Tourist Tuesday: Louisa May Alcott House

Tourist Tuesday: Louisa May Alcott House

On Saturday night we attended a “Pride and Prejudice” dance in Massachusetts; it was a fun night, and I got to buy a regency dress to wear. It was mostly a success, except people kept tripping on my train, and by people, I mean mostly me, I kept tripping on the train, but other people did too. It was still a lot of fun. The next day we got the opportunity to visit Louisa May Alcott‘s Orchard House. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures, since they are prohibited in the home, but I’ll share the link to the museum’s website where you can find some photos.

Concord, Mass is an adorable little town, that happens to have been the home to a number of famous Americans! In addition to the Alcott family (Louisa had several sisters — Little Women is loosely based on her and her sisters — one of which was a rather well-known artist in her time), Ralph Waldo Emerson was a resident, as was Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau. There are other more contemporary famous people from the town, but these were historical contemporaries with Louisa.

In addition to the museums and homes dedicated to these literary giants, there are a ton of really beautiful historic homes, and really beautiful less historic, but still impressive homes. After our tour we took some time to just drive around and admire the architecture. As we did so we found a rather cute bridge to stop and take some pictures from. There wasn’t any traffic so we were able to stop for a couple of minutes; when we did a lady driving the opposite way saw us put our window down and assumed we needed to ask her a question. She stopped and told us a little about her town. She was so, so nice, and really seemed to love her little town. You don’t always encounter such hospitality, it was refreshing.

Back to Louisa. The museum gives a fairly thorough history of the life of Louisa, her parents, and her sisters. If you like history, you will appreciate the level of detail they share.

Louisa, unlike the character she based on herself in Little Women (Jo) , she was a “free spinster;” meaning she was free to live her life as she wished without the encumbrance of a spouse. She truly seemed to prefer it this way…she often wrote in her journals about never needing or wanting to get married… except for one instance, where she said she would have gotten married just to receive a kiss from Thoreau (who had kissed her sister on her wedding day).

Sadly, Louisa died at a relatively young age due to a stroke, that was believed to e caused by mercury poisoning she suffered working as a nurse during the Civil War.

I highly recommend visiting the Orchard House if you ever find yourself in Massachusetts. It’s worth the entrance price ($15 or $10 if you get a group price) to spend an afternoon learning about the lives of this interesting family, though the inability to take photos was a bit disappointing. Also, certain Covid-19 measures are still in place for the visit — they still have timed entries, and they require masks to enter any of the buildings. I’m not sure if this will change in the future, but it’s good to come prepared so you can mask up when asked.

“Did You Ever Have a Family” by Bill Clegg

“Did You Ever Have a Family” by Bill Clegg

Following the lives of a whole cast of characters touched by a singular tragedy, this book is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. The night before/morning of Lolly Reid’s wedding the unthinkable happens, a gas leak causes an explosion killing the bride, groom, bride’s father, and the boyfriend of the bride’s mother. The only survivor in the family is June Reid, the mother of the bride. Who is to blame for this explosion is up for speculation, and everyone in the small town has their own theories, the favorite being June’s much younger boyfriend, Luke.

The “whodunnit” is almost a non-aspect of the story. Someone is to blame, but it doesn’t really matter, because everyone and no one is to blame.

This is a beautiful novel that explores the idea of responsibility, family, and belonging. Despite the short narrative of each character, the author was able to develop almost all of the characters into three-dimensional beings that are both flawed and relatable.

4.5/5 stars

“Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be” by Rachel Hollis (audiobook)

“Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be” by Rachel Hollis (audiobook)

Wow. That is such a long title.

Anyway, I have had this one on my TBR pile for two years. I think someone recommended it to me, since (as my previous blog posts have stated so very clearly) this is not my favorite genre of book, it’s not one I would necessarily choose on my own. I can’t remember who recommended it, but I’m glad that they did.

I think the author writes how she speaks (which I totally get, I write how I speak… I don’t know how to do otherwise), but it seemed a little disingenuous, a little contrived… like she was trying to be something she isn’t. But, she is engaging. She’s vulnerable. She’s relatable. She’s funny.

The author lays out 20 “Lies” that we tell ourselves; and they are lies that keep us from living up to our full potential. The 20 lies are as follows:

1. Something Else Will Make Me Happy
2. I’ll Start Tomorrow [we’ve all been here, right?]
3. I’m Not Good Enough
4. I’m Better Than You
5. Loving Him is Enough for Me
6. No is the Final Answer
7. I’m Bad at Sex
8. I Don’t Know How to be a Good Mom
9. I’m Not a Good Mom
10. I Should be Further Along by Now
11. Other People’s Kids are so Much Cleaner/Better Organized/More Polite
12. I Need to Make Myself Smaller
13. I’m Going to Marry Matt Damon
14. I’m a Terrible Writer
15. I Will Never Get Past This
16. I Can’t Tell the Truth
17. I Am Defined by My Weight
18. I Need a Drink
19. There’s Only One Right Way to Be
20. I Need a Hero

Usually I’m bored by self-help type books, they’re just warmed-over cliches. And yes, you will find some cliches in this book, but they’re told in such a relatable way that they’re less grating. And she has some unexpected lessons. Things that make sense, things that hit close to home. I definitely recommend this book. I’m not a mom, so there are many chapters that aren’t geared directly toward those that are childless, but there are still lessons to be gleaned from them.

4.5/5 stars

“10 Books That Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn’t Help” by Benjamin Wiker, Ph.D. (Audiobook)

“10 Books That Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn’t Help” by Benjamin Wiker, Ph.D. (Audiobook)

Full disclosure, I have very little experience/knowledge of philosophy. I mean, I took a class in college, but I hated it, and was quite happy to never take another philosophy class.

I chose to listen to this book simply because the title was intriguing to me… I had no idea it was a philosophy book, but really, I don’t think that’s an accurate description. This is really just an anthology of book reports. Which was kind of great. I haven’t actually read many of the books on the list (I think two of them, and even those not since college or high school).

It seems silly to write a summary of a summary, so I won’t. So I’ll just list the books that he reviewed and discuss his ultimate conclusions.

Dr. Wiker discusses the following books: “The Prince,” “Discourse on Method,” “Leviathan (The Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil),” “Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of Inequality Among Men,” “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” “Utilitarianism,” “The Descent of Man,” “Beyond Good and Evil,” “The State and Revolution,” “The Pivot of Civilization,” “Mein Kampf,” “The Futur of an Illusion,” “Coming of Age in Somoa,” “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” and “The Feminine Mystique.”

Before delving into these books Dr. Wiker makes the case that ideas have consequences and that many of the ideas presented in these books influenced later ideas and books. And too often the result of the ideas presented in these books was violence and suffering; even if the books themselves don’t advocate for violence.

And he makes a solid case against each of the books; and in the body of the text he does so from the perspective of a humanistic moral position. It isn’t until the end of the book that he makes an overtly Christian claim against these books. I’m a Christian, so I’m fine with comparing these books against the morality of the Bible.

I think Dr. Wiker is a good writer; he’s eloquent and obviously well-read. And he makes a solid case against the books listed.

3.5/5 stars

“Ask Again, Yes” by Mary Beth Keane (audiobook)

“Ask Again, Yes” by Mary Beth Keane (audiobook)

This book is a sweeping tale of two generations of two families deeply intertwined. Kind and steady Francis Gleeson (an Irish immigrant) joins the NYPD and marries Lena (a New Yorker born and bred) and moves to the suburbs. Brian Stanhope, another NYPD cop moves in next door with his beautiful and troubled wife, Anne (also an Irish immigrant). These two couples start their families side by side, but their lives become inextricably combined, while simultaneously blowing apart.

Okay, when I say sweeping, I mean sweeping; and not just because it takes place over a 30-year span, this novel explores so many themes I’m still processing what I heard several days later. It tackles themes of family, abuse, mental illness, addiction, resilience, home, forgiveness, love, and redemption.

And even though the themes are heavy, it was written with such deftness that you don’t feel weighed down by the weight. Because, at the heart of it all, there is hope.

The characters are complicated, and flawed, and even in their brokenness, you love them. I grieved with them, I rejoiced with them, and I hoped with them.

Clearly I loved this book… I was late for work twice last week (Okay, I make my own schedule, but I was late for when I wanted to start work) because I got lost in the narration of this book, I didn’t want to stop listening.

5/5 stars

“The House on Fripp Island” by Rebecca Kauffman

“The House on Fripp Island” by Rebecca Kauffman

*I won this book in a GoodReads giveaway

I liked this story. I liked the characters. The story follows two families: the mothers grew up together, but ended up leading drastically different lives. One of unhappy wealth and privilege, the other stressful, but overall happy in the grips of poverty… not living on the streets poverty, but working hard but still being on the brink poverty.

These two drastically different families come together to share a vacation for one week, when tragedy strikes, and someone dies. The description of the book would have you believe that the novel is about the aftermath of this tragedy and how each member copes, but that’s not really true. 85% of the book is spent on the vacation; the remaining 15% deals with the aftermath. And it doesn’t do it justice.

This novel had such promise. I wanted to know more about the killer. I wanted more on how the families coped after the murder. I wanted to hear their inner dialogue. I wanted to know how they processed through everything, but the author just glides through it so quickly.

“The Deal of a Lifetime” by Fredrik Backman

“The Deal of a Lifetime” by Fredrik Backman

Oh my heart.

I love modern Swedish literature, and I love Fredrik Backman. And he did not disappoint with this novella. This story is heartbreaking and beautiful. It gets to the essence of family, and disappointment, and love, and sacrifice, and legacy.

There’s a simplicity in Backman’s writing; a compactness in conveying emotion without an excess of words. And there is a lot of emotion packed into this short story.

I haven’t returned it to the library, because I think I will read it again before I do.

“The Cousins” By Karen M. McManus

“The Cousins” By Karen M. McManus

Are you looking for a deep and artful look at family, trauma, and the power of redemption? This is not the book for you. If you’re looking to be entertained for a few hours over a little mystery, then you’ve come to the right place.

There’s something not quite right on Gull Cove Island, and three estranged cousins are going to figure it out. If you’re like me you’ll have it mostly figured out within a few pages of the cousins’ arrival on the island, and you’ll spend most of the book shaking your head at them not figuring it out. There was one surprise that I didn’t actually see coming, but it happens early on in the story, so you don’t have to stick around forever for it.

The writing is adequate, the characters are only mostly one dimensional, and the “mystery” is not that mysterious. But I wasn’t bored reading it.

Is this my new bar? I wasn’t bored? Where’s a good meme to describe how I’m feeling when I need it?

“Nine Presidents Who Screwed Up America: And Four Who Tried to Save Her” by Brion T. McClanahan

“Nine Presidents Who Screwed Up America: And Four Who Tried to Save Her” by Brion T. McClanahan

I really didn’t know what to expect from this book. I don’t read a lot of political books, and it’s been awhile since I’ve been into history books. But I’m attempting to expand my horizons. The title led me to believe it would be more dynamic than it was.

The title of the book really should be 11 Presidents that Screwed Up America, since one chapter, that I thought was supposed to be on Barrack Obama, also included George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

But I digress. The author claims that adherence to the Constitution of the United States should be the ultimate metric we use to judge the success of a President. If a President enacts policy (even a truly moral policy) but does so in a way that circumvents the Constitution, then he has harmed the United States as a Republic. Basically, the ends do not justify the means.

So all kinds of Presidents end up on his bad list. This isn’t a Republican vs. Democrat argument. This is a constitutional vs. non-constitutional argument: Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Barrack Obama (with a shout-out to Clinton, and both Bushes) all, in the authors estimation, trampled on the constitution. It doesn’t matter if they also did good things, they hurt the office of the Presidency by expanding it’s powers beyond what is given in the Constitution.

The book is BORING! I was so bored. But, there was tidbits of interesting information. The author does a good job of explaining exactly what each President did to violate the constitution, and how it laid the groundwork for further abuses by the office of the president. I think it helped me better understand how the founders intended for the three branches of the government to work together.

I’d give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. The writing is adequate. The information is good. The subject matter is so boring.

“The Heir Affair” by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

“The Heir Affair” by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

When I checked this book out at the library, I did not realize that it was a sequel. It can, more or less, stand alone, but there is definite character development that you miss out on by skipping that first installment. All that said, I liked it enough to want to go back and read the first one.

Highbrow literature this is not, but if you like a good melodrama/soap opera-y romp; this is definitely the book for you.

The story is engaging. The writing is sufficient; the dialogue flows well; the characters are lively. There is romance, but thankfully it stops short of being salacious.

So, about the story. The novel follows the story of Rebecca “Bex” and her prince of England husband, “Nick.” The novel starts with Nick and Bex hiding out in Scotland shortly after their wedding. Why are they hiding out? If you had read the first novel you likely would have known why, but you find out later in this novel that they are hiding out from a scandal that broke during their wedding. It follows them through several years as they navigate their roles as royals and as husband and wife.

I’m a sucker for melodrama, so I really enjoyed this book. I look forward to reading the first installment… and if there are ever any more installments, I look forward to those as well.

4/5 stars because I enjoyed it, and I would read additional installments.

“The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” by Stuart Turton

“The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” by Stuart Turton

What… what did I just read?

I just finished this book like five minutes ago, and I’m still processing. Seriously… what did I just read?

First, I really liked this book. It was well written; the story is compelling, the characters are interesting, and it’s faced-paced.

I love a good mystery. And I was interested in reading this because it had an art-deco feel. Nothing in the description mentions the early 1900’s, but that’s the feeling I got from the cover and the description. And I’m not an aficionado of murder mystery novels, but in my mind the early 1900’s (up until the 1930’s) is the golden-age of mysteries.

And this is a good mystery. Be forewarned that this book is surprisingly bloody. The author doesn’t dwell on it; and he’s not terribly descriptive of the gore, but body count is shockingly high. If you’re particularly sensitive to suspense (I’m not), maybe don’t read this just before bed.

This book follows Aiden Bishop as he seeks to find the killer of Evelyn Hardcastle. The mechanics of why and how he is doing this is part of the mystery, all you know at the outset is that Aiden is stuck in a loop of a single day from the perspective different people witnessing the same events unfold.

The amount of detail the author is able to weave into this story from so many different perspectives is truly impressive; I can’t imagine the amount of outlining he had to do to keep all the storylines straight.

One of the things I love about a good mystery novel is trying to figure out the answer, and usually figuring it out before the end; it makes me feel smart. This one made me feel like an idiot. I had no idea where any of this was going and where it finally wound up. That’s partly because there are really three mysteries in this story: who killed Evelyn? Who killed her brother all those years ago? Why is Aiden stuck in this loop?

And I never figured out any of them. Not a one.

The only thing I would change about this book is I would have liked a bit more explanation regarding what happens if Aiden ever escapes this loop. Where does he go? Who is he? What does he do? Unfortunately you never find that out.

My rating? 4.5 stars (out of 5).

“Dancing Through Life: Indulge Your Dreams and Pursue Life’s Possibilities” by Allen T. Brown

“Dancing Through Life: Indulge Your Dreams and Pursue Life’s Possibilities” by Allen T. Brown

*I won this book from a GoodReads giveaway

Why do I enter giveaways for this genre? I think it’s because I want to like self-help books. I want to gain wisdom. I want to be taught something that will make my life better… but man, they make it so hard. So. Hard.

And this book is no different.

I mean, this book really isn’t terrible… the writing is sufficient, I suppose. But really, it’s just a bunch of cliches wrapped up in secular humanism with a few personal anecdotes. Put good thoughts out into the universe and you’ll get good things back. You have ancient wisdom within you, just listen to it.

It’s just so… inane. And boring.

So, if you’re really lost in life you might find this book helpful. If you need to be told to take a chance it might be worthwhile. If you need to be told to stop being a doofus, maybe you do need to read this. Otherwise, I’m not sure it’s really worth the time.