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Update

I haven’t read anything of substance for two weeks (Food magazines and newspapers only). That included all my book blogs so I had over 300 posts to go through yesterday. The prior Sunday I was finishing up my family’s Christmas and packing for my mom’s. This week was all about Thanksgiving and having ten people in the house for several days.

I sat down yesterday to plow through and got bogged down after reading 100 posts and today and tomorrow is all about finishing things up for my mom as she has surgery this week….

So I have decided that I will forgive myself and let things go. I will be spending most of December here in Oregon to help my mom recover and things are just going to be different and that is okay.

And Thanksgiving was wonderful – we had 6 young people in the house: 1 18 year old, 4 20 year-olds, and a 24 year old. Wow do I feel old as Eldest is now 24. Their energy was incredible – they were polite, helpful, intelligent, good conversationalists, and most of them were readers. So there was lots of sitting around with noses in books – the best of all scenarios.

Happy Reading!

Sunday Caught My Interest

With the leaves gone from the trees, the squirrels are much more visible delighting the dog of the house. Of course it means lots of in and out but it is a small price to pay for such happiness. There is no danger that she will actually catch one – they are much smarter than she is and faster as well. It also means that winter is truly here with chilly temperatures and making soup for himself and eldest. My book group meet at my house this week and I made applesauce spice cake with maple whipped cream to celebrate the season. We discussed The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud. Let’s just say there was much passionate discussion. I thought it was one of the best books I read this year but I was the only one who felt that way. By the time we were done, we felt it was one of the best discussions we have ever had. I have also finished An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Rensiowski for my second book group meeting tomorrow night and The Spinoza Problem by Irvin D. Yalom and I started The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell.  I am hopeful for the O’Donnell book in part because of the reviews I have read but also because I need a good book. I was a little disappointed with An Invisible Thread and the ending of the Yalom novel. And after reading Leeswammes’ review of O’Donnell’s second novel, Closed Doors – I am eagerly awaiting its publication in the United States.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

After a somewhat disappointing reading week, the first blog I happen to read this week is Diane’s Bibliophile by the Sea. I like to see what she likes because we have similar taste and this week she does not disappoint with her mention of Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron a novel about an 18 year old misfit who is unsure about college and seems to be even more unsure about how to figure everything out. Eldest was a similar 18 year old and looking back now, he would have greatly benefited from a gap year between high school and the next step so the premise of the novel speaks to my heart. The high praise of Diane is icing on the cake.

Guy Savage reviews an interesting sounding book – The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt (newly published in October). The novel is set in Lisbon at the onset of WWII. Two married couples are awaiting arrival of their ship for America to escape the chaos to be. Both couples have their marital issues with much being unsaid and each person seems to have their reasons to want to leave or not leave. I do not know too much about this part of history and I am looking forward to learning more.

One of the more uncomfortable books I have read is The History of History by Ida Hattemer-Higgins and while I found the book uncomfortable it is also very very good (my review here). The main character of that debut novel becomes obsessed with Magda Goebbels, the wife of Joseph Goebbels the Nazi Minister of Propaganda. Savidgereads reviews a new book out about this women who is know both for her role in the Nazi movement and her role in the deaths of her children. Magda by Meike Ziervogel is available for electronic readers in the US and Savidgereads speaks highly of the book saying, “It has been one of my reading experiences of the year.” It is a slim book providing brief snapshots into a complex life and despite Madga’s actions, it looks like a must read for me.

Finally, Tom of A Common Reader has given me a new detective series. William Brodrick was an Augustine Friar before becoming a barrister and a writer. His series features Father Anselm, a barrister turned monk. The fifth in the series has just come out (The Discourtesy of Death) and while Tom mentions that enough background material is included, I think I will look for the first one (The Sixth Lamentation).

And on a more serious note, 2014 is the centenary of WWI, the war to end all wars. There are new books (both fiction and non-fiction) coming out soon and Fleur Fischer as a nice listing of books and authors published by Virago Modern Classics as well as other small presses. Please note that her listing is for a read-along and some may be harder to find in the United States but if you are interested in reading more about the war, it is a good place to start.

Sunday Caught My Interest

We have had snow (big fluffy flakes), rain, fog, clouds, and sunshine this week and I am in the process of getting wet leaves up for the leaf pick-up next week. Himself is busy working on a short course he is teaching next week and eldest is off doing some yardwork for a friend. The dog has been getting into mischief  and chasing squirrels and the cat keeps trying to sit on a keyboard, any keyboard as long as there is a person connected to it. I made a killer baked potato soup this week and read Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus in one sitting (it was that good). Now I have to replicate the soup (I combined recipes and only can hope I took good enough notes) and wait two months before the second Neuhaus book comes out (Bad Wolf is due to be published January 21, 2014). I am also deep into The Spinoza Problem by Irvin D. Yalom. I have never heard of this author or his work before but I like the combination of psychiatry and philosophy in a novel. As anyone else read anything by this author?

HeavenAli has reminded me that I need to read Elizabeth Speller’s second mystery featuring her detective Laurence Bartram – a veteran of WWI. I enjoyed The Return of Captain John Emmett and want to read The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton. Now I may have to also add her new stand-alone novel The First of July (published as At Break of Day in England). Newly published, the novel follows four men through the battlefields of Normandy. While that possibly sounds grim, from what I remember of Speller’s writing, I think she can handle it with grace and from Ali’s review this seems to be the case. I will be watching for this one.

For those of you who were fascinating with the discovery of King Richard the Third’s grave earlier this year Lyn of I Prefer Reading recommends The King’s Grave: The Discovery of King Richard the III’s Lost Burial Place and the Clues That it Holds. This newly published work is written by the leader of the archeology team and the historian who inspired her work, Philippa Langley and Michael Jones. The authors alternate chapters going from the life of Richard in the 15th century and the modern day search for his final remains.

A second non-fiction book that caught my eye is reviewed by Swapna Krishna at her blogThe Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert Edsel. George Clooney is making a movie of the book and Edsel also has a sequel just published in May – Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis. The Monuments Men documents a squad of allied men tasked with saving the culture of Europe during the War. It all sounds so fascinating as does the author, a businessman who became interested in the fate of Europe’s treasures  in WWII and eventually made his hobby his career.

Finally, Stuck in a Book has a link to Amazon’s 100 Best Books of 2013. I have read one of them The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud. I have 14 of them on my to-be-read list and I have heard of 36 more. That leaves 49 books – almost half the list that didn’t ring any bells in my head. I wonder how they chose their list?

Danielle of a Work in Progress has a great post with lots of photos of a juried exhibit which highlights the connection between art and books – handmade books by students from Canada and the US. I would love to see this in person.

Happy Reading!

Sunday Caught My Interest

I should remember that the week I am back from my mom’s is almost always a non-reading week. It seems like everyone/thing (including the house and especially the cat) needs to reclaim some equilibrium. I did listen to the end of Where’d You Go Bernadette on the way home but did not actually reading. My  one book group that has been on hiatus met and reconnected. We caught up with each other and had a mini discussion of both Canada by Richard Ford and Where’d You Go Bernadette. There has been lots of leaf picking up and I have spent lots of time playing in my scraproom. Yesterday we split up and Himself went to the regional Cross Country Meet to root for the high school teams which both won! Unfortunately Eldest and myself had to attend a funeral for a 23 year old classmate of his from high school who passed away in an auto accident. It was good to see people from the band program but sad for the reason.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Last spring, a friend’s daughter took a class in college on literature and adultery. We had a wonderful lunch before she went back to school and this class, discussing the reading list which sounded wonderful. It included books that readers would expect such as Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. Lately, another adultery book has come across my view due to German Literature Month and Dolce Bellezza has reminded me to put on the list. Mrs. Satoris by Elke Schmitter is said to be a modern day version of Madame Bovary. At age 38, Margarethe was last happy when she was 18 and felt the world was her’s for the taking. For the past 20 years she has stagnated in a provincial German town and then she meets a married man who may offer her a way out of her mundane existence. Winston’s Dad also has a nice review of this debut novel.

Fluer in her World has a review of a book that sounds light-hearted and fun. Come Out of the Kitchen: A Romance by Alice Duer Miller was originally published in 1916 (It is available free for electrnic readers). Set in the South, a young man rents a country house with the prevision he keeps the servants of the house: a butler, a cook, a maid, and a boy-all-work. Mr. Reed moves into the house with his lawyer, his almost-finance, and her mother. And while the cook cooks well, and the butler is very adept, the rest of the servants are more sullen and all of the servants seemed to belong to the house more than the occupants. Alice Miller was a prolific author writing to support her family. Many of her stories and novels became movies including the story that served as the basis for The White Cliffs of Dover.

If you are looking for a logic puzzle type of mystery – A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook has a review of The Oxford Murders by Argentine writer Guillermo Martinez. The author has a PhD in Mathematical Logic and his mystery features a professor of logic and an Argentinian student trying to solve a murder and catch a serial killer. Of course the murders are also mathematically based. Youngest is majoring in math and sometimes he and his father have incomprehensible conversations about algorithms and obscure math theories.  I may have to read this one just to get some overlap between the Literature side of the house with the more scientific side.

And Teresa of Shelf Love tells me Annie Lamont has a new book of non-fiction out Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair. If you have liked her previous books, be sure to look for this one as well. No one describes life quite like Annie Lamont who pulls no punches. Unlike her other books, this one is more focused on a single subject of continuing on with life after difficult circumstances. However different the book is, I am sure her sense of humor remains the same.

Finally Cornflower Books has a link to a bookstore in a 15th Century Church in The Netherlands – definitely worth checking out.

The Book Stop has a very nice post on the recent NY Times Book Review article on Literary Board Books.

And Kinna Reads has a list of 10 short stories you can read on-line including some by 2013 Nobel Prize Winner Alice Munro.

Sunday Caught My Interest

Alternating a little rain and a little sun today in Oregon. I have had a very nice week but I have to pack up and go home tomorrow. The new Mastiff and I have been playing a lot and I have been reading past New York Times Book Reviews. My mom and I have started the Christmas Shopping and have lunched out numerous times. And yesterday and today were baking days making muffins, brown sugar cinnamon cranberry white chocolate bars and Nutella shortbread bars. I did finish both The Woman Upstairs and Heading Out to Wonderful. I restarted Behind the Beautiful Forevers but have struggled to get into the story – not because of the writing but of the subject. I think I need something a little more upbeat right now. So I have put it down about a quarter of the way done and will try to finish it some other time.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

I really enjoyed reading By a Slow River by Phillipe Claudel and have been looking for another work by him, Monsieur Linh and His Child. Now it looks like I will have to add another book of his to my list based on the description in Lizzy Siddal’s post on books she has been reading that are reminiscent of Kafka’s work. The Investigation is about the senseless obstacles that hamper an investigator of a series of suicides. The harder the investigator tries t do his duty, the harder it becomes and he has the feeling he is being watched at every turn. While Lizzy had some issues with the ending, I have so enjoyed the Claudel’s writing, I am willing to go on the ride he is offering.

Buried in Print has provided me two books of interest. The first book is by Australian author Mary-Rose MacColl, In Falling Snow. This saga moves from WWI in France and 1970’s Australia. Iris was a young girl when she went to France in 1918 to retrieve her brother. She stayed to serve at a field hospital staffed entirely by women at an old Abby. This was unheard of in those times and the novel is based on real events at a hospital at the Abby Royaumont. The author stumbled across a book about the hospital and it served as a jumping off point. Interwoven with the first story is a narrative about Iris’s granddaughter Grace who is dealing with her own difficulties as a woman in medicine.

The second book couldn’t be more different – Amana Leduc’s The Miracles of Ordinary Men. I must admit, when I read the description of the book on Amazon I was a little leery but BIP’s review has me convinced. Seriously, this is one review to click on and read, it is that good. The novel is about an ordinary man named Sam who is growing wings – is this a blessing or a curse? And his cat, Chickenhead, has been reanimated. I love the fact a cat is a character in a novel; I also like the fact the epitaph is from the work of Soren Kierkegaard, “And is it not true in this instance also that one whom God blesses he curses in the same breath?”. I have often told my boys that one’s greatest strength is, at the same time, often one’s biggest weakness. This book sounds like it may be confusing to read and from what I can tell, this confusion is mirrored inSam’s experience as we, and he, struggle with what is real and what is not. As BIP points out, there can be multiple narratives, one for each point of view. Sam’s doctor sees only scars on Sam’s back whereas someone else sees the growing wings. And who could argue with prose like this:

Lilah crumples her napkin onto the plate and watches it unfold, slowly, like a flower. This is what she’s learned, from years of travelling and searching and needing something else: that there isn’t something else, that some people will forever look at the world and see broken things that they can’t change.

Finally, I came across three fun links this week. Savidge Reads has a list of books that “encapsulate England” for him. Beauty and the Sleeping Cat has a great list of books by German Women authors (at least two have made it onto my to-be-read list). And Heavenali has a post on “fat books” just in time for Winter when curling up with a long book sounds very appealing.

Happy Reading!

Constance

constanceMy name is Constance Schuyler Klein. the story of my  life begins the day I married an Englishman called Sidney Klein and said good-bye forever to Ravenswood and Daddy and all that went before. I have a husband now. I thought, a new daddy. I intended to become my own woman. I intended, oh, I intended everything. I saw myself reborn. Gone forever the voice of scorn and disapproval, the needling, querulous voice so unshakable in its conviction that I was worthless, worse than worthless, unnecessary. Sidney didn’t think I was unnecessary and this was a man who knew the world and could recite Shakespeare by heart. He said he loved me and when I asked him why, he said, Better ask why the sky is blue. It changed everything. If before I trod the streets of New York City with the diffident step of a stranger, I exulted now in all that had so recently troubled me, the crowds, the speed, the noise, the voices.  (page 1)

Then came the wedding.

It was only afterward, after the lunch in the restaurant, with my sister Iris disgracing herself, and Daddy being so angry, that I asked myself just what I thought I was doing. Who did I think I was, a proper person? The new world crumpled like a balled sheet of paper thrown in the fire and I was left with a few charred remnants and some ash. In my diminishment and humiliation I thought of Sidney’s mother, a little twisted rheumatic madwoman who’d shown up for our wedding dressed all in black. I was a shriveled think like her. I was Sidney’s mother. I tried to tell him what had happened to me but he didn’t want to hear it. It didn’t conform to his idea of me. It was the first time I saw this clearly, and seeing it, I realized how foolish I’d been to think I might for even an instant have believed I’d be loved — (page 2)

Sometimes reading a book will strike a cord with a reader – resonating in a way that can be both pleasant and unpleasant. Constance by Patrick McGrath was one such book for me. The novel, set in New York, is about a young woman in the 1960’s who is a book editor in the city. She was raised with her younger sister in a large house overlooking the Hudson river upstate and her young life is clearly divided by her mother’s death when she was a child. Left with her distant father, a housekeeper who can barely look at her, and her sister, Constance has a traumatic past and, as you can tell from the quote above, father issues.

So when Constance meets an older, divorced Englishman academic with a sensitive young son, she thinks she may have finally found someone to love her (although she is not particularly thrilled about the son part). Sidney is a poet with a dark book-filled New York apartment that echos the darkness of Ravenswood, Constance’s childhood home where her father still lives in declining health. After a pursuit by Sidney they eventually marry but Constance remains unsettled and becomes almost obsessive over memories of her childhood. Her life is further complicated by her hard drinking sister and her sister’s dubious employment and an even more dubious boyfriend. And then some casually delivered news sends her over the edge and she is filled with a tumult of bitterness and anger which sends her careening through her life.

Constance is full of dark and brooding places – a decaying mansion, a claustrophobic apartment, a dilapidated hotel, Penn Station being demolished. And the narrative, alternating between Constance and her husband Sidney echoes all that angst. I had the feeling that Constance may be an unreliable narrator and when I first reached Sidney’s narrative I was relieved – finally some stable ground. And then McGrath leads you to doubt Sidney as well leaving the reader as shaky as Constance herself. By the end, I felt I may have finally come to some stability but there is still an aspect of unsureness. For instance, I have difficult remembering the ending of the novel and so I have to think – did the novel end this way – no it ended in this way instead. So why do I keep having this feeling of dissonance – it must be due to the author’s skill as well as my own past.

This novel struck such a cord with me because I, along with Constance, have a father who treats me differently than my brother. After long years of wondering, I have come to a place of peace without knowing the why although my brother still longs to know. It may be because I am female, it may be that my father simply never liked me, it may be a multitude of reasons in some complex ball of knotted psychology. I am okay with the unknown – Constance is not but knowing the reason does not lead to stability for her. And while the author leaves us with a small ray of hope – a part of me just cannot accept that Constance is finally complete within herself.

One more note, I have difficulty in thinking of this novel as an “it”, as an inanimate object. I find myself thinking of the novel as a “she”; a feeling reinforced by the title itself as well as the pervasive presence throughout the novel of Constance, a young woman in mental anguish. All of this takes some skill as a writer to pull off and while this would ordinarily lead me to want to read more of McGrath’s work, I am hesitant – I found the novel to be a tad unsettling. McGrath taps into the human need to be loved, to have a place in this world, to be nurtured, to be wanted and then shows us how destructive it is when we are denied the vary things that make us whole.

Sunday Caught My Interest

Hello from beautiful Oregon. I arrived on Saturday and on Sunday I drove youngest back to school and stopped at one of my favorite places (The Container Store). Last Thursday was Oldest’s 24th birthday. Himself and I made him a steampuck inspired shelving unit for his wall to hold beer bottles and books. The perfect combination for a guy who likes steampunk, fiction, and craft beer. The shelves are painted to look like galvanized metal so most of my week was spent doing layer after layer of primer, base coat, and faux painting. In the past two weeks I did have some good reading time…The week before last I finished the Patrico Pron novel and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – both based on true events and one labeled Fiction, the other non-fiction. In fact, my book group had a really good discussion on what is fiction and what is non-fiction. I have also finished Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole, The Seance by John Harwood, and To Love and be Wise by Josephine Tey. I did not finish The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay. While I enjoyed the bookish atmosphere, I did not like it enough to renew it. I am also in the middle of three books: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud; Heading to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick; and Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

If you have ever wanted to crash a party in a novel you have read, you have your chance with A Curious Invitation: The Forty Greatest Parties in Fiction by Suzette Field (reviewed by Bloggers Recommend) which features parties as different as Pooh’s Party to the prom in Carrie. There is a party from Thackeray, Defoe, Proust, Fitzgerald, and even the party my friends and I tried to replicate in high school – Bilbo Baggin’s Birthday party. This sounds like a wonderful read, easy to pick up and put down – a great nightstand book.

I listened to the Semple novel on the drive down and it has me thinking of what other books might be good listens. And then I read Matthew’s (A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook) review of Past Caring by Robbert Goddard. In the 1970’s an unemployed historian is asked by a wealthy South African to investigate the life of a disgraced politician who after WWI, lived out the rest of his career on the Island of Madeira. Was Edward Stafford’s fall due to an failed love affair with a suffergette or was there foul play involved? Using Stafford’s memoir as a base, the historian becomes involved in a mystery that spans three generations. Matthew writes, “The characters are well drawn and all have hidden motives. Not only are they bound by an entanglement of intrigue, misunderstanding and betrayal, they are all colored in shades of grey. They only come into full focus and shading at the end of the story.”

Happy Reading!

 

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