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Archive for May, 2011

The sun is shining, the sheepdog is sitting on the deck surveying her non-existent flock, the older dog is snoozing by the window, and the cat is reminding me it is good stuff day and since I am the only one home I must be responsible for providing it. Himself is happily flying rockets in the middle of the state (although he is due home later today) and youngest is at the four day music festival known as Sasquatch. After a long day in the kitchen on Thursday, I have been enjoying my time alone (aside from the four legged members of the family) opening a bottle of white wine I have been saving for just such an occasion and having ice cream for lunch. The Thursday in the kitchen was spent prepping food for the crowd that went with youngest (he did not want to eat PB&J for four days) which was complicated by several things: no coolers are allowed in the festival site, going back to the campground is also not allowed, and 8 of the 11 kids going are vegetarians (there is no way youngest is ever going to give up his beef!). I have to say I did have fun finding and adapting recipes and there is one recipe that will become a household staple (40 clove roasted garlic tomato sauce). And in poking around the internet while everyone is gone, I also found some new blogs to read – total score!

Here is what caught my interest this week:

When I a teenager I remember escaping from my chores and burying my head in a book and being absolutely spellbound. Books like The Prisoner of Zenda and The Scarlet Pimpernel or if I was in a more modern mood – Victoria Holt or Mary Stewart. Reading Lyn’s (I prefer reading) review of Ellen Wood’s novel Anne Herford brought back those lazy weekend afternoon’s. As Lynn puts it, “… this is sensation fiction & Anne Hereford is a fine example of the genre. It has everything – a sinister uncle, suspicious deaths, a missing will, young lovers kept apart by a terrible secret; ghosts & a sleepwalker. It all adds up to an exciting, heart stopping read.” I remember hearing about East Lynne (wood’s more famous novel) but I have never read any of her works. Lucky for kindle users, Wood’s complete works are available for a very low price.

The Paperbark Shoe, a debut novel by Goldie Goldbloom has been getting a lot of notice but hasn’t quite made my radar until Caribousmom’s mom listed it in her top reads so far in 2011. The novel is set in rural Australia during the Second World War. Gin is an albino woman, Toad is her husband and their lives are complicated by the presence of Italian prisoners of war. Caribousmom writes, “Many readers will wonder where the beauty is in this novel among the scarred and damaged characters, and the dry and desolate countryside, but I think those most observant will discover that the beauty lies in how the story is told – its honesty and its acute examination of what it means to be different in a society where uniqueness is often perceived as negative.” Sounds like a winner.

Rhapsody in Books is a blog by a husband and wife team (one of the new blogs I have found) and I was entranced by their review of Alan Bennett’s novella, The Uncommon Reader which is about Queen Elizabeth II and her becoming a reader in her 80’s (after chasing her corgi’s into a mobile library). Who could resist a book about a monarch who begins to neglect her official duties because she is involved in the book she is reading. Wikipedia has a list of the books mentioned in the novella which ranges from Anita Brookner, to Henry James, to Nancy Mitford and even Lauren Bacall.

Buried in Print is another new blog and today I am drawn to her review of Samantha Hunt’s retelling of the mermaid or undine story – The Seas which was short listed for the orange Prize in 2009. Set in a bleak northern fishing town “built on a steep and rocky coast so that the weathered houses are stacked like shingles, or like the rows of razor wire in a prison, one on top of the other up the hill”. The narrator thinks she is a mermaid and she encounters a sailor (Jude) returning from service in Iraq. Here are two other quotes included in the review:

The narrator speaking about the stories Jude is telling her –  “…those are all stories I like to hear. He tells them and he makes the world seem enormous, like the stories are a torch he is shoving into the dark corner pushing the perimeters back farther and farther.”

“There is little else to do here besides get drunk and it seems to make what is small, us, part of something that is drowned and large, something like the bottom of the sea, something like outer space. Drinking helps us continue living in remote places because, thankfully, here there is no one to tell us just how swallowed we are.”

Iris on Books raves about The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi – again saying it is one of the best books she has read so far this year. This novel is the story of an Indian young man who falls in love with a Welsh girl; they marry and move to India. The novel follows their lives, their children and the connections they make throughout the years. Iris writes, “Out of the other long listed Orange Prize books I have read, it might not be the book that is most experimental. No, it doesn’t tackle a grand subject like child abuse, or incest or anything like it. Nor is it especially experimental in style. But the prose is beautiful. And the world that is painted makes you feel you are there, watching the scenes between the family members, feeling their doubts and desires.” I like books that simply explore reality – its ups and downs, and as Iris so aptly states, “the inbetweens”.

Diane from Bibliophile by the Sea generally has the same tastes as I do so when she says a book is a solid read I am apt to put it on my list. The School of The Blind by Dennis Mcfarland is one of those books. Written in 1994, this book is called “affectingly oblique meditation on age and time and the long-term wages of denial” by the NY Times in its review. At the age of 73, bachelor Francis returns to the town of his childhood. His sister, Murial (also unmarried) still lives in their family home. Her brother’s return leads to an awaking of the past as well as the discovery of some bones buried near the town’s school for the blind. This novel seems to be more than just a mystery – but also about siblings, denial, and the ever nearing of mortality.

Finally, I am so excited because Danielle from A Work in Progress talks about Christopher Morley’s 1939 novel Kitty Foyle, the story of a white-collar girl who falls in love with a socialite (and whose family disapproves). I have never read the novel but I have seen the movie once long ago and my mom named her new cat Kitty Foyle. I love the serendipity that occurs in the reading world.

Happy Reading!

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There is a graduation gown hanging in my bathroom (to hopefully steam out the wrinkles although that didn’t work with eldest’s), one tired high school senior sleeping on the couch in the family room. a husband puttering around his bonsai trees (with the requisite two dogs), one cat probably sleeping somewhere in youngest’s room (with the horizontal closet – what cat could resist?): it is another Sunday in the Hinterland. We had our last track meet of the year on Friday night and youngest’s last run of high school. It was a good run and I am grateful that he has had excellent coaches who believe not only in the importance of running, but also the importance of being a well-rounded quality individual. My reading slump continues but I have made progress on The Discovery of Heaven and have three new books from the library including The Bird Sisters which I am looking forward to.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

I am familiar with John Mortimer (author of Rumpole of the Bailey) so when Diane of Bibliophile by the Sea shares the first paragraph of Penelope Mortimer’s The Pumpkin Eater, I looked the author up only to find she was one of his wives and the novel is based, in part, on her experiences. The Pumpkin Eater is about a woman speaking to her therapist. She has had many marriages, children, and still feels lost and in need of self-definition. I liked the image shared in that first paragraph so this is going on the list. I wonder if my mother has read it – it was originally published in 1962.

When I am in a reading slump, I am drawn to mysteries because of their structure and the dependability of their plots. And, due to a life-time affection with both Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, I am very fond of British mysteries. Much to my delight, Fleur Fisher writes about a British author that I have heard of but I haven’t explored, Simon Brett. Fleur review’s Brett’s The Body on the Beach, the first in his Fethering Series featuring a retired Home Office worker named Carole and her neighbor. Carole stumbles across a body which then disappears. I read the first few pages and now have to find the book to in order to find out what happens.

Winston’s Dad made a brief mention of a translated Icelandic novel by Sjon, called The Blue Fox which sent me looking all over the internet. I enjoyed The Tricking of Freya and want to read more from and about Iceland beyond the few murder mysteries I have read. Sjon is an Icelandic author and poet, and on an obscure note, he has written songs with Bjork (remember the odd swan dress from the 2001 Academy Awards?). The Blue Fox is a short novella set in late 19th century with two story lines: Reverend Baldur is seeking the legendary blue fox and and then there is Fridrik, and his charge Abba (who has Down’s Syndrome). Eventually these two stories intersect. Every review I have read mentions the incredible writing, especially the almost  poetical first section. I also found a review at Stuck in a Book that explains more about the book. This one is going on the Inter-Library Loan list. Then, in one of those bookish coincidences that seem to happen, I found Tom from A Common Reader has reviewed another Sjon work called From the Mouth of the Whale. This one will available in the US in January 2012

As a child I read The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, and Little Lord Fauntleroy, all by Francis Hodgson Burnett. In fact I read them over and over (particularly Fauntleroy as I had my mother’s copy from when she was a girl). Burnett wrote such satisfying reads. I didn’t know of her other work but Jenny from Shelf Love reviews The Shuttle which has been reissued in 2007.  The plot is typical Burnett –  a wicked impoverished English Lord, the wealthy American girl he marries and abuses, her sister who comes to save the day. And also typically it sounds like a resoundingly good yarn. And the good news is that it is free on Kindle as it is in the public domain.

Becca from Bookstack reviews a novel by Evan Fallenberg called When We Danced on Water. A second review of the book can also be found on JHS’s  site Colloquium). Teo is an 85 year old ballet choreographer, working with the Tel Aviv Ballet on his ballet “Obsession”. He meets a lonely, forty year-old waitress and together they explore their pasts as well as the place of artistic excellence in their lives. I have read the first few pages and this is definitly going on the list. Becca calls the novel “thoughtfully executed and beautifully written” and also states, “The novel raises the question ofhow far one is willing to go to achieve perfection in art, in relationships, in life itself.”

In looking at reviews for Fallenberg’s novel, I found a new blog to read, Colloquium, and JHS also has a review of a debut thriller by Spencer Seidel called Dead of Wynter. Alice returns home after a long absence when her abusive father dies and her brother disappears. The story alternates between this present and 1984 where certain events took place that have a direct impact on the present. Described as a thriller, this novel is about those single events that echo for years as well as the acknowledgement and reconciliation of the past. This sounds like the perfect airplane read.

Last week I mentioned Rachel of Book Snob was reading They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell – she published her review this week (it is definitely worth reading) and it reinforces my desire to read the novel.

Happy reading.

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Little Bites

Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin

Another Swedish mystery, this one takes place on the remote island of Oland. Many years ago, Julia Davidsson’s son disappears from his grandparents’ home on the coast and he is never found again. Julia never recovers but when her estranged father receives the boy’s sandal in the mail, she travels to the island in search of answers. Theorin moves back and forth in time also telling the story of Nils Kant, a wealthy young man who is known as the island’s most notorious murderer. I thought this was a good read although it dragged a little in the middle. I was wrapped up in the story and the mystery’s solution was a little surprising.

Boston Noir edited by Dennis Lehune

When I was in college I spent a summer visiting relatives who lived outside of Boston. I loved going in and exploring the city – while I didn’t know all the neighborhoods the stories were set in, I did know enough of Boston to understand the various nuances of those differing neighborhoods. The best story in the bunch was by Dennis Lehune (author of Shutter Island). I have never read any of his work but if the rest is the same quality as the short story, I definitely have to explore more.

Last Night at the Red Lobster by Stewart O’Nan

In the corner of a run-down New England mall, in a snowstorm, in the last few days before Christmas, the employees of a Red Lobster come in for the last two shifts of the day before the restaurant closes for good. This short novel is a slice of everyday life – nothing earth shattering happens; it is just about everyday people dealing with everyday events. It is a good, short read, perfect for a rainy afternoon inside.

In Free Fall by Julie Zeh

Two physicists, friends since college and rivals in work “begin a dangerous dance of distrust.” There is an apparent kidnapping and a murder and two very intriguing detective trying to sort things out. I had some things sort of figured out but the ending, the reasons why totally flabbergasted me. I liked how the author incorporated various points from physics in the plot, as well as the philosophical ideas behind the theories.  And I loved both detectives.

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April Recap

My reading slump began in April and it shows in the number of books I read in April. Two of the books were easy reads, one was a re-read, and three were fairly short. Although I don’t keep track of the number of pages I read, I could tell that my mood was much more suited to short reads as two of the books were short stories which are perfect for reading slumps – you can pick them up and put them down at will.

  • Plainsong – Kent Haruf (reread)
  • Seattle Noir – Edited by Curt Colbert
  • A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain – Robert Olen Butler
  • The Story of Forgetting – Stefan Merrill Block
  • In Free Fall – Julie Zeh
  • Triangle – Katherine Weber
  • Last Night at the Red Lobster Stewart O’Nan
  • Visitation – Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Susan Bernofsky
  • Paley’s Place Cookbook – Vitaly Paley
  • Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet – Jamie Ford

The Best Read:

Visitation was a wonderful read but the best read award has to go to The Story of Forgetting. I was enthralled with Stefan Merrill use of story to explain the unexplainable – to give voice to a disease that takes away one’s voice. I was glued to the book while I was reading it, was very sorry it ended, and cannot wait to read his next novel which is due out soon. Visitation carries with it a strong sense of place and evocative language. It is definitely worth your time.

Best Travel Book:

I am voting for In Free Fall because I finished it during a long car drive and the time just flew by. When I was done, I was shocked at how close we were to home. Part mystery, part philosophical discussion about cause and effect, part exploration of rivalry and friendship it definitely held my attention. I wanted to know what was going on and while I had an idea, the ending was still shocking. Himself read the book going back and forth on the bus and thought the twist was really interesting. He also recommends the book.

Best Short Stories:

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain had good stories, a tight, cohesive theme but a theme that was deeply explored. The writing was well done and I was sorry when I was done – I wanted more.

Best Reread:

Even if I had re-read other books, I think Plainsong would still win because it is just that good. Great story, great writing, great characters.

Also worth considering:

Last Night at the Lobster – a short novel about the last night of a closing restaurant. Nothing earth shattering happens – it is just a simple story about real life.

Triangle is a short novel about the last survivor of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire. It was a good story – my only complaint was that one of the characters was a caricature. While it was amusing to read those parts, I thought it detracted slightly from the novel.

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Another week of baking, track and not much reading – I am feeling behind in what I want to read including a week behind the reading of The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch for a read-a-long with Iris on Books Three days of track with the weather steadily improving each day. By the end of Thursday afternoon’s meet, himself and I were under a wool blanket and a heavy quilt, Friday saw us just in coats and yesterday I was actually able to wear shorts. Youngest has run well but his last high school run will most likely be this Thursday so I am feeling nostalgic about it all – he will have completed 8 seasons of running (not counting winter and summer training), earning 8 varsity letters. We are fortunate that he has had great coaching and been with such a nice group of boys for those years. The grass is greening up in the backyard and we actually have some tulips showing. Unfortunately it is pouring rain today so youngest is dividing his time between Infinite Jest and doing a jigsaw (with AP tests out of the way and just a few projects left – youngest can coast until graduation) and himself went off to play with trees.

Here is what caught my interest this week and added to an overly large “To Read” pile:

Rachel of Book Snob caught my interest last week with William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow does it to me again with Maxwell’s They Came Like Swallows, the story of two young boys and the death of their mother and is set just after WWI and at the onset of the Spanish Influenza. I am listening to the Last Town on Earth which is also about the Spanish Influenza and am intrigued to read more – it will be interesting to contrast two separate approaches to this subject. The influenza had a small impact on my family in the number of men available for my grandmother to marry and who she eventually chose.

In March I read Johan Theorin’s Echos from the Dead set on Sweden’s Orland Island and found it to be a good read. So when I stumbled upon Kimbofo’s review of The Darkest Room I was pleased to find that not only is Gerloff, the retired fishing captain who was such a prominent person in Theorin’s first book, appears in this one as well. And the two books are part of a planned quartet. The Darkest Room is about a young Swedish couple who move to Orland Island with their two children. They live in an old house by the sea and and start to wonder if the house is haunted. When the wife drowns in the sea, the speculation continues and as answers are sought the author explores the history of the island, Swedish folklore, and the secrets of the various characters.

Simon of Stuck in A Book is currently reading Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude, originally published in 1943. I only know of Hamilton through his plays Rope and Gaslight but after reading a synposis of The Slaves, I think I will put it on the list. Set during WWII, a middle-aged spinster moves out of London and into a small suburban boarding house. The synopsis goes on to say, “Recounting an epic battle of wills in the claustrophobic confines of the boarding house, Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude, with a delightfully improbable heroine, is one of the finest and funniest books ever written about the trials of a lonely heart. ”

There are some movies that just stick in your mind becoming icons and one such movie for me is The Third Man. It turns out Graham Greene wrote the screenplay for that movie and later adapted it into a novel.  Turns out he also wrote a short novel called The Tenth Man which Juxtabook reviews. During WWII, the Germans, in a retaliatory measure, decide to kill some prisoners with the prisoners having to determine who will be killed. They draw lots but one of the men chosen is very wealthy and he offers his fortune to be spared. Another man takes his place. After the War, the formerly wealthy man returns to his home which is now occupied by the relatives of the slain prisoner. He takes a position there as a servant. If Greene is able to bring the same tension to this short novel as he brought to The Third Man as well as explore the idea of cowardice (shades of The Four Feathers), I definately want to read it. Luckily the college has a copy so it goes on the list for himself to pick-up.

Teresa and Jenny from Shelf Love discuss White is for Witching, an unusual novel by Helen Oyeyemi which starts off with a series of questions answered by three different narrators (one of which seems to be an address). The questions concern a young woman named Miranda. Teresa writes, “Miranda, as it turns out, is a young woman who recently disappeared without a trace, and Lily Silver is her mother. Ore, Miranda’s friend; Eliot, Miranda’s brother; and 29 Barton Road, Miranda’s home, share the task of telling Miranda’s strange story. There are whiffs of madness and magic, and nothing seems quite right. Who to believe? What is real?” I went and read the first few pages and it was enough to whet my appetite. It may be a challenging read but it also sounds worthwhile.

Hope there is more sunshine than rain in your week and lots of good reads.

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Happy Mother’s Day – we had some morning sunshine and it looks like afternoon rain. It is rumored that the hinterland may even get up to 70 degrees later this week. Himself would love to plant his asparagus bed but feels he should wait another week to be sure. For mother’s day I get a strawberry bed – a big deal since himself is allergic and I try to limit the strawberries we have in the house.  Eldest called this morning and youngest strolled in an hour or so ago having spent the night after prom at his friend’s house. They went as a big group and had a good time. My friend’s daughter invited me over to see her dress so I wouldn’t miss out on the girl part of prom – she looked absolutely gorgeous. Not much reading or reviewing went on around here but as usual lots has caught my interest:

Francis from Nonsuch Book has a “I have to have” which happens to be a game and not a book. It was a Dark and Stormy Night is a board game for readers where you try to identify the title or author of a book from its opening lines. Unfortunately the company is out of stock at the moment but I will be haunting the website because this looks like a lot of fun. It reminded me of the time my mother was poised to win Trivial Pursuit with a literature question about the author of Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility. Keep in mind that my mother rereads Jane Austin every year and her adviser in graduate school was Marvin Mudrick, an Austin scholar. After hearing the question, she totally blanked out and couldn’t remember – even after the multiple hints we gave her. Board games and books are the perfect combination.

When one of the bloggers I read says that they are reading a book for the second time in two weeks, I sit up and take notice. I love books like this, that are so good you want to re-read them, savor them once more. Rachel from Book Snob says that William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow is such a book. Rachel says the book is about the past, mistakes, regret and failure and is ” breathtakingly brilliant” – I even love the product description on Amazon:

In this magically evocative novel, William Maxwell explores the enigmatic gravity of the past, which compels us to keep explaining it even as it makes liars out of us every time we try. On a winter morning in the 1920s, a shot rings out on a farm in rural Illinois. A man named Lloyd Wilson has been killed. And the tenuous friendship between two lonely teenagers—one privileged yet neglected, the other a troubled farm boy—has been shattered.Fifty years later, one of those boys—now a grown man—tries to reconstruct the events that led up to the murder. In doing so, he is inevitably drawn back to his lost friend Cletus, who has the misfortune of being the son of Wilson’s killer and who in the months before witnessed things that Maxwell’s narrator can only guess at. Out of memory and imagination, the surmises of children and the destructive passions of their parents, Maxwell creates a luminous American classic of youth and loss.

Jenny from Shelf Love reviews a work by a Hungarian Author, Sandor Marai, entitled Embers. From the description of the book I was hooked – two elderly men meet after 41 years of estrangement. The men were once the closest of friends and somehow something happened that caused the breach. The General invites his former friend to dinner and then spends the time dissecting their relationship. And then I get to the part of Jenny’s review where she states, “To be honest, this was one of the strangest, most interesting books I’ve read in quite a long time. That’s not to say I liked it much. The characters were not inviting, and there wasn’t almost anything in terms of plot. But I found myself riveted by the balance of silence and speech, presence and absence, coming to be and passing away, foolishness and wisdom. And the prose! This book is rich, rich in language. I’ll try to show you a little of what I mean.” and I am sold. Lucky for me it is at the college library so hopefully himself can pick it up for me this week.

Laura from Laura’s Musings has an interesting post on Memorable Mother’s in books based on an article on NPR which led me to Carol Shield’s (author of The Stone Diaries) last novel Unless. Unless is the story of a mother whose college daughter drops out and becomes a pan handler who wears a sign around her neck with the word “goodness”. I love this quote from the end I found, “A life is full of isolated events but these events, if they are to form a coherent narrative, require odd pieces of language to link them together, little chips of grammar (mostly adverbs or prepositions) that are hard to define… words like therefore, else, other, also, thereof, therefore, instead, otherwise, despite, already, and not yet.” However I haven’t ever read The Stone Diaries, which is also about motherhood – which should I read first?

Happy reading.

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It is May 1st and after two days of driving, I am home again. I ran down to Salem to help my mom with a tea she was hosting and yesterday I drove up to Seattle, swung by the Amtrak station to pick up eldest, over to Shoreline to watch youngest run, then up to Bellingham. Eldest and I got to Bellingham late so we only had 10 minutes or so in Village Books in Fairhaven before they closed. Not enough time for me to browse but we did manage to pick up a sci-fi paperback for eldest. He was also texting various friends to find a copy of Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, having finished the second book in the trilogy – Catching Fire on the ride up to Bellingham. Sunday I was up early and hit the road for home glad to see sunshine when I got here instead of the snow they had late last week. I started to listen to The Last Town on Earth on the drive and read a little more of Ransom at the meet during down times. Youngest’s team did well, placed 7th out of 83 teams and beat their district rival as well. In addition, youngest made his college decision (on the last possible day) and will be attending the University of Portland next year. Grandparents are thrilled to have him just an hour up the road and my dad is already planning on cooking sessions with the kid.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Diane from Bibliophile by the Sea has reminded me that The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey was released this week. This was one of the books that first caught my attention when I started reading book blogs (I tend not to post about them until they are published) so it has been on my list for over a year. The novel was short-listed for the Orange Prize and is about a couple who move to Trinidad from England in 1956. Roffey uses the couple, their marriage, their adaptation (or lack of adaptation) to their new surroundings, and a secret kept by a wife from her husband to explore post-colonialism in the Caribbean. This book is also reviewed by Teresa from Shelf Love.

Gavin from Page 247 writes a lovely review of a book that has been lurking on my radar – her review may just tip the scales – the quotes Gavin includes in her reviews are incredible. Agaat: A Novel by Marlene Van Niekerk was originally written in Afrikaans and is about Milla, the widow of a white South African farmer and Agaat, the black woman who is taking care of Milla as she is dying. The two women have a long history with each other and the author uses that relationship to explore the history of apartheid and its impact on Afrikaners and Africans. Gavin writes, “There is really no way I can completely do justice to this novel except to say that it is, in the end, a love story.   I can suggest, if this time and place in world history are of interest to you, that you read it.  Marlene Van Niekerk, a poet and novelist, has written what I consider a masterpiece.  There many layers of Afrikaans culture woven throughout this novel, bits of songs, games, rhymes and lore.”

Reading on a Rainy Day mentions that she has In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard on her nightstand so I went to look it up. The first few pages have me hooked – two fourteen year old girls in the 70’s babysitting the six children of two bikers and there is a fire. Unfortunately Amazon leaves me hanging, the kids are evacuated, the tarantula and snake are also and the narrator is “so embarrassed” in true fourteen year old fashion. This is a coming of age story with a sense of humor.

True confession time: I have never read Anne Tyler. But now I am tempted after reading Beth Fish Reads review of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, a story that follows a family from the 1920’s to the 1970’s. Beth writes, “The family history is not presented chronologically; instead, incidents are remembered in a more natural manner, and some events are told from more than one perspective. By the end, Tyler has painted a complex, multilayered picture of a troubled family.” That sounds like a book I would like to read.

After reading The Disappeared by Kim Echlin (which I highly recommend), I have been exploring Canadian Literature. I enjoyed Mary Lawson’s two novels and have several others on my to read list. Today, while reading Kevin From Canada, I found myself totally immersed in the opening paragraph of Elizabeth Hay’s newly published novel Alone in the Classroom. Kevin doesn’t rave about this book but what he does say really intrigues me. He says, “My qualification would be that this is very much a novel of “mother and daughters” (and aunts) involving three generations.” Earlier he states, “That supplies you with an outline of the narrative action that will motivate Connie’s voyage of discovery and rediscovery, a voyage that Anne will repeat decades later. It is important for the reader to realize, however, that this is simply a dramatic framework for the real meat of Hay’s story — the conflict between generations in families, the need to search for what parents have “neglected” to tell their children and the reasons why they made that choice.” I am a sucker for stories about the connections between women through the generations and I definitely have a thing for stories about family secrets. The opening passage quoted by Kevin is too long to include here so I recommend going to his blog to read it.

Once again a brief mention on a blog (The Boston Bibliophile) led me to The BookFox’s review of a collection of short stories by Robin Black entitled If I loved You, I Would Tell You This which recently came out in paperback. The ten stories took the author eight years to write and have been called “meticulously crafted”. The stories are about love, particularly the loss of love or a loved one. I love this quote from the author in an interview on the Amazon page for the book:

On a less logistical level, I think that some of what you call complexity and depth – thank you, Karen! – comes from a childhood spent trying to figure out the familial complexities into which I was born.  So many of my stories deal with aftermath, years of history echoing down, and I can see now that I grew up with a sense of a household still trying to deal with its own history.  Maybe this is true of all families, but in mine anyway, the stories from the past seemed to loom incredibly large and I was always aware that my parents and my grandmother, who lived with us, were carrying  the legacies of these complex narratives within them.  There had been deaths before my birth that were still being grieved, injuries and illnesses from which people had never recovered.  I know that isn’t unique and my preoccupation with those things is probably the strange part, but for better and worse, I have always been obsessed with the question of how personal history determines the present moment.

When I am tired like I am today, I like to read mysteries. And Tom from A Common Reader reviews a book by Swedish author Kerin Alvtegen called Shadow. Part mystery, part family saga, part psychological thriller – Shadow brings these three threads together into what looks like a highly readable novel. Tom says, “I don’t often enjoy a book quite as much as this one.  Its pretty damned good as they say.  Its a literate read and the characters are wholly believable and very complex.  I kept feeling that the book must have been written by a man for Karin Alvtegen seems to have burrowed deep into the male psyche and understood some typically male aspects of the motivations of ambition, sex, family and wealth.  Not to say that men and women can’t write about the opposite sex, its just that in Shadow, the male characterization is totally convincing.” Unfortunately, my library doesn’t have this book so I think I will pick-up another Alvtegen work – Missing.  Tonight I might have to settle with re-reading an Agatha Christie – the trouble is deciding which one.

Happy Reading!

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