Book Review: The Idiot

The Idiot, by Elif Batuman, was another book club pick…

In 1995, back when email was a new thing, Harvard freshman Selin, a young Turkish-American woman, sets about to discover herself.  She navigates dorm life, takes classes in subjects she never imagined herself studying, and begins meeting new friends.

It all sounds like the beginning of a fabulous adventure, because who wouldn’t expect a novel about college life to be filled with fun and frivolity.  Except this one isn’t.

The Idiot is basically a story about what happens when people are so smart that they can’t actually relate to the real world.  Her conversations with others barely touch on subjects that normal 18 year olds would discuss, instead opting for the nonsensical ramblings of a genius with no real-life experience.

Selin bumbles along, disliking her roommate without ever having a conversation, falling in love and getting her heart broken via email without seeming to display any emotion, and never really finding any joy or sorrow in her surroundings.  The best way to describe her life is academic.

I kept waiting for this book to get better, because a friend said her mother told her it was funny.  I wonder now if she meant funny in the ironic sense.  At any rate, this book, for me, did not contain any funny.  It also didn’t contain any emotion at all…

1 star.

Book Review: The Murderer’s Daughters

The Murderer’s Daughters, by Randy Susan Meyers, was a book club pick, and I was thankful that my hold at the library came in just in the nick of time.  Of course, my hold at the library had been ready for several weeks, but pick ups were delayed by violence and protests at a homeless camp that had been set up on the library lawn…  2021 so far seems to be a continuation of 2020!  But that’s a story I won’t get into here.

The Murderer's Daughters

Lulu and Merry were 9 and 5 years old when they witnessed their father murder their mother in a drunken rage.  The family was fractured and dysfunctional, and shortly afterwards, the girls were sent to live in a group home for girls.  They had weekend visits with their grandmother, who inexplicably couldn’t care for them, even though she managed to live on her own, and visit their father in prison every other weekend.  She and Merry had to take a couple different buses and the Staten Island Ferry to get there, but visited him faithfully, while Lulu refused.  The girls spent years in the orphanage before they were finally fostered by an employee of the home for a short time.

Lulu and Merry each developed different coping methods and strategies and built drastically different lives for themselves.  They remained bonded in their trauma, neither effectively dealing with the pain of what happened.  The novel follows them from the time of the murder in the 1970s until the early 2000s; their careers, their relationships and their family bonds.

Randy Susan Meyers draws on her experience working as a domestic violence advocate to frame the story. It was interesting in many ways, with the characters displaying believable attributes.  The manipulative father who holds no accountability for his actions, the perfect child, and the daughter who rebels against everything…  That said, the characters felt one-dimensional and flat to me; they needed more depth to truly immerse myself in the book.

3 stars.

Circus Trip 2018: Penobscot Narrows Bridge

Day 54, Friday, September 7, 2018
Fort Knox State Historic Site, Prospect, Maine

The Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory is an impressive bridge, with a tower observation deck, that is operated by the State of Maine.  Your ticket to visit Fort Knox also includes the observatory and it is a must see!

The Penobscot Narrows Bridge was opened in 2006, built in an impressive 42 months after it was discovered that its predecessor, the Waldo-Hancock bridge, was close to failing.  The new cable-stayed bridge is 2,120 feet, extending over the Penobscot River from Prospect to Verona Island, Maine.  Its support towers are 447 feet tall.

In addition to the state of the art technology of the bridge, the bridge also has an observatory in one of its towers.  Visitors can take the tallest and faster elevator in Maine up to the observation deck at 420 feet.

The views at the top were spectacular – it was amazing seeing the 360 degree views!  The highway, the river and Fort Knox are all visible.  When you go, depending on how busy it is, you might have to wait a little while, since they have capacity limits in the observatory, but it is worth taking the time to see it.

COVID Diaries: Day 345

It’s my weekend! 

It’s a beautiful, partly-sunny morning, the birds are chirping, and I have a date with the rake and the yard waste toter.  My yard is once again littered with small branches and pine cones from the wind storms, as well as fall leaves that are still hanging out in the nooks and crannies.  I also need to do the dreaded deep clean of the house.  It is needed.  When did life become about doing chores?  There really has to be a better way.

Last weekend Shelley and I did a FunDay and went down to Stanwood and Camano Island to do some state park exploring and girl bonding.  The sprinkles of rain weren’t too bothersome and we enjoyed searching the parks for little plastic clue balls.  It is an annual event where if you find a hidden clue ball, you can turn it in for a blown glass ball.  They are beautiful!  We didn’t find any, but it was a wonderful, relaxing way to explore a new area and let the stress of the work week fade away.  We also learned some tips and tricks to employ next year.  We tried out the food at a relatively new brewery in Stanwood, SAAL Brewing, and it was delicious! 

I also finished my latest book club book, and finished my Bend to Whistler Challenge!  I walked 700 miles between October 1, 2020 and February 19, 2021.  We had six months from our start date to finish the challenge, so I’m still tracking my miles.  I want to see how far I end up at the end of March. 

 

Monday night I completed the 2,000 piece puzzle I had been working on – it only took me 17 days!  Clearly my puzzle skills have been honed by a year of lockdown…

Restaurants are back open at 25% capacity, so on an evening walk to drop off books at the library we decided to stop at a brewery in town for their to-die-for bison burger.  The last time we were there was in early September, for our birthday lunch.  Yes, Shelley and I are birthday twins.  How often do you find a friend who shares your birthday!?  The burgers were amazing, and the company was perfect. 

At work I completely wrapped up a project I’ve been working on for almost a year, and came within a stones throw of finishing a second one.  That felt good!  These were monotonous and tedious tasks with no benefit to the organization; they are simply a statutory requirement.  It felt good to be able to finish something that has taken a lot of time away from my regular duties! 

Last night I made the transition to the weekend by watching a Facebook Live Event on the Ghost Towns of Washington State.  Many I have heard of, but some were brand new to me!  One of the ghost towns featured I have visited; Monte Cristo is accessed by an eight mile round trip hike, as the road and railroad line long ago stopped being maintained and eventually washed out.  I even blogged about it!  I definitely need to do a ghost town road trip one of these days. If you want to check out Washington State Ghost Towns, here it is

It feels nice to be feeling like myself again.  I know so many of you are feeling the same way – the endless, aimless drifting of a surreal “new normal.”  Thankfully, spring is less than a month out and the days are still getting longer and brighter!

COVID Words of Wisdom: “Kill the part of yourself that still wants to save someone who walked away while you were drowning.” –Unknown

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Fort Knox

Day 54, Friday, September 7, 2018
Fort Knox State Historic Site, Prospect, Maine

First off, I just want to say that this is the “other” Fort Knox, and it is actually the original Fort Knox.  The one that most people think of when they hear Fort Knox is the one in Kentucky, which is adjacent to the United States Bullion Depository, which holds about half of the United States’ gold reserves. So now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move on!

This Fort Knox was built between 1844 and 1869. After the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, there was some considerable anti-British sentiment lingering.  The Aroostook War in 1838-1839 revived that sentiment when military troops and civilians in Maine clashed with the British troops and subjects in New Brunswick; it was essentially a border dispute fueled by valuable lumber.  Never heard of the Aroostook War, you say?  Well, you may know it as the Pork and Beans War – because of course the mainstay of a lumberjack diet was said to be pork and beans (stay with me here, it gets better!)…  So apparently there were disputes over timber when some Canadians cut some trees on land that the Americans considered their land.

Then a hapless black bear wandered along and just wanted the lumberjacks to leave, or was looking for a meal; the bear was not interviewed about his side of the story….  So the bear comes along and attacks three Canadian lumberjacks and badly injures two; the Canadians then shoot and kill the bear.  The American lumberjacks nearby hear the gunfire and think the Canadians are shooting at them, so they shoot back. Thankfully no one was injured (by the gunfire at least).

Obviously, tensions are pretty high at this point and both sides start mustering militiamen in the area…  Diplomats got involved and saved the day, negotiating a treaty that would set the border in Maine, mostly along the St. John River, but also throwing in some border clarifications in New Hampshire, Michigan and Minnesota too.  And you thought these insane omnibus bills that Congress passes were a new thing, but nooo… This treaty also created a joint naval system between the Americans and the British to suppress the African slave trade off the coast of Africa.  Because, of course that seems related!

Tensions remained though, and a few years later the Americans started building Fort Knox along the Penobscot River.  Fort Knox was the first fort to be built entirely of granite and is nearly unchanged from the time that it was built.  It was never totally completed, and although it never saw battle, it was manned by regiments during the Civil War and the Spanish American War.  When the U.S. Government declared it excess property in 1923 and sold it, the State of Maine picked it up for a song, paying only $2,121!

These days it is operated as a State Historic Site and nearly the entire fort is open to the public!   I enjoyed wandering around and checking out all the rooms.  There is even a hot shot oven, designed to heat up cannon shots to fire at ironclads.

In 2018 when I visited, an $8 ticket got you access to Fort Knox and the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory.  What a deal!  And one final side note – I ate lunch that day in the picnic area at the park, and this adorable little guy was really, really hoping to grab a snack!  Don’t worry, I didn’t feed him, but I did get some photos of his antics!

It Wasn’t Real

It is those moments before falling asleep and those moments spent in wakefulness in the middle of the night when I have my most powerful thoughts.  I’m too tired to have my guard up, and it is too quiet in the world to have the distractions of work, friends, home and other obligations.  Whether I like it or not, I am alone in my thoughts.  Lying there, marinating in those thoughts, feels painful and vulnerable, much like writing these words.  Yet, I have to feel it – I have to speak these truths.  The only way out is through…

This week I learned that my former love, a man I deeply loved, is engaged.  It hurt.  I cried tears more forceful and raw than I have in months.  I have struggled to move him to the “has been” pile, and push his presence from my heart.  Even though I have long known that I do not occupy his.  He was a Jekyll and Hyde who went from sweet and funny to critical and even frightening.  But I miss the times when he was sweet and funny and caring.

I have long suspected, but never knew for sure, that our relationship wasn’t “real”.  It was real for me; a man who occupied my whole heart and with whom I wanted to spend a lifetime.  Sadly, I realized over time that it was more a game of manipulation for him, rather than love.  Those sweet, funny and caring times were an act.  He sought to control and had no issues with trampling over boundaries.  He reduced interactions to a zero sum game of winners and losers, in which he was the only acceptable winner.

This week I learned that our stories, the ones upon which he framed our relationship, have been recycled for her.  Of course, I only had a tiny glimpse into the new life he has fabricated since leaving me.  I say fabricated because that is how it feels to me.  I know he created a fantasy in which I was placed on a pedestal, and inevitably I tumbled to the ground when he suddenly saw me as nothing more than my flaws, my imperfections; no longer the Madonna or the angel that he originally believed me to be.  It isn’t as though I changed; but his perception of me did…

I’m sure his pattern is the same in his new life; she is perfect – until of course, that moment when she no longer is.  The only mystery is when.  And when the inevitable tumble from the pedestal occurs, I know the pattern.  The critical comments, the questioning, the name calling.  The “fact-checking.”  I wonder if she knows – I imagine not.  I didn’t.

Meanwhile, I struggle to learn to trust again.  I don’t know if I will ever take for granted that a man may mean what he says, or say what he means.  Every word will be analyzed, dissected, and replayed in my mind at 3 am.  I will probably always expect a man to walk away.  Because I’m not perfect, or I have boundaries, or will not tolerate being belittled, or because he found a new Madonna to believe his stories.  I’ll never really know why – I will only know that he left.

As for my former love, I’m left with his stories.  Whether they were truth or fiction – it probably doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that I don’t believe them anymore.  I’m working towards building a new story that includes trust, and I hope one day that is the only one I live.

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Book Review: Mistress of the Ritz

Mistress of the Ritz, by Melanie Benjamin

This book was another pick from the “available now” section of audiobooks on the library website.  I hadn’t heard of the book, or the author, and wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Mistress of the Ritz

Blanche wanted to be rich and famous – she was going to make it as an actress!  She arrived in Paris in the early 1920s with her silent film star friend Pearl White, and met the assistant manager of the Hotel Claridge, Claude Auzello, when they checked into their rooms.  Claude found out that in a weeks’ time, Blanche was set to rendezvous with her paramour, Egyptian Prince J’Ali Ledene; he set about to sweep Blanche off her feet by showing her Paris.  And it worked…

Blanche and Claude married, and he jump-started his career with a move to The Ritz Paris, where he secured the role as Hotel Manager.  Their lives were wonderful until the Nazis came and set up their headquarters in the Hotel Ritz.

The book is a story of secrets, and a marriage built upon those secrets.  Their marriage crumbles, as Claude takes a mistress, and Blanche begins working clandestinely for the French Resistance.  But even more so, it is a story of love.  Love tested by hardship and betrayal, and love that blossoms in the most unexpected of places.

It wasn’t until I finished the book that I learned that Blanche and Claude Auzello were real people, who navigated their way through the French Occupation while living right underneath the noses of the Nazis at the Ritz.  The framework of Blanche’s life is known, but Melanie Benjamin filled in the gaps in this wonderful historical work of fiction.  A must read for lovers of historical fiction, and World War II history.

5 stars. 

Book Review: Dark Places

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

I’ve read other books by Gillian Flynn, so when I noticed that this one was available at the library website, I decided to check it out.

Libby is a woman in her early thirties, trying to escape her past.  When she was 7, she was the survivor of the murder of her mother and two sisters; her 15-year-old brother was convicted of the crime.  Libby heard her brother in the house that night, even though he told police he was not at home.

Dark Places

The sympathy money that has kept her going all these years has finally run out, and Libby is forced to accept the fact that she is broke and in need of a job.  She receives an offer to appear at The Kill Club, an unfortunately named convention of sorts, where amateur sleuths convene to swap tips and try to solve their favorite cold case murders.  Libby learns that there is a significant group of followers who believe that her brother is innocent.  But why?

Led along by the small sums of cash offered by the group, she agrees to meet with her brother for the first time in almost 25 years, and begins to harbor a nagging doubt that her brother murdered her family.  What if Libby’s testimony was wrong?  She had to find out the truth…

As is the case with all of Flynn’s books, the reader is taken on a roller-coaster ride of ever-changing facts, opinions and realities.  As she weaves in the stories of Libby, her mother and her brother, both then and now, the reader begins to realize that nothing is as it seems.  A well-planned thriller that kept my interest, if not somewhat unbelievable in the end…

3 stars.

COVID Diaries: Day 333

Day 333.  Well that has a nice symmetrical look…

It’s the Valentine’s Day edition here, but really that means it is just another Sunday… 

I was supposed to have Friday off (my regular Friday off), but my employee wanted a vacation and I can’t blame her!  So I worked instead – I can take another day sometime soonish…  I did get a new employee hired, just pending the background check, so that was a nice start to the weekend!  Hopefully work will be back to its more normal frenetic pace soon.

It snowed Friday night, after much pondering by weathermen about whether or not we would get snow here.  We got up to about seven or eight inches!  Since then, some has melted, while at the same time it is still snowing.  It is pretty and peaceful and reminds me of my dad, who always loved the snow.

Yesterday afternoon I went out for a walk to enjoy treading through the fluffy whiteness.  I might do the same again today.  There is something so soothing about seeing the white fluff fall from the sky.  It’s supposed to warm up and turn to rain tomorrow, I think, but I will love it as long as it sticks around.

Things are starting to look up COVID-wise.  Our Governor is finally allowing our County to begin to open back up, with restaurants and entertainment allowed to open at 25% capacity.  It has literally been 11 months since anyone could go to a movie or museum around here – it will be pandemonium!  But wait, nevermind, because our only mainstream theater is Regal Cinemas, and they announced several months ago that they were temporarily closing all their theaters, so who knows how temporary that will be, or if they will be just another casualty of the lockdown…

I’m making progress on a 2000 piece puzzle that I got for Christmas!  Hard to believe it is twice as many pieces as the largest puzzle I have done before.  It doesn’t seem too tough – but I’m still probably only 30-40% finished.  It keeps me busy.  Cora remains ever helpful… 

How are things in your world?

Circus Trip 2018: Acadia NP, Day 2

Day 53, Thursday, September 6, 2018
Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine

I had another full day in Acadia National Park, and it happened to be my birthday!

I started out by checking out the Bass Harbor Head Light.  You might not know this lighthouse by name, but I’m pretty sure you’ll recognize it.  The Bass Harbor Head Light was built in 1858 and sits 56 feet above the mean high water mark.  In 1876, they added a fog bell and the tower.  The light was originally fitted with a 5th Order Fresnel lens, but a 4th Order Fresnel lens was installed in 1901 to give it more light. It had a range of 13 nautical miles (15 miles).

You can descend a wooden staircase to access the rocks below the lighthouse.  This is the best view of the light, so make sure you make the extra effort!  The rocks have plenty of tide pools to explore as well.  I love seeing all the little sea creatures in their natural habitat.  I spoke with a local man who was doing the stairs for exercise, and he gave me a great recommendation for where to get a delicious lobster roll – I tucked that tidbit away for lunchtime…

I went for a short hike on the Ship Harbor Trail to a small secluded cove, and saw only a few other hikers along the way. The view was nothing amazing, but it was nice to get a hike in the woods.  I did see a cute woodpecker and took approximately 927 terrible pictures of him!  The photo I included was my best bad bird pic of the day…  Then I headed over to the Seawall to explore the area.  It is a beautiful rocky beach, with picnic tables and plenty of space to stay away from the crowds.

By this point, I was hungry, so I headed over to Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound to try out their lobster roll!  I ordered a lobster roll ($19.95) and a blueberry soda float ($5.95).  They were both delicious!  I hung around and talked to the owner for a bit because it was raining – he was very friendly and even tried to convince me to move to Maine.  Believe me, I’m tempted!

Behind Charlotte’s are some goats that the kids will love, and an old family cemetery.  One of the tombstones said that the teenager died at the Connecticut State Hospital in 1872, and it made me wonder why the family chose to place that on his stone.  The owners of the restaurant have an appreciation for the history of the area, and maintain the small plot.  I found some deer munching on fallen apples too!

 

My last stop for the afternoon was at a lakeside swimming area.  It was too chilly to consider jumping in, but there were some hardier souls than me!

Acadia National Park really impressed me.  I loved the gorgeous shoreline and the natural diversity within the park.  I can’t wait to visit again!