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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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)

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