My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

My Dear HamiltonFor those of you who are fans of the musical Hamilton, I highly recommend this one. My Dear Hamilton is the story of the life of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, the wife of Alexander Hamilton. The story begins right before they meet (in fact, it begins around the time she meets Lafayette) and goes until the groundbreaking of the Washington Monument, some fifty years after Hamilton’s death.

As aforementioned, I’m a big fan of books that are well-researched, and this one is no exception. The authors really did their homework here, and one of my favorite parts of the book was the authors’ note at the end, going through which things happened, which were blanks filled in, and which were made up entirely (very little, for the record).

I learn about history best through historical fiction, because instead of just presenting facts it takes you inside characters’ minds and feelings and tells you a story about people. Eliza’s story was riveting. I loved seeing the world from her perspective and getting her thoughts and feelings about the events happening around her and the choices she made.

The setting was fantastic here too. This is a pretty big book (over 600 pages), and the length gives the authors space to really inhabit the time and place they’re taking us to. It was one of those books that gave me a bit of a jolt every time I looked up and realized it was summer of 2019, and not whatever season in brand-new America.

If you’re at all interested in Alexander Hamilton or his wife, or if you just like Historical Fiction as a genre, I highly recommend this book. Well-written, well-researched, well done.


Review: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Winter of the WitchThe Winternight trilogy comes to its conclusion. I feel somewhat late to the party just reading this one now, but what can I say: library holds, eh.

This one picks up directly where the second novel left off, with Moscow having suffered a massive fire the night before. As Vasya and her sister Olga begin to pick up the pieces, a mob appears at the door, led by Father Konstantin Nikonovich, demanding Vasya, the witch.

And you don’t take another breath until it’s over. As Vasya works to first find and then free Morozko, the Winter-King, then enlists his help to once again bind Medved, the Bear, she slowly discovers what her true purpose is and her role in the world.

I liked this one a lot. I LOVED the first one, with its magical realism and meticulous detail (The Bear and the Nightingale was one of the books that made me realize that the descriptor “well-researched” is a pretty good indication I’m going to like the book. See also: A Discovery of Witches). The second book I loved a little less, mostly because of Vasya’s tendency to make a mess of things, before gaining the skills she picks up in the third book that enable her to then Fix Things.

The third book was excellent. Vasya finally gets over the culture shock of leaving behind the home in the woods where she’s lived her whole life and gets on with the business of figuring out how to be a bad-A. Time and again, she solves her problems using her wits and sheer nerve, defying everyone who expects her to just lay down and either: a) wait for a man to come save her or b) die.

Mild Trigger Warning– If you’re a person who’s attached to their pets, be warned: The horse dies pretty early on.

Life in Seoul

So yeah. We had a very crazy couple of months, beginning with Scott leaving Dhaka and coming out to California on Thanksgiving and ending with a move to Seoul in February.

Finally together.

Since then, we’ve been enjoying our time here, and enjoying being settled and together. Our household goods (HHE) got here in March, our car arrived in April, and at the beginning of May we took advantage of a couple Korean holidays to go visit Shanghai Disneyland.

3 proud members of the Six Park Club. Oh, and a baby.

K started preschool a couple weeks ago. We put her in a Korean preschool, so a) hopefully she’ll learn Korean, and b) none of the staff speak English, which makes life a *tiny* bit difficult for me. Luckily, they mostly communicate through parents with an app, so Google Translate can see us through. Also, Scott’s Korean is fantastic, so if I’m really stuck I can rely on him.

Trey has started talking. Not two weeks after I took him in for his 15 month appointment and was assured that his not having any words is TOTALLY NORMAL at this age, I go into his room one morning to change his diaper and hear him say “Momma” to me as plain as day. Followed by “Dadda” and, later that day, “shoe.” So, yeah. That. O_O

Reading-wise, hm. It comes and goes. March and April I was doing really well; I read 9 books each month. It made up for my lackluster reading life in January and February (which I actually thought was quite understandable, what with moving and general life craziness). In May I went back down to 5, which now that I think of it is still quite good. I blame the trip to Shanghai; not much time for reading, really, and it threw off my groove a bit. Also, K starting school has created a new schedule that we’re still getting used to, and I typically spend my hours between drop-off and pickup Doing Useful Things, as opposed to sitting and reading. Unfortunately. But as we continue to adjust, hopefully I’ll work in a bit more time for reading. I did manage to listen to an audiobook, which was nice, but I had to fall behind in my podcasts to do it. And, naturally, a recent resolution to read more mainstream fiction written by LDS authors has EXPLODED my TBR list.

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The last few books I’ve read

What I’ve Read Lately, or, Lots of Digressions About Harry Potter

Reading is back with a vengeance, you guys. I paused while I was settling in, while I obsessed over a few shows on Netflix (which really deserves its own post, don’t you think?), but a trip to the library turned everything around.

That, and Harry Potter. You guys. Harry Potter.

nerve-movieHere’s what happened: I saw a preview for a movie called Nerve. I’d heard of it before (and maybe seen the preview already– watching movie previews is a hobby of mine), but the movie was coming out, and due to my temporary “single-parent” status it’s pretty hard to go see movies. (And apparently it wasn’t very good anyway.) So instead I did the next best thing: I got the book from the library.

Unfortunately, none of the libraries I use for Overdrive purposes had the ebook, so I had to trek to a brick-and-mortar library for *gasp* an actual paper book! And while I was there, I remembered a long ago ambition to reread all the Harry Potter books. So among a few others, I picked up the third book in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

hp3Allow me to date myself a bit with the following story:

I first started reading Harry Potter between when the third and fourth books came out. I was 13 or 14, which, now that I think of it, is the same age Harry, Ron, and Hermione were in those two books. I’d found the first and second books at the library, but the third was all checked out. Luckily, though, a friend of mine had it, and while I was sleeping over at her house one night I read it. Yep, the whole thing. In one night. Now, for a 13-year-old book lover, this isn’t astonishing, or even particularly difficult. Looking back at it, what floors me is how rude it was to spend the entire sleepover reading a book– even if I started at  bedtime, which I’m pretty sure I did. (Not that I was tired the next morning– that would have come in the afternoon, once I was home again. Ah, to be young again…)

So when I started reading it a few weeks ago, I had to smile to myself a little when I found myself reading deep into the night one night, finally finishing at 2 in the morning. Even if I hadn’t read it all in one day, it had still caught me and made me remember that these books are insanely popular for a reason: They’re crazy good!

I’ve seen the movies so many times that I’d forgotten how great the books are– they suck you in and make you excited and happy and worried and scared for Harry and his friends. No wonder these books make kids want to read.

Ok so once I loved reading again, here are a few of the books I’ve read lately:

hero-and-the-crownThe Hero and the Crown — I cannot believe I’ve never read this classic. I went through not one but TWO phases when I really should have– once when I read a bunch of Robin McKinley books (Beauty, Rose Daughter, Outlaws of Sherwood, etc.), and one when I read all the Newbery books I could get my hands on (random ones, too, like The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle and Call It Courage). And all the while this book was sitting on my family’s bookshelves.

ps-i-like-youPS I Like You — The latest Kasie West book. I love her books because she’s really good with solid characterization. (I especially loved her scifi book Pivot Point, which, as the name implies, is pretty much Sliding Doors meets X-Men.) This one I found to be… a little lacking there? One of the reviews I read on Goodreads pointed out that all of the peripheral characters (the girl’s best friend especially) only really existed to further the main romantic plot line. And once I noticed that I couldn’t really un-notice it, unfortunately. That being said, it’s a super cute, super breezy update of You’ve Got Mail, and I liked it a lot.

night-circusThe Night Circus — Once I was firmly ensconced in Reading again, I set my mind to The Night Circus, which is a book I’d started once before but had drifted away from. I started again at the beginning, and made my way through it. And it’s gorgeous. The descriptions of the circus itself, the dreamlike quality of the narrative, the whole thing… I swear, this book needs to be a movie. It’s a design team’s dream. Baz Lurhmann, WHERE ARE YOU???

(Side note: I have an ambition to start listening to audio books, and I read somewhere that starting with one you’ve already read is a good idea. This one is narrated by Jim Dale, who has won Grammy awards for his performance of the Harry Potter books, so I’m gonna start here. I’ve heard it’s amazing.)

So after I read The Night Circus I was a little adrift. I thought, what book can I ever read again? What will ever be so well written as this book?

And then the Jim Dale thing clicked, and I remembered what had started all this in the first place: Harry Potter.

hp4Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — I actually went to a brick-and-mortar library to try and find this one, but unfortunately it was all checked out of the one I went to, and frankly my motivation to drag two children in and out of libraries fails me most days. To Kindle! Luckily, all the Harry Potter books are in the Prime Lending Library.

If you will, another digression:

So when this book came out I was in the middle of a move between two houses (not states or schools, just neighborhoods. Ah, the life of a military brat…). I happened to be at the library one day with my sister, who was home from college for the summer. And for some reason… that still floors me… there was this copy of the new Harry Potter book, just… there. There wasn’t a hold on it or anything, and the librarian checked it out to me on the spot. I then spent the entire day on the couch, reading the thickest book in the series so far. And not only did I spend the whole day reading it, but every time I stopped, to eat or whatnot, my sister would come bug me: “Are you done yet? Can I read it? Can I have it now?” Looking back, I think she was teasing, because I remember her being a bit surprised when I gave it to her late that night: “Here! Now leave me alone!”

Knowing what I know now about the rest of the series makes reading the books that much more interesting. Sirius! Voldemort’s reference to horcruxes! The prophecy about Harry/Neville! SO MUCH IS COMING. This book was also fun after reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I’d forgotten how insecure Amos Diggory was; it makes his attitude in Cursed Child a little more believable, wouldn’t you say?</minor spoiler>

fatal-graceA Fatal Grace — This is the second book in the Inspector Gamache series. It’s about a small town in Canada, where a police inspector gets to visit and also solve murders. I’ve heard that the series is amazing, but it doesn’t really “get going” until book 3 or 4. So… I’ll let you know. I liked this one well enough; Gamache is a good dude, although his assistant-friend character (I’m super uncultured about foreign police forces; they have all these complicated ranks, and I just can’t be bothered to pay attention to them. It makes me one of those rude Americans, I’m afraid…) is a little bit in love with him, maybe? And not in a good way. Aaaand… man, does Nichols drive me crazy. She’s pretty much the actual worst.

listThe List — So this is how I know I’m getting old. Because I read this book, and the thing that makes me the most upset is how the parents are acting. Of the eight girls,  two of them have decent parents, three of them have parents who aren’t mentioned much, two of them have parents who buy their daughter’s friends alcohol, and one girl has a single mom who threatens to homeschool her (again) as soon as she starts making friends (which, by the way, is classic Abusive Boyfriend behavior– isolation from other friends). Like, ok, the girls are horrible to each other, too, but the PARENTS should know better!

i-let-you-goI Let You Go — This is one that Modern Mrs. Darcy has been promoting a bit, and when I saw it on sale on Kindle, I went ahead and bought it. So halfway through this book there’s a Huge Twist, and suddenly the book you thought you were reading becomes a book about something else. I’m not sure how I felt about it, to be honest. On the one hand, it DOES lend sympathy to a character who might not have otherwise gotten it. But on the other hand, there’s a lot of other things done to give that character sympathy, and it felt a little bit like something the author did Just Because She Could. I LOVE me some unreliable narrators, but I also want there to be a reason for it: is the main character going crazy? Is she a liar? Is she coming to terms with some crazy traumatic thing that has happened? Is she suffering from memory loss? In this case, no. No she wasn’t. The author was just being misleading. So that halfway through she could go, “PSYCH! JUST KIDDING!” And so while it was kind of fun to find out that something I’d thought to be true was something else, it also felt pretty arbitrary.