Saturday, February 23, 2019

Midnight Assassin

Book 14 of my 2019 Reading Challenge
read from January 31 - February 7

Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America's Heartland
by Patricia Bryan & Thomas Wolf

Summary (via the book jacket)
published 2005

On a moonlit night in December 1900, a prosperous Iowa farmer was murdered in his bed - killed by two blows of an ax to his head. Four days later, the victim's wife, Margaret Hossack, was arrested and charged with the crime.
The vicious assault stunned and divided the close-knit rural community. The accused woman claimed to be innocent, and some in the community supported her, refusing to believe that a woman could be capable of such a violent act. Others thought she was guilty, because she didn't cry or show emotion - her overall lack of femininity suggested to many that she was capable of violent murder. And when neighbors spoke of abuse within the Hossack home, the prosecutors had what they needed: evidence that Margaret Hossack had a motive to kill her husband.
Midnight Assassin takes us back in time - to the murder, the investigation, and the trials of Margaret Hossack. The book introduces us to Susan Glaspell, a young journalist who reported the story for the Des Moines Daily News and, fifteen years later, transformed the events into the acclaimed short story "A Jury of Her Peers."
Patricia L. Bryan and Thomas Wolf researched the Hossack case for almost a decade, combing through the legal record, newspaper accounts, government documents, and unpublished memoirs. The result is a vivid portrait of life in rural America at the turn of the century and a chilling step-by-step account of the crime and its aftermath. 
Midnight Assassin is about the ways that prejudice and fear can influence justice and how people's preconceptions inform the legal process. It is about a woman tried for a crime but punished for her character.

My Opinion
3 stars

Although the authors were clear from the beginning when they said, "To the extent possible, we have tried to keep our authorial perspective in the background," and "Ultimately, the purpose of our inquiry was not to solve the murder of John Hossack. Our goal was to write a book that allows readers to form their own opinions about the crime and its consequences.", I was surprised when they really didn't add anything to the telling of the story.  It was a good compilation of the sources and I appreciated them not inserting their opinions as the trial was progressing but to not have a recap or summary made me wonder why they wrote the book.  

Reading about the old-time methods of solving a crime and presenting a trial drives me nuts; it really was a crapshoot based solely on people's opinions.  For example, the prosecutor cast doubt on her version that she had slept through the attack by saying that as a mother she should've awoken immediately so "either she was lying or not a proper caretaker to her family."  Barf.

I had no more than passing knowledge of this case but as a native Iowan I recognized a lot of the places mentioned and after looking at their source material I have another couple of books to add to my reading list.

Quote from the Book 
"An old woman on trial for the murder of her husband is far from an every-day sight...The Hossack murder trial will be a story long told in the state of Iowa." ~ Des Moines Daily Capital, April 11, 1901

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Girl Runner

Book 13 of my 2019 Reading Challenge
read from January 28 - February 1

Girl Runner
by Carrie Snyder

Summary (via the book jacket)
published 2015

As a young runner, Aganetha Smart defied everyone's expectations to win a gold medal for Canada in the 1928 Olympics. It was a revolutionary victory, because these were the first Games in which women could compete in track events - and they did so despite opposition. But now Aganetha is in a nursing home, and nobody realizes that the frail centenarian was once a bold pioneer.
When two young strangers appear asking to interview Aganetha for their documentary about female athletes, she readily agrees. Despite her frailty, she yearns for adventure and escape, and though her achievement may have been forgotten by history, her memories of chasing gold in Amsterdam remain sharp. But that triumph is only one thread in the rich tapestry of her life. Her remarkable story is colored by tragedy as well as joy, and as much as Aganetha tries, she cannot outrun her past.
Part historical page-turner, part contemporary mystery, Girl Runner peels back the layers of time to reveal how Aganetha's amazing gift helped her break away from a family haunted by betrayals and sorrow. But as the pieces of her life take shape, it becomes clear that the power of blood ties does not diminish through the years, and that these filmmakers may not be who they claim to be...

My Opinion
3 stars

I really liked the flashbacks about her life but wasn't as invested in the present-day stuff although the pages passed quickly and I finished it in one sitting once the mom entered the picture.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"All my life I've been going somewhere, aimed toward a fixed point on the horizon that seems never to draw nearer. In the beginning, I chased it with abandon, with confidence, and somewhat later with frustration, and then with grief, and later yet with the clarity of an escape artist. It is far too late to step, even if I run in my mind only, out of habit.
 You do what you do until you're done. You are who you are until you're not."

"She must be very young indeed if she imagines it possible to go home."

"The appearance of perfection does not interest me. It is the illumination of near-disaster beside which we all teeter, at all times, that interests me. It is laughing in the face of what might have been, and what is not."

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Body

Oops, I reviewed this book out of order since it was a joint review with my daughter.

Book 16 of my 2019 Reading Challenge
read on February 10

The Body
by Carol Ellis

Summary (via the book jacket)
published 1995

She's seen something too horrifying for words.
No one knows what really happened the night Lisa Randolph fell off the cliff. Now she is paralyzed and mute, so it seems no one ever will.
The Melanie is hired to read to Lisa. At first Lisa just stares blankly, soon she seems to be desperately trying to tell Melanie a secret.
After Melanie's own life is threatened, she knows Lisa's secret is...deadly.

Megan's (12 years old) Opinion
5 stars


"This is one of my favorite books.  It's right up there with 'The Diary of Anne Frank' and 'Out of My Mind'.  I liked the ending, it was a real plot twist.

This is the first thriller I've read and it really set the standard high.  I would like to read this author again.

I've recommended it lots of times since I finished it."

My Opinion
4 stars

When Megan finished this she immediately said I had to read it because she wanted to discuss the ending with someone.  She gave it to me before bed last night and the first words out of her mouth this morning were, "Have you read it yet?" so I knew it had to be a priority.  I sat down right away and finished it in about an hour.

I'm rating it highly because of her reaction and passion for passing it along.  I know I'm not the target audience for this but I would've also loved it at her age.  Even at my age it kept my interest and had some surprises along the way.  I didn't expect the pages to pass as quickly as they did and I had sweaty palms at the end because I wasn't sure how everything would resolve.

I will definitely see if this author has any other books Megan can read.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Unmasked

Book 12 of my 2019 Reading Challenge
read from January 19 - 30

Unmasked
by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Summary (via Goodreads)
published 2018
One of the most successful and distinguished artists of our time, Andrew Lloyd Webber has reigned over the musical theatre world for nearly five decades. The winner of numerous awards, including multiple Tonys and an Oscar, Lloyd Webber has enchanted millions worldwide with his music and numerous hit shows, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera—Broadway’s longest running show—and most recently, School of Rock. In Unmasked, written in his own inimitable, quirky voice, the revered, award-winning composer takes stock of his achievements, the twists of fate and circumstance which brought him both success and disappointment, and the passions that inspire and sustain him.
The son of a music professor and a piano teacher, Lloyd Webber reveals his artistic influences, from his idols Rodgers and Hammerstein and the perfection of South Pacific’s “Some Enchanted Evening,” to the pop and rock music of the 1960s and Puccini’s Tosca, to P. G. Wodehouse and T. S. Eliot. Lloyd Webber recalls his bohemian London youth, reminiscing about the happiest place of his childhood, his homemade Harrington Pavilion—a make-believe world of musical theatre in which he created his earliest entertainments.
A record of several exciting and turbulent decades of British and American musical theatre and the transformation of popular music itself, Unmasked is ultimately a chronicle of artistic creation. Lloyd Webber looks back at the development of some of his most famous works and illuminates his collaborations with luminaries such as Tim Rice, Robert Stigwood, Harold Prince, Cameron Mackintosh, and Trevor Nunn. Taking us behind the scenes of his productions, Lloyd Webber reveals fascinating details about each show, including the rich cast of characters involved with making them, and the creative and logistical challenges and artistic political battles that ensued.
Lloyd Webber shares his recollections of the works that have become cultural touchstones for generations of fans: writings songs for a school production that would become his first hit, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; finding the coterie of performers for his classic rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar; developing his first megahit, Evita, which would win seven Tonys Awards, including Best Musical; staking his reputation and fortune on the groundbreaking Cats; and making history with the dazzling The Phantom of the Opera. 
Reflecting a life that included many passions (from architecture to Turkish Swimming Cats), full of witty and revealing anecdotes, and featuring cameo appearances by numerous celebrities—Elaine Paige, Sarah Brightman, David Frost, Julie Covington, Judi Dench, Richard Branson, A.R. Rahman, Mandy Patinkin, Patti LuPone, Richard Rodgers, Norman Jewison, Milos Forman, Pl├ícido Domingo, Barbra Streisand, Michael Crawford, Gillian Lynne, Betty Buckley, and more—Unmasked at last reveals the true face of the extraordinary man beneath the storied legend.

My Opinion
2 stars

My first sign of danger was when I got this book from the library and saw it was 487 pages. 

The second sign was as I started to read the prologue and saw that this wasn't even the whole story and only covers the beginning of his life through the opening of The Phantom of the Opera.  I'm interested in his life but not that interested.

The third sign was as I started to read it reminded me of the trick my 16 year old daughter likes to do.  She talks to me a lot about gossip and things going on at school so I feel like we have an open dialogue and it's only after I reflect that I realize she didn't actually tell me anything about herself but I know lots of stuff about her friends (I'm onto her now and know to ask questions directly about her).  In this book there was lots of information but it was side details or random tangents or gossip about his friends.  I learned a lot about the affairs happening around him but the only time he mentioned himself was when he couldn't deny it since it's well-publicized and led to his second marriage...maybe that's the only affair he had, maybe not.  It's not the actual answer that matters to me, it's the fact that he airs out the dirty laundry of many around him yet sums up his own stuff with one or two throwaway sentences.

I know he can't change history and get around the fact that his first wife was 16 when they started dating but couldn't anyone have read the line, "There are worse things when you're 21 than a pretty schoolgirl waking you up in the morning.", and recognized the "ew" reaction it might generate?

Besides the fact that I finish everything I start, his obvious love and passion for his work is what kept me reading and I now want to listen to the music he cites, both his own and his inspirations.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"In our increasingly dangerous and fractured world, the arts have never been as vital as they are today."

"Even if I haven't got near to writing "Some Enchanted Evening," I hope I've given a few people some reasonably OK ones. I'd like to give them some more."

Friday, February 8, 2019

Bleed Like Me

Book 11 of my 2019 Reading Challenge
read from January 19 - 29

Bleed Like Me: Poems for the Broken
by Azzurra Nox

Summary (via Goodreads)
Expected publication: February 2019 (I read pre-publication thanks to NetGalley)
This is how you draw a broken heart:
Dip your fingers in blood and don't
Hesitate to botch the final project.

This is a book about love and the wounds that it can bring. It explores the exhilaration of first love, the damage of unrequited love, and the distress of abandonment. The poems are little memories that come alive, a journey between reality and fantasy, often mingling as one. Fragments of life depicted in words. This is a collection of poems both cruel and sweet. The poems depict the difference between how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us. But most of all, this is a kaleidoscope of emotions that are multiplied and amplified as the reader looks into the window of a young woman's heart.

My Opinion
2 stars

*I received an electronic copy of this book via NetGalley and would like to thank the author and/or publisher for the opportunity to read and honestly review it*

Poetry is so subjective that I'm really not comfortable giving a full critique of it.  What I can say is that is the poetry was very descriptive and generated a visceral reaction but it wasn't something I personally enjoyed.  I liked the content of Part II a lot more than Part I.

It felt a little melodramatic but I can chalk that up to being so far removed from personally experiencing heartbreak (I'm 39 and have been with my husband for 19 years).  In most situations when I didn't really like it but also don't feel like the target audience, I will rate it a neutral 3 stars and move on.  The reason I didn't in this case is because even though I feel the melodrama might lend itself to a younger audience, the number of poems that referenced suicide as a solution to stop feeling the pain of heartbreak makes me hesitate in a recommendation to someone younger.  There's a difference between being broken-hearted and being a little unhinged; if I read any of her poems as social media statuses I would be reaching out to her to make sure she's safe and okay.