Archive for June, 2011

She had been useful to him, at least until the middle years, when she sometimes became troubled and drank in the daytime or slept in the garden, or went around the house foaming at the mouth. She pulled out some of her hair, complained of the voices in her head. He was, she said the, an exhausting spouse – charming and charismatic, but overbearing, unfaithful, and demanding (she improved somewhat on a diet of witchy-sounding pills, extracted from the urine of a horse.) She might have been an artist (she had that unforgiving temper) but for her tragic flaw – everything she touches turns beautiful. She became, of course, a gardener and rules her dominion like a tyrant. She represses roses and astilbe, withholds water from strawberries, which produce tiny deep red fruit of exquisite intensity. She serves them, in season, at breakfast, in a fluted white bowl. God eats more then his share because she takes less in hers (pgs. 25-26)

God is Goddard Bryd, headmaster of the Goode School, a college predatory boarding school on Cape Wilde in Massachusetts. It is the early 1960’s and God has come home and discovered that his wife plans to serve him one more dinner and then leave him. Her suitcase is already by the door. God’s first question in his mind is who would do his typing for him from now on.

God is one of the main characters in Carolyn Cooke’s novel, Daughters of the Revolution. The publisher blurbs and the book jacket tell the reader the book is about the clash between God, and his “girls will be in my school only over my dead body” stance and the first girl to be admitted – Carol Faust. And yes, that narrative runs through the novel. But there are other narratives as well, for example, the story of Evie whose father, a former student at the school, dies in the opening pages. Or even a story about the changing status of women, older women such as Evie’s mother or God’s secretary as well as the younger generation.

I really wanted to like this story. Evie is just a year or so younger than me so I thought I would feel some sort of kinship. But her experiences were only somewhat similar to mine and I didn’t really like her that much. I did like Carol but she appears in flashes, more as a statement then a fully fleshed character.  And I guess that sums up most of my issues with the book, I felt the author was writing statements. Well-written statements, funny and satirical statements, but even so I still don’t quite know what the author wanted me to get out of this book.

My favorite character, for all his faults and large-then-life character was God. I thought he was the most fleshed out of the characters and the best writing was about him, struggling to maintain his standards in a changing world, a world in which he is growing old.

Toward morning, he dreamed of death. He found himself unprepared, having forgotten to bring a pair of socks from his top drawer, where his good nurtured wife used to tuck them, rolled up into themselves. And so he had to stand barefoot in purgatory with other old forgetful old me. What a disappointing end. He’d imagined light – if not a blaze of glory, a small persistent glow. (pg. 145)

As always, here is a rave review of the book from The San Francisco Chronicle and a positive one from The New York Journal of Books.


Read Full Post »

I never found a way to fill all the silences. In the months that followed the great tragedy of my life, I sprung from my bed every morning, donned my five pound cork soled boots and did a high-step from room to room, colliding with whatever I could. The silence meant absence and absence means remembering, and so I made a racket. The rolling floorboards crying out when roused, the upholstered chairs thudding when upended, the plaster walls cracking when pummeled: small comforts when everywhere, always, the silence waited. (pg. 5)

As I grew up, my mom grew down. (pg. 44)

In Stefan Merrill Block’s novel, The Story of Forgetting, you encounter two main characters: Abel Haggard, an elderly hunchback rambling around the silence of his family’s farm and Seth Waller, self-described “Master of Nothingness”, a teenager whose mother is diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s. Neither knows about the other but they are linked by the devastating effects of the disease and a series of stories about a fantasy world called Isidora.

Abel lives on a ramshackle farm encroached on by expanding suburbs and the owners of the McMansions looked down at the dilapidation of his property. Abel is surrounded by the loss of his family and the reader learns his story as the book progresses. Seth is seeking some sort of meaning out of his mother’s illness and he sets out on a quest for her genetic origins using information from a famous genetic researcher. Those research notes form the third part of the book as the reader learns the origins of this particular form of Alzheimer’s as the researcher traces the progress of the disease through generational lines.

The fourth part of the book is the stories of Isidora, the story of forgetting. Isidora is a place where no one remembers, no one remembers anything, “…she couldn’t remember a single thing, not a single word, which meant she could not even remember her sadness. As she had fallen, her memories hadn’t fallen with her. Time in Isidora was immeasurable. It was a simple endless now.” (pg. 147). This is the story that is passed from generation to generation, embellished upon, and told over and over again like the old tales of yore. It is a tale of comfort, a tale of explanation, a tale to help people make sense of their lives.

I loved this book. I loved the way Merrill intertwined the four different narratives into a cohesive whole. I loved the way he described different aspects of the disease and its impact on both patient and caregiver. I really liked the exploration of memory and loss of memory, including that as we forget, we have an urge for home – to go back to the essence of our childhood.

…but at the line between taking care and becoming a caretaker he balked. As my dad had been all movement and action, and my mom had been the structuring consciousness, the fundamental order of my family had been unfortunately wired into my mom’s doomed neurology. (pg. 45)

Research (Tafarodi et. Al., 2001) has shown that line between what one remembers of the past, and what one feels in the present is all but non-existent. We remember what we want to remember…(pg. 57)

But mostly I loved the way Merrill used an oral tale, like the myths of old, to explain the encroaching horror of memory loss – to turn the unexplainable into something you can actually hold in your hand, to give a small, modicum of comfort to those who deal with the impact of such a dreadful disease. I have found most books dealing with Alzheimer to be somewhat bleak. On the contrary, I found The Story of Forgetting to be full of hope and human connection.

Read Full Post »

Hello from Beautiful Utah. My mom and I flew in on Friday to attend her 60th high school reunion yesterday. Now we are off to visit relatives and some of our favorite shops including The King”s English Bookstore. My mother is currently reading Unless by Carol Shields and she isn’t very happy with it so we need to find her a replacement. I have been happily reading away on the kindle – I finished The Great Lenore (described below) and The House of Silence (mentioned last Sunday) and now I am going to read The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Even though I am enjoying the Kindle, I left room in my suitcase for books from King’s English – they have such good choices in that store. I did manage to do some looking before I flew off so a shortened post is below.

Finally, be sure to visit the othe rblogs participating in the Great Literary Giveaway Blog Hop. I was able to take a quick run through yesterday and I have already found some blogs I want to explore more. You can find the complete list at Leeswammes’ Blog or by visiting my posting about the blog hop below.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

One think I like about the book blogs is finding older books I didn’t know about. For instance Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benatar, originally published in 1982 and republished by the New York Review of Books. The Boston Bibliophile reviews the book this week. Rachel Waring is a young woman in a dead end job and a dreary life. Out of the blue she inherits a Georgian mansion in another town and decides to reinvent herself. At first she comes across as an optimistic happy person busy with arts and culture but as time goes by the line between elation and mania becomes more blurred. I like stories about reinventing yourself  and I like stories with somewhat unreliable narrators. This sounds somewhat similar to A History of History which I found difficult to read but very worth the effort.

One book that is getting a lot of attention these days (and one that I predict will be on many book group lists) is South of Superior, a debut novel by Ellen Airgood (I love that name). Both Bookstack and Reading on a Rainy Day have reviewed the book lately. Madeline Stone leaves Chicago and returns to her roots, a small town in the upper peninsula of Michigan to care for two octogenarian sisters. Madeline finds herself drawn into the doings of the town and learns some life lessons along the way. This book sounds like a good one to put on your summer reading list.

Whenever I read a review and come across a sentence like this, “He manages to paint whole worlds through the use of such short sentences..”, I sit up and take notice. Iris of Iris on Books reviews The House of the Mosque by Kader Abdolah. Set in Iran starting in 1969, the family of Aqa Jaan have live in a house by the Mosque for eight centuries and the family serve as caretakers of the mosque.  The caveat to all this is that the mosque is in Iran, the reign of the Shah is diminishing, and the Iranian revolution will affect the family in small and large ways both directly and indirectly. I am already hooked on this book and then I read Savidgereads’ review and I am totally sold:

I jut simply have to say I think it’s a masterpiece of our times. I admit I was sceptical and yet just fell into it, was carried away buy it and couldn’t put it down. I can fully appreciate why it has been an international bestseller and translated in so many countries. It’s a book that I think everyone should read as its eye opening, though provoking and magical story telling. I can say no more than read this book, I am tempted to open the book and start all over again.

A large, old, dusty English house set on the common, spinster aunts, an orphan returning home, family secrets behind closed doors, a mysterious death long ago – what isn’t to like in that scenario and when the book gets a good review from Danielle of A Work in Progress, and there I am with yet another book on the to read list. This one is by Elizabeth Berridge, an English author. Across the Common was originally published in 1964 and reissued in 2009. The book was adapted by the BBC as well. In the novel, Louise, who thinks her husband is having an affair, returns to the home of her youth, the home of her elderly aunts who raised her. However, some things from the past resurface and Louise finds that in order to understand her present, she must also understand the past.

A brief mention of a book at Caribousmom’s blog sent me exploring further and I really want to read The Great Lenore by a debut novel by JM Tohline. Set in Nantucket, a young wife is falsely reported dead. Leonore sees this as an opportunity to a new life but before she can go she needs to see how her two-timing husband and his aristocratic family reacts. She enlists Richard to help her with this. The novel is told from Richard’s perspective who finds Lenore’s life to be far more entangled than he first thought. I bet this will also be a book group pick for many. And who wouldn’t be charmed by an author who has a cat named The Old Man and The Sea.

Happy reading and thanks for visiting.

Read Full Post »

Small Bites

If I Loved You, I would Tell You This by Robin Black

This short story collection took the author eight years to complete, in part, because she did not set out to do a collection. She wrote each story to stand on its own and they do. But they are also linked by the different aspects of love and loss – from a painter doing a portrait of a man afflicted by Alzheimer’s while mourning the death of her lover to a father, hesitating, when getting a guide dog for his seventeen year old daughter, knowing that he will have to let her go. I found the best and most moving story was Divorced, Beheaded, Survived. The title is taken from the traditional rhyme about Henry the VIII’s various wives. The story is about coping with loss of a brother, a friend when you are young and the helplessness of parents. It really hit home. This is a good, solid collection of stories.

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson

I loved Jannsson’s The Summer Book so I was looking forward to reading another novel by her. I cannot say I was disappointed because the two books are so different in story they are almost incomparable. While there was a sense of loss in The Summer Book, it was very light, “summer-filled”. The True Deceiver is far darker and much more unnerving. The writing is incredible especially in the descriptions of winter but I had a hard time latching on to the characters (I realize that this is the way Jannson wanted it). The True Deceiver is about the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell each other – from small, social convenience lies to large ones. It is about about being an outcast. Katri is the villiage outcast who lives with her simple brother and a dog with no name. Anna is a well-respected author and reclusive member of the village. The book outlines the relationship between these two women and the conflict between their very different ideals.

The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen

The Last Town on Earth is about the Spanish Flu Epidemic in 1918 and its effect on a small logging town in the Pacific Northwest. The town of Commonwealth votes to quarantine itself in hopes of keeping the disease at bay.  The town sets guards and all is well until a tired solider comes up the road and shots are fired. The story of the various inhabitants, from mill owner, to his adopted son, to the different mill workers, and the town doctor, are intertwined into a cohesive whole. Mullen uses the story to talk about the unionizing efforts, the war and its effect on the citizens of the US, as well as medicine at the time at the cusp of old-age and new understanding. I listened to this book on audio and I think I would have preferred to read it. The narration was good but it was hard to give the book the attention it deserved. It was also a book that got better after my book group talked about it which is one reason I appreciate bookish discussion. The talk brought out nuances that I hadn’t thought of.

Read Full Post »

Welcome Blog Hoppers

Welcome to the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop hosted by Judith of Leeswammes’ Blog.

I have two books to give away which I picked, not only for their literary merit, but also because they have not received much notice here in the United States and both are worthy of more attention. Each is well written and each speaks about the importance of the individual although in very different ways. One is a new favorite that I would not have ever discovered if it were not for book blogs. And the other is one of my all-time favorite books:

The Report: A Novel by Jessica Francis Kane which details the aftermath of the greatest civilian tragedy in England during WWII. On a March evening in 1943, during an air raid alert, one hundred seventy-three people died trying to enter a shelter. The novel is a fictional account of what happened after, the writing of a government report, and a look back at the incident from the present. It is a quiet book that honors the individual in a way that treats them with dignity and grace. My full review of the novel can be found here. The copy I am giving away has been gently read once.

The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West

First published in 1957 and republished in 2002 by NYRB Classics, this novel is set in the Edwardian Era and is about the Aubrey Family: Charismatic and loving father Piers who is unable to provide for his family; his strong and gifted wife Clare who holds everyone together, older sister Cordelia who struggles with not fitting in with everyone else, twin sisters Rose (the voice of the novel) and Mary, both gifted musicians, and their charming little brother Richard Quin. This is a book about fitting in with your family or not, about becoming an individual in a family filled with strong voices, it is about being human and all the laughter, love, and heartache that entails. The winner of this book will receive a new copy of the book.

So please leave a comment to this posting telling me which book you would like and an email address I can contact you at. The give away is limited to the United States and closes at Midnight June 29th.

Thank you for visiting, thank you to Judith for doing the organizing, and here are the links to the participating blogs.

List with all the Participants:

  1. Leeswammes (Int)
  2. The Book Whisperer (Int)
  3. Kristi Loves Books (Int)
  4. Teadevotee (Int)
  5. Bookworm with a View (Int)
  6. Bibliosue (Int)
  7. Sarah Reads Too Much (Int)
  8. write meg! (USA)
  9. My Love Affair With Books (Int)
  10. Seaside Book Nook (Int)
  11. Uniflame Creates (Int)
  12. Always Cooking Up Something (Int)
  13. Book Journey (Int)
  14. ThirtyCreativeStudio (Int)
  15. Col Reads (Int)
  16. The Book Diva’s Reads (Int)
  17. The Scarlet Letter (USA)
  18. The Parrish Lantern (Int)
  19. Lizzy’s Literary Life (Int)
  20. Read, Write & Live (Int)
  21. Book’d Out (Int)
  22. The Readers’ Suite (Int)
  23. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (USA)
  24. Ephemeral Digest (Int)
  25. Miel et lait (Int)
  26. Bibliophile By the Sea (Int)
  27. Polychrome Interest (Int)
  28. Book World In My Head (Int)
  29. In Spring it is the Dawn (Int)
  30. everybookhasasoul (Int)
  31. Nishita’s Rants and Raves (Int)
  32. Fresh Ink Books (Int)
  33. Teach with Picture Books (USA)
  34. How to Teach a Novel (USA)
  35. The Blue Bookcase (Int)
  36. Gaskella (Int)
  37. Reflections from the Hinterland (USA)
  38. chasing bawa (Int)
  39. 51stories (Int)
  40. No Page Left Behind (USA)
  1. Silver’s Reviews (USA)
  2. Nose in a book (Int)
  3. Lit in the Last Frontier (Int)
  4. The Book Club Blog (Int)
  5. Under My Apple Tree (Int)
  6. Caribousmom (USA)
  7. breienineking (Netherlands)
  8. Let’s Go on a Picnic! (Int)
  9. Rikki’s Teleidoscope (Int)
  10. De Boekblogger (Netherlands)
  11. Knitting and Sundries (Int)
  12. Elle Lit (USA)
  13. Indie Reader Houston (Int)
  14. The Book Stop (Int)
  15. Eliza Does Very Little (Int)
  16. Joy’s Book Blog (Int)
  17. Lit Endeavors (USA)
  18. Roof Beam Reader (Int)
  19. The House of the Seven Tails (Int)
  20. Tony’s Reading List (Int)
  21. Sabrina @ Thinking About Loud! (Int)
  22. Rebecca Reads (Int)
  23. Kinna Reads (Int)
  24. In One Eye, Out the Other (USA)
  25. Books in the City (Int)
  26. Lucybird’s Book Blog (Europe)
  27. Book Clutter (USA)
  28. Exurbanis (Int)
  29. Lu’s Raves and Rants (USA & Canada)
  30. Sam Still Reading (Int)
  31. Dolce Bellezza (Int)
  32. Lena Sledge’s Blog…Books, Reviews and Interviews (Int)
  33. a Thousand Books with Quotes (Int)

Read Full Post »

May Recap

My reading slump continued in May as well as other issues which prevented me from posting as much as I would have liked.  So May consists of Agatha Christies (three to be exact), a few books that were ho-hum and one absolute stunner of a novel which is already on my best of the year list. The good thing when reading a book is hard for you is being able to go out to the blogs and read of other’s enjoyment with the books they are reading. The bad thing is the To-Be-Read list grows even larger while you are not making any headway in making it smaller.

  • Betrayal by Karin Alvtegen
  • Lord Edgeware Dies by Agatha Christie (re-read)
  • By the Pricking of my Thumbs by Agatha Christie (re-read)
  • Peril at End House by Agatha Christie (re-read)
  • Tighter by Adele Griffin
  • 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgekinson
  • Ransom by David Malouf

Best Book:

Without any doubt, it is Ransom. Even re-reading my notes took me immediately right into the center of the world Malouf created with such skill and deftness.

Best Book Group Book:

22 Britannia Road. This novel is about a man who escaped from Poland at the beginning of WWII. After the war is over, he finds his wife and son and brings them to England to re-form their family. The author does well showing how people who undergo horrific experiences crave normalcy but I found some of the book, and characters in the book, to be somewhat predictable. However, there is a lot to discuss in this book and I think it would make a good book group read.

The Maybes:

Tighter is a reworking of Henry James The Turn of the Screw and is marketed toward the Young Adult audience.  As a retelling of a classic tale, I am not sure it worked for me. However, it was one of the more well written young adult fiction books I have read so if you like that genre, I would recommend it.

Betrayal is a psychological suspense novel by Swedish author Alvtegen. I had read a good review of one of her other books, Shadow so I looked in the library for her work. While I didn’t find the one I was looking for, I did pick up Betrayal and I remember I read it but I had to look it up to see what it was about. I don’t remember enjoying it but I would like to read another one before I give up on the author entirely.

Read Full Post »

I just finished The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah, a French-Mauritian of Indian origin. The novel is set on the Island of Mauritius off the eastern coast of Africa and is the reminiscence of seventy-year-old retired teacher Raj. His childhood on the island was one of poverty, brutality, and loss with moments of friendship and love. There were so many beautiful passages, it was hard to choose exactly which one to highlight. The writing is very well done especially when the author writes of the intersection of nature and man. In the following passage, Raj and his two brothers have gone to fetch water from a stream and they decide to climb further up the mountain then they usually do.

I remember glancing at the camp. Merely a rapid glance over my shoulder, the trees we had just been passing through looked undernourished and were dancing at the mercy of the wind. We moved on, our buckets in our hands, Anil in front with his stick, Vinod behind me, and it was at the foot of the mountain that the rain suddenly came down.

I am seventy today, and I still remember, as if it were yesterday, how the thunder felt as if it were coming from our own stomach, so much did it reverberate within us. I remember the fear, at the start, the eerie silence that followed the thunder, which petrified everything. Nature itself was on hold, and, and as for us, we no longer dared move. Long minutes when huge raindrops began by wetting our hair and our faces, then soaked our clothes. I remember the ghostly mist that arose from the earth when it has absorbed the first drops. We generally enjoyed such a moment but this time was different. I sensed it, my brothers sensed it. Very quickly lightening flashes were unleashed, more thunderclaps rang out, and we began to run.

How long did we spend hurtling downhill? The dry pebbles, which moment before had been grazing our feet, had disappeared; we were treading on slippery, sticky soil, struggling to pluck our feet from it. The sun had gone out. There were walls of rain and a curtain of sulfur arose from the earth. (pgs. 21-22)

Read Full Post »


Somewhere in the depths of sleep his spirit had made a crossing and not come back, or it had been snatched up and transformed. When he bent and chose a stone for his slingshot it had a new weight in his hand, and the sling had a different tension. He was his father’s son and mortal. He had encountered the rough world of men, where a man’s acts follow him wherever he goes in the form of story. A world of pain, loss, dependency, bursts of violence and elation; of fatality and fatal contradictions, breathless leaps into the unknown; at last of death – a hero’s death out there in full sunlight under the gaze of Gods and men, for which the hardened self, the hardened body, had daily to be exercised and prepared. (Ransom, pg. 5)

And so Australian author David Malouf introduces us to Achilles, war hero of the Greeks as he, after nine long years of fighting on the plains before the great city of Troy, sits by the sea in contemplation and mourning. Malouf, in his 2009 work Ransom, takes a few lines from the Iliad and expands upon them to tell the story of Achilles mourning the loss of his dearest companion, Patroclus, the killing and desecration of Hector, and Priam’s ransom for his son’s body. It is a short book and some readers might say that not much happens (other than a man dragging a body behind a chariot). But this is a book full of depth and flavor; a book with deep pathos and small, lightning flashes of humor; a book written in a beautifully evocative tone worthy of an author with eight poetry collections to his name. I will even go as far to say that if you only read one book this year – read this one.

It is such a simple story, Patroclus dies and in revenge, Achilles kills Hector and drags his body in front of the walls of Troy. Priam, the King of Troy mourns the loss of his son and the desecration of his body. He eventually decides to dress as an ordinary man, go with a carter and take a ransom to Achilles for the body of his son. Malouf takes this small story and expands upon it to explain the psychology of Achilles, a man capable of great feats, now wallowing almost helplessly in grief, anger, and frustration. The author also shows the parallels between Priam and Achilles and the differences in life and expectations between an ordinary man (Somax, the carter) and the King of Troy.

Malouf uses the tale to talk about war, not from the point of view of glorious battles and the clashing of swords, rather from the perspective of deep weariness, of longing for home, from the sidelines. He speaks of the relationship between father and son. But this is a Greek tale and as such it must contain the classic elements of Greek stories. The novel is riddled with bones, ghosts, and the dead – there is a heaviness of spirit which is countered by the lightness of the language. And like all good Greek tales, there is much about ego and honor as Achilles takes pride in not helping the Greeks and Priam see the desecration of Hector as a stain on his honor. And there are also the obligatory visits from the Gods – Isis coming to Priam while he contemplates in solitude and Hermes guiding the carter and Priam to the Greek encampment in the guise of a boy. Finally, there is the desire for immortal glory – to be known after you are dead for something, anything.

With all this going on, it is also a story about examining your role (as King or as hero, or even as a lowly carter) and stepping outside of that role, of having something in you that “has freed itself and fallen away”  – the longing for “something new and unimaginable” and in doing so becoming “a man remade”.

…a chance to break free of the obligation of being always the hero, as I am expected always to be the King. To take one the lighter bond of being simply a man. Perhaps that is the real gift I have to bring him. Perhaps that is the ransom. (pg. 59-60)

He has stepped into a space that till now was uninhabited and found a way to fill it. Not as he filled his old role as king, since all he had to do in that case was follow convention, slip his arms into the sleeves of an empty garment and stand still, but as one for whom every gesture had still to be hit upon, every word discovered anew, to say nothing of the conviction to carry all to its conclusion. (pgs. 208-209)

In this simple tale of the bonds that tie people together and the roles we play that keep us apart, of what we value and what we are willing to ransom to obtain what we hold dearest,  Malouf has touched on the essence of what it is to be human in the face of inexplicable events. Many years ago my mother made a clear tomato soup which involved a day of cooking the tomatoes and then pouring, many times, that soup through several layers of cheesecloth. What she ended up with was beautiful, a translucent red, a distillation of tomato. I thought of that soup often while reading this novel, which when you get down to the heart of it is a tale to be told. And as Malouf puts it, “Words are powerful. They too can be agents of what is new, of what is conceivable and can be thought and let loose upon the world.” (pg. 61)

Read Full Post »

Here we are on Father’s Day and it is yet one more gloomy cold day in the Hinterland. We all survived a weekend of graduation festivities; however youngest’s cough is still hanging on, I caught his cold as did my mom, and my dad got sick as well. Himself is studiously trying to avoid all of the germs. And eldest’s cold has also lingered too long so he is off to the doctor. Not much reading was done this week other than the last Harry Potter – it was all my mind could hold onto. Himself has turned in spring grades and is now in the process of whipping his bonsai trees into shape as well as doing all the administrative stuff a professor has to do. The big news is that I finally bought the Kindle my mom gave me for my birthday. I am waiting for a clearer head to open it and get started so youngest say I haven’t lost my soul yet but he knows it is coming soon.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

A book I have been eagerly waiting for was published last Tuesday – Before I go to Sleep by SJ Watson has been favorably reviewed by several bloggers (Buried in Print, Leeswammes Blog, and Savidge Reads). Watson’s novel explores memory loss and how that results in identity confusion, massive trust issues, not to mention the day to day coping you would have to do. Christine wakes up every day not knowing who she is, who is sleeping beside her, or even what she did the day before. Her husband tells her each day about an accident years ago and each day, unbeknownst to her husband, Christine gets a phone call from her neurologist who tells her where to find the secret journal she has been keeping. The novel is told through Christine’s journal so the reader experiences what Christine is experiencing. This also leads to a question of reliability of  narrator. I have already placed my library hold.

Harriet Divine mentions that she is reading Linda Gillard’s latest novel Emotional Geology (It is not yet available in the US) and she also mentions how much she liked Gillard’s House of Silence. I have seen this book on other blogs and it is generally highly praised. It is now available in the US by Kindle for the amazing price of $2.99! House of Silence is described in one review as a cross between Rebecca and Cold Comfort Farm. Orphaned wardrobe mistress Gwen is invited to her boyfriend’s family home for Christmas. She eagerly accepts and they go of to Creake Hall, a ramshackle Tudor mansion in Norfolk. Once there, she doesn’t find the normalcy she desperately seeks. There is a mentally broken mother, four older sisters, family secrets, a moody boyfriend, all partnered with the hold the dead have on the living. Sounds like the perfect airplane read.

My niece is spending the summer with her sister is the lake country of New York and they recently posted pictures on Facebook of the two of them sitting on dock out into the lake surrounded by beautiful mountains. It reminds me of the summer I spend in New England in college and my aunt and Uncle took my cousin and I up to a lake in New Hampshire. For a California girl, the scenery was breathtaking. It is this setting, the sturdy mountains of New Hampshire, that Ann Joslin Williams places her novel Down from Cascom Mountain. Mary Hall returns to the White Mountains of her youth with her husband hoping to make a life in the natural setting she loves. Soon, her husband falls and dies while hiking and Mary must struggle with her grief. This is more of a character driven novel rather than plot driven but I tend to like novels like that as well as novels where the setting plays such an important role. And it seems that the novel is not just about grief but also about resiliency as well as the importance of the journey.  After reading Caribousmom review and her interview with the author (with a giveaway) and reading the first few pages, this one is definitly going on the list. Here are the opening lines:

There was the sound of rain falling, but no rain. The Sun cut paths between tree trunks, laying narrow strips on the ground as the three young people climbed. The forest ticked as it dried. Above, through the high branches, the sky was light and changing, letting go of its pale mist, blue seeping in. They hiked in single file. A breeze moved through the wet leaves, releasing drops in a flurry, nearly as loud and sudden as an explosion of wings. (Prologue, pg 1)

When eldest turned five we began our journey with organized sports – he started playing soccer. He was, and I say this most affectionately, never the best player – more the daisy picking type but he developed a love for the game and enjoyed being a referee when he was older. Youngest started 3 years later (also soccer) and with him we saw the whole spectrum – from recreational to travel club. And we have seen it all from the parent side as well – supportive to abusive, to obsessive. So when Matt from A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook reviewed Parent’s Behaving Badly by Scott Gummer I sat up and took notice. Gummer is a respected sport’s writer and this is his debut novel. Set in the world of little league baseball, it an examination of the pressures parents put on their children. But it is also much more: it is about legacy as the main character struggles to reconcile his memories of his dead father; it is about the relationship between a man and his wife; it is about ego; and to top it off, it is a satire as well. Matt writes. “The tales spinning off these characters meld together seamlessly; glued together by pain, fear, and laughter. The writing is so contemporary that it echoes off our daily interactions, not to mention we all probably know some of these characters down the block. ”

Jen of Devourer of Books has highlighted yet another potential good read – The Girl in the Garden by Kamal Nair. Rakhee is the daughter of Indian immigrants to the United States. When she is eleven, her unhappy mother takes her to India – not to the cities, but to the countryside and the family’s old house. Behind that house is a secret garden and Rakhee explores as she realizes adults are more complicated then she realized and that families have secrets. The novel opens with Rakhee as an adult and the verge of an engagement. She leaves her ring at her fiancee’s bedside and flies of to India to confront, at last, what happened that long ago summer.

Finally, my mom called while I was getting this post ready and told me she was in the middle of reading The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard (author of The Transit of Venus) and she was loving every minute of it. So I looked it up and and it does look good. Aldred Leith has survived WWII in East Asia as well as a two year walk across transforming China. In 1947 he arrives in post-war Japan and meets the two children of an tyrannical Australian administrator. Benedict and Helen are tied together by the books the read and Aldred develops a friendship with the siblings. This book is about the aftermath of the war and how does one recover from such massive trauma. Here is what The New Yorker said about the book in their 2005 review:

Hazzard is nothing if not discriminating. Hierarchies of feeling, perception, and taste abound in her writing, and this novel—her first in more than twenty years—takes on the very notion of what it means to be civilized. The fire of the title refers primarily to the atomic bombing of Japan, but also to the possibility of transcendent passion in its aftermath. In 1947, a thirty-two-year-old English war hero visiting Hiroshima during the occupation finds himself billeted in a compound overseen by a boorish Australian brigadier and his scheming wife. He is immediately enchanted, however, by the couple’s children—a brilliant, sickly young man and his adoring sister—who prove to be prisoners in a different sort of conflict. In the ensuing love story, Hazzard’s moral refinement occasionally veers toward preciosity, but such lapses are counterbalanced by her bracing conviction that we either build or destroy the world we want to live in with our every word and gesture.

The Great Fire won the National Book Award in 2003 and Caribousmom reviews it here.

Happy Reading!

Read Full Post »

Happy Sunday to everyone. It is a beautiful spring day here. Himself is at a Bonsai study group, youngest is buried in the basement recovering from the Graduation all-nighter. My dad is out on the back deck reading from his Kindle and my mom sitting on the couch and she is almost finished with To the North by Elizabeth Bowen. She rarely brings books to my house as she can easily grab from my stack. She also brought me Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and To The End of the Land by David Grossmman. She enjoyed both and I get to borrow them next. It has been a busy week getting ready for graduation, company, not to mention the graduation parties. It has been fun, exciting, and a little nostalgic to see these kids go from kindergarten to college. We figured out that 19 of the 24 children in youngest’s first grade classroom graduated on Saturday from the high school. Given the transient nature of our society, I find that a pretty remarkable feat.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Eva from a Striped Armchair always reviews such interesting books and her latest find, The Translator by Leila Aboulela is no exception. Aboulela is a Sudanese author and playwright who writes in English. She has been both long and short listed for the Orange Prize and her fiction has received other accolades as well. The Translator is about a devout Islamic woman who works as a translator for the Department of Middle East Studies at a university in Scotland. Her son lives with family in the Sudan and through her work she and a professor develop feelings for each other. However, the professor is a secular man. Eva writes, “Really, every aspect of her prose is marvelous: it manages to be lush and spare at the same time, with a flow that never falters.” I also am interested in Aboulela’s latest work, Lyrics Alley which was inspired by the life of her uncle, the poet Hassan Awad Aboulela. Set in the Sudan in the 1950’s when the Sudan is on the brink of independence, the novel is about a wealthy family dealing with political and domestic turmoil.

Francis of Nonsuch Book has me very intrigued about an author I have never heard of Javier Marias, and a trilogy (rather it is more like a three part novel) that I have never heard of, Your Face Tomorrow. Marias is a Spanish author and Richard says of the work it, ” is probably one of the most important works in Spanish language literature of the last 10 years judging by its reception by the critics.  At the same time, its reception has been such that even people who have embraced its ambition and prose have questioned its overall success as a genre-bending work of art.” Described as an intelligence thriller meets Henry James. I loved the first lines Francis included. Richard is hosting a summer-long group read which helps split the reading up and allows for discussion along the way. I might not do the group read as I am struggling with the group read of The Discovery of Heaven, but do recommend the method in general especially for these longer works.

Frequently the books I come across on Dovegreyreader are not yet available in the United States but in a recent post she mentions a book that she reviewed in February 2009 and Thin Blue Smoke by Doug Worgal is available here and it is going on my list. First of all, alth0ugh I don’t totally trust Amazon reviewers, it is worthy to note that 24 out of 24 reviewers gave this book five stars. Second, is that one of those reviewers mentions one of the pleasures of the book, “is its acute sense of place, as it captures dead-on the feel and, yes, even the taste of present-day Kansas City.” The product description and Dove talk about how “Thin Blue Smoke is an epic redemption tale, the story of two men coming to terms with their pasts. It is also a novel about faith, race, storytelling, bourbon, the language of rabbits, and the finer points of barbecue technique.” and Dove goes on to add:

The narrative flows effortlessly back and forth filling in histories and events in everyone’s lives, each chapter often feeling like a short story in its own right but all wrought with a finely balanced blend of seriousness and humour that isn’t easy to achieve.
I knew when to laugh and I knew when not to is about as simply as I can put it. Infused with themes which sound a bit hackneyed but trust me they are not, of love and forgiveness, faith and doubt, giving and receiving, prejudice and tribulation and a sense of a community somehow in touch with its inner godliness, whatever that might mean and wherever it lay. Thin Blue Smoke has been a mouth-watering, soul-feeding pleasure to read…

Who could resist this book after a review like that!

I seem to have become fascinated with books written in the 1940’s. This weeks highlight is Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle (originally published in 1948 and reissued in 2003) reviewed by Simon of Stuck in A Book.  Dodie Smith is the author of 101 Dalmatians and I Capture the Castle is her first novel. It is told throough the journal of Cassandra Mortmain who lives with her very poor and very interesting family in a crumbling castle. Soon a wealthy family with two eligible boys moves in and various romantic problems ensure.

Cornflower Books is another English blog I like and once again I am lucky because the book briefly mentioned came out in the US on June 9th. The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai is a debut novel about a 26 year old unmarried children’s librarian and her favorite client, 10 year old Ian. Ian has to smuggle books past his somewhat overbearing mother who also seems to want to put him in a religious reprogramming program. At this point Ian decides to run away and the librarian goes along. I have many fond memories of librarians who understood who I was inside, not to mention memoriws of those book cards and book pockets inside library books. I think this one will have to be a vacation read.

Finally, there is The Upright Piano Player by David Abbott. I first heard of this book when the English Bloggers were talking about World Book Night and it was just published in the US and reviewed by Winston’s Dad (which, by the way, is one of the best blogs to learn about translated literature). This is a debut novel about Henry Cage who seemingly has his life together. However as he nears retirement that life begins to unravel. His ex-wife is ill, he is estranged from his son, and he is the victim of a random act of violence.  Reviewers call this book:

A powerful and well-written portrayal of loss and grieving.

…a wise and moving debut, an accomplished novel of quiet depths and resonant shadows.

Elegant, rich and gratifying

This seems like a worthy addition to the ever growing To Be Read pile.

Happy Reading!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »