She knew she couldn't survive in a traditional marriage, so she found someone she could see would allow her to still be the strong, independent woman she needed to be. I believe their relationship contained a great deal of mutual respect, and probably affection, but I'm still waiting for the great romance.

Final Word (3/27/12) - This was good, but not for the reasons I expected it to be. I think perhaps the title lead me to believe it would be a grand, sweeping romance, and it really wasn't - it was an interesting look at two people who lived in very interesting times. I'm glad I read it - I definitely learned much I hadn't known before, but do feel a bit let down that it didn't deliver on my first impression. Recommended for nonfiction readers interested in historical biographies.

Finished: 3/26/12
Source: review copy from publisher via Netgalley - thank you!
MPAA rating: PG - some adult situations, but nothing overt or explicit
My rating: 7/10

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Book Thoughts - The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley

The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley
published 2/14/12

Synopsis from publisher:

Spanning from the 1930s to the present day, from the Wharton Park estate in England to Thailand, this sweeping novel tells the tale of a concert pianist and the aristocratic Crawford family, whose shocking secrets are revealed, leading to devastating consequences.

As a child, concert pianist Julia Forrester spent many idyllic hours in the hothouse of Wharton Park, the grand estate where her grandfather tended exotic orchids. Years later, while struggling with overwhelming grief over the death of her husband and young child, she returns to this tranquil place. There she reunites with Kit Crawford, heir to the estate and her possible salvation.

When they discover an old diary, Julia seeks out her grandmother to learn the truth behind a love affair that almost destroyed the estate. Their search takes them back to the 1940s when Harry, a former heir to Wharton Park, married his young society bride, Olivia, on the eve of World War II. When the two lovers are cruelly separated, the impact will be felt for generations to come.

My thoughts:

You know when you are reading a book and you start putting events together, and a possible scenario comes to mind, and you think, "No way. That's W A A A Y too obvious. The author can't possibly be taking us there", and then 20 pages later that's exactly where you are? This book did that 3 times. Three. Times.

I could really end my thoughts right there, and not feel too bad about this post, but since I did actually finish the book, there were obviously some redeeming aspects to it. I found Julia to be a sympathetic heroine, and many of the passages written in first person from her point of view were quite lovely. (I did not, in contrast, find myself able to feel much sorry for Olivia at all, which is probably another serious issue - if I find myself irritated with the secondary protagonist most of the time she is on stage, it probably doesn't bode well. But we are looking for redeeming aspects, right......) I also very much enjoyed Elsie and Bill - their relationship was probably the strongest in the whole novel.

I found myself very interested in the sections about Harry in the Pacific theater during and just after WWII, but unfortunately they were brief, and quickly overtaken by the secondary love story. I would have loved for those experiences to have been given more prominence, especially because the author indicated that they had much deeper significance with the discovery of a diary earlier in the novel. I also felt at times that the writing itself could have been better - it seemed like there were a few times when a word choice or phrase were out of place, or odd, and another could have served better.

Really, this was a fine story, but it felt like it could have been more. I was frustrated that the author seemed to take the obvious road on several occasions, when it felt like she could have made the novel so much deeper with just a little more effort. I felt like the bones of the story were good, but the execution let me down. I would still be open to reading more from this author, in the hope that her consequent works show the growth that would make her an excellent writer.

Finished: 3/3/12
Source: review copy from publisher via Netgalley - thank you!
MPAA rating: PG-13 for adult situations
My rating: 5/10