Archive for August, 2011

We got home from our trip late last night and I was too tired to post

This week is one of transition – eldest is seriously looking for work and we packed youngest up and dropped him off at college. Since he has chosen the University of Portland, I have had the pleasure of spending a few days with my mom as Himself has done orientation duty. On Thursday, we moved Youngest into his dorm (he is in a former study lounge converted into a quad) and we were pleased to see that his dorm had the only music blasting, the only large gorilla on the roof, and the only assistants in kilts! Himself and I are planning a trip back that will take us near Mt. St. Helens (one can only drive through Eastern Oregon and the Gorge just so many times in a short period) and then we will be home – to our not so empty nest as Eldest seems to be ensconced for at least a while.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Diane from Bibliophile by the Sea (hope all is well with you and the hurricane) puts the spotlight on a slim novel written by a reclusive Italian author with the pseudonym Elena Farrante called The Lost Daughter. This short novel is about a middle-aged woman alone for the first time. Her two daughters have left to go live with her former husband and Leda revels in the freedom of only having to care for herself. She goes on vacation and a chance encounter with a young mother and her daughter lead Leda in to an introspection of her own life.  This sounds like a good book group read because you could discuss motherhood, identity, career fulfillment, etc.

Everyone has roads no taken, forks in the road where you could go one way – for example, pursue a relationship with Man A, or the other, a relationship with Man B. Iris on Books reviews Q: A Novel by Evan Mandery where these roads are explored. The narrator is visited by various aspects of himself from the future. Each future self gives the narrator advice about the upcoming fork in the road, big and small forks. For example, don’t marry her, go running, go on a glutton free diet.  If your future self came to you and gave you advice, would you take it? The reviews call this novel “bittersweet” and a “love story”. It sounds like a funny and wise discussion about life, the choices we make, and what it all ultimately means.

One book that came out this week and has been getting quite a bit of buzz is The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (her debut novel). The Language of Flowers is based, in part, on the Victorian custom of certain flowers having certain meanings. For those of you who have read Louisa May Alcott’s Jo’s Boys (a sequel to Little Men), there is a part in there where the young man proposes with three different colors of roses. Which ever rose the young lady chose to wear would give him his answer. I have always thought that was a really sweet passage in the book and I would like to know more about this custom. Fortunately, the author includes a Flower Dictionary in the book. The novel is about an eighteen year old girl who has just aged out of the foster care system in San Francisco. She camps out in a park, setting up her own flower garden and eventually gets a job working with flowers. The book is about connections and how to make them even if you have never done so before. A review can be found At Rhapsody in Books and it also received a good review in The San Francisco Chronicle which called it “an unexpectedly beautiful book about an ugly subject”.

If you liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, another book on the occupation of the Channel Islands has been released called War on the Margins by Libby Cone. The novel arose out of the author’s work on her masters and she uses real documents, as well as real people, to give her book an authentic flair. It started out as a self-published novel but received so much acclaim that it was picked up by Duckworth Books (which in itself is a great name for a company!). Marlene works for the Alien Registry office on Jersey. During the occupation all Jews were required to register but Marlene decides not to. She later gets involved in the resistance and there are several other plot lines that cover the gamut of what the occupation meant to the islands and their inhabitants. Reviews can be found at Shelf Love, The Literate Housewife, and Dove Grey Scribbles who has a more in depth discussion on literature that covers the Channel Island occupation.

Finally, I mentioned The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson on a recent Sunday Posting and I can hardly wait for my hold to come through at the  library. The Lantern is a literary Gothic novel set in Provence France. It is all the harder to wait when I read descriptions like the following from Bookstack:

Reading The Lantern was a bit like stepping into a warm pool of water that starts out calm and quiet and just a little sleepy, but soon sucks you in with a surprising undertow and finally whirls you in a vortex of  questions and emotions. When at last you come up for air, you find yourself basking in the placid sunlight of a summer day, wondering if it was all just a dream.



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I am thinking I’d better post about June and July’s reading before I have to post about August. Somehow I ended up with a very long list during these two months.  I have the oddest feeling I have forgotten a book for the end of July but for the life of me I can’t figure it out what it was. My library system doesn’t keep track of what you have checked out after your books are returned so there is no help there. I just have to hope I am thinking of some of my unfinished books (I have three going right now at home and reading one at my mom’s). I read a lot of good stuff in these last two months that it will be hard to pick “Best Read”. I hopefully will have one more review upcoming from June reads and several from July.

June 2011

July 2011

  • Little Boy Lost – Margharita Laski
  • When God Was A Rabbit – Sarah Winman
  • Hercule Piorot Loses a Client – Agatha Christie (re-read)
  • A Girl in Winter – Philip Larkin
  • The Gendarme – Mark Mustian
  • The London Train – Tessa Hadley
  • Three Act Tragedy – Agatha Christie (re-read)
  • The Old Romantic – Louise Dean
  • Before I go to Sleep – S.J. Watson
  • Christmas at the Mysterious bookshop – edited by Otto Penzler
  • To Be Sung Underwater – Tom McNeal
  • The Game of Secrets – Dawn Tripp
  • Lyrics Alley – Leila Aboulela (Did Not Finish)

The best book honors goes to two books: The Old Romantic and The Game of Secrets (both of which I hope to review next week). Both had excellent writing and good plots. I liked The Old Romantic because of the personal connection I had with the plot (I am somewhat estranged from my own father) and while the outcome of the book will definitely not be my own outcome, I  really could appreciate it for what is was by itself.  The Game of Secrets was interesting, compelling and written in such a way that both my mother and I want to read her other works.

Next Up: Birdsisters was very good and well written. I liked the tie between the two sisters and what they meant to each other. The London Train was not my favorite book but I appreciated the writing and what the author was trying to say. I think both these books are well worth reading.

Best Book Group Book: There are two books on the list here as well. Both these books are fun to read, well written and have lots to talk about. The Great Lenore does have that Great Gatsby feel in setting and tone but stands on its own two feel. The choices character’s make will lend itself to great discussion. When God Was A Rabbit is somewhat heftier – there are a lot more lines of questioning with this book from Family, to being different, to friendship, etc.

Best Travel Book: I am going with House of Silence with its captivating plot of secrets and family, winter at an old country house, to finding oneself. I found it captivating and engrossing with an adequate length for a ride on a plane.

A Note on the Did Not Finish Book: Lyric’s Alley has gotten very good reviews. Set in the Sudan at the change-over between British and self-rule, it documents what happens to a well-connected family. I was enjoying it but ran out of time and had to return it to the library.


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My dinning room table is piled high with supplies to pack for college and the last minute list of things to do grows longer. Youngest is getting excited and we leave Wednesday to begin the process of dropping him off at college and doing all the orientation activities. Eldest has had his nose buried in books and was esthetic when I brought the newest Harry Dresden book home from the library. The only thing that would have made him happier was if I had actually bought him his own copy. Himself has been really busy this week cleaning up rockets, working on trees, getting ready for the new semester and taking care of all the technological details of sending the kid off (somehow they didn’t ship the software with the new computer). As for me I have been reading a lot but having a hard time writing reviews. Oh well – from one slump to the other…

Here is what caught my interest this week:

One of the books on my very tall to-be-read stack is Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. A friend of mine loves Murakami and urged me to give him a try so I picked up this book a while ago. Having read Greg’s review of the novel this week on The New Dork’s Review of Books, I think it may have to move up to the top of the stack. It is difficult to give a short synopsis of the plot – which concerns a young teenager who runs away from home and an elderly man who is somewhat mentally incapacitated.  Greg writes, “As the stories converge (or don’t?), the reader is left to tangle with notions of metaphor, consciousness, personal identity, fate and love. It’s heady stuff, sure, but again, not completely beyond the realm of comprehension. Murakami is infinitely quotable (see quotes below) and a lot of the fun of the novel is to turn these over and over in your head to figure out meaning both on their own and also how they relate to the rest of the story.” As soon as I finished writing this, youngest asked if he could take the book to college to read – many of his friends have read it and he liked the Murakami book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Oh well, I should get it back eventually. On the post before the review, Greg talks about Murakami in general and adds that the author was an influence on Ida Hattemer-Higgins who wrote A History of History (see my review here). Although I found A history of History hard to read, I am very glad I read it and it is a novel that I keep going back to in my mind.

Kim of Reading Matters hosts a weekly interview with various bloggers asking them to name: their favorite book; a book that changed their life; and a book they feel deserves a wider audience. This week she asked Victoria of Tales from the Reading Room and she mentions Everything Passes by Gabriel Jospovici, a short book of 58 pages about the life of a literary critic, his two wives, his children, and his work. Victoria writes, “…it does so in a series of intense fragments, mostly dialogue, that somehow manage to mobilise an incredible richness of meaning, bringing together life and art, love and suffering, the sense of time passing and the eternal present we live in.” This one sounds like it might be a little hard to find but worth it.

This week’s new release is timely considering how we are coming upon the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks – Amy Waldman has written a novel called The Submission about the design contest for a memorial at the site of the Twin Towers. A jury is formed, submissions are made, and conflict ensues when it is found that the winning design was done by a Muslim. A short review of the book can be found at The Book Dwarf, a longer review is on The New York Times website, and an adaptation of the novel into a short story can be found here in The Atlantic. This looks like it may not be the easiest of reads but it sounds as if the author navigated a tightrope with grace highlighting the personal struggle as well as the wider struggles we have gone through as a nation.

Today my mother and I were talking about mentors – not necessarily workplace mentors but life mentors and how important they can be particularly for young people. I was fortunate that I had Arthur who would take me to lunch and talk to me about life and living. Then I stumbled across The Broke and The Bookish‘s review of a book called Greyhound by Steffan Piper, a novel set in 1981. Now I have actually ridden Greyhound buses in the 1980’s so it felt a little like coming home and then I read the author’s  interview on the book’s Amazon page and I am sold. Greyhound is about a cross-country journey by twelve-year-old Sebastien Ranes. Sebastien is literally dumped at the Stockton Greyhound station by his emotionally detached mother so he can travel by himself to his grandmother’s house. Sebastien is befriended along the way by a young black ex-con. The author writes about Marcus in the Amazon interview saying, “Marcus was a real person that I met on the bus. I’ve thought quite a bit about my encounter with him and the conversations that we had into the middle of the night. When you’re young, it’s the simplest and kindest of gestures that have the most effect and create the most lasting memories. A bag of pretzels can be the equivalent of much more over the passage of time. Not having good role models growing up, I often found myself reaching outward for a guide. Those are often the most dangerous because they have a limit as to what they can give back to you. Those limits are not always visible, especially when you’re young.”

Happy Reading

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It has been a nice and quiet weekend: Himself is in Montana flying rockets, Eldest went camping with friends, and Youngest is cramming as much time in with his friends before they separate for college. His best friend left Thursday and the next group to leave (including youngest) leaves in a week and a half. So we have been collecting items, firming up academic schedule, and celebrating that youngest is on the XC roster for the fall (one of ten freshmen – he will have to work hard). Eldest has been a huge help around the house and has even said I can suggest some books for him outside of his normal sci-fi/fantasy. I think I will start him on The Incredible Sadness of Lemon Cake.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

We have been blessed with a fairly cool summer, highs in the 80’s with nights cooling down. It is so pleasant to wake up in the morning to a breeze gently rustling the aspen trees. But I have had my share of hot summer nights including one in Salt Lake where we all retired to the sleeping porch for a little relief. So it was with pleasure that I read the following quote from Enchanted Night by Stepven Millauser in Caroline’s (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) review of his novella:

A hot summer night in southern Connecticut, tide going out and the moon still rising. Laura Engstrom, fourteen years old, sits up in bed and throws the covers off. Her forehead is damp. her hair feels wet. Through the screen of the two half-open windows she can hear a rasp of the crickets and a dim rush of traffic in the distant thruway. Five past twelve. Do you know where your children are? The room is so hot that the heat is a hand gripping her throat. Got to move, got to do something. Moonlight is streaming in past the edges of the closed and slightly raised venetian blinds. She can’t breathe in this room, in this house.

I have never heard of this author, although he did win the Pulitzer in 1997 for his novel Martin Dressler but that is the beauty of book blogs. Enchanted Night is the story of a handful of residents in a small Connecticut town on a sultry summer night. Reviews say it has a fairy tale quality and Caroline talks about how it is “rooted” in the imagination and fears of childhood so this one is going on the list for himself to bring home from the college library.

Remember J.J. Caucus from Doonesbury – performance artist. I loved the strips that were about her wacky art. Recently published The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson is about Annie and Buster Fang, brother and sister and children of performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang. Due to circumstances brother and sister find themselves once more with their parents and even more performance art. The chapters are told with alternating narration and interspersed with descriptions of past performances. This sounds like an intriguing look at family, parenting, and art. The book was just released and reviews can be found at Jennifer from The Literate Housewife w

May Sinclair is a writer that is on the fringes of memory but I can’t recall anything specific – probably someone my mother has read. May Sinclair was an English author and suffragette who wrote between 1886 and 1921 and wikipedia says that the term “stream of consciousness”  as used in a literary way is attributed to her. It seems she was interested in psychology and Freud and her novel The Life and Death of Harriet Frean is about repression and what it does to you physically as well as psychologically. Harriet Devine writes in her review of the novel, “This is a novel of only 184 pages, into which the entire life of one woman is beautifully, sparely and movingly compressed.” Harriet is the only child of an upper-middle class English family who lives to emulated the example of her parents even after they are dead. Harriet Devine also mentions that the book is a good one for discussion so this one may be a good candidate for book groups. A note to Kindle users: many of May Sinclair’s work is available in the public domain and is available to download for free.

Samuel Lake is a good man, a Methodist preacher in the south, a family man with a wife, Willadee and three children including feisty, outspoken 11 year old Swan. When Samuel loses his congregation and his father-in-law dies, the Lakes move to the family homestead in southern Arkansas with Willadee’s mother. Swan befriends a boy who is going through troubles of his own and while Samuel struggles with his faith, Swan tries to help her new friend. This is the plot of Jenny Wingfield’s debut novel (she does have two screenplays to her name), The Homecoming of Samuel Lake. Reviews of the book can be found at Caribousmom and Rundpinne. I read the first chapter thanks to First Looks at Amazon and has hooked. Especially when the author ended the first chapter with the following: “Folks wanted it to stay the way it was, because once you change one part of a thing, all the other parts begin to shift, and pretty soon you just don’t know what is what anymore.”

Another novel recently released is The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson which is described as a modern Gothic Novel set in Provence France. Woman meets man, falls in love, they marry. Man has an ex-wife he won’t discuss, they move to his house, all is well, then all is not. To be fair, the author acknowledges her debt to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca; and this sounds like a nicely done, updated version. Reviews can be found at Fleur Fisher and S Krishna.

Happy Reading!

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Happy Sunday everyone – Himself and I came home to a clean house and two boys that were getting along which is always a good sign. And then it was shopping and cooking for the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy concert in the park last night. The green bean and grilled peach salad was a hit as was the cherry limeade cupcakes. The music was phenomenal and the fellowship with good friends was the icing on the cake. The first of the youngest’s friends leaves for college in a week, youngest in three weeks, and others scattered in between so there have been lots of trips to lakes and late nights for him. Eldest is putting is room back together and doing some rock climbing in the area. And I got to go to Powells and get several books on my too read list. I was prepared so the shopping went efficiently.  On the drive home I read The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady and it was just the right touch for a ride home – areal respite read.

Not much caught my interest this week but I do have one note to share:

I have mentioned The Hare with the Amber Eyes previously but it is now available in the United States and if you enjoy non-fiction, enough of the book blogers I respect have enjoyed this book that I feel comfortable recommending it. I first heard about The Hare from Tom of a Common Reader. He includes the book in his top reads of 2010 and fully reviews the book here. Other reviews can be found at Savidge Reads and Page 247. The book is by Edmund De Waal, a British ceramic artist. He inherits a beautiful collection of 264 tiny Japanese netsuke carvings from an uncle and decides to investigate their place in the family history. It is the story of how a collection came to exist as well as the story of a family. I hear the section on how the collection survived the Nazis is one of the best parts.

Happy reading!

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A Girl in Winter written by Philip Larkin (Originally published in 1947)

Katherine Lind is a European woman in England during the war. She works in a library, lives in a bed-sit, and has no friends. The action takes place on a single day as Katherine helps take a co-worker home in the mid-morning she reflects on the summer she spent at the home of her pen-pal. The cold winter and the deprivations of the war provide bookends to warm summer days Katherine spent with Robin and his sister. Although Katherine feels isolated in both parts of the novel, the isolation, the reasons for it, and its effects on Katherine do differ. This book reminds the reader that we can never truly know what motivates and moves another person.

Little Boy Lost by Margharita Lashki (Originally published in 1947)

Hilary Wainwright, an Englishman,  left his French wife and infant son behind in France when the war starts. He later learns from a member of the French resistance that his wife  died at the hands of the Gestapo and his toddler son disappeared. The Frenchman tells Hilary that he will look for the child. Three years later, after the war has ended, Hilary travels to France to see if one possibility is, in fact, his son. Lashki uses post-war France to echo what is in Hilary’s heart – will he ever know for sure, can he stand to open his heart once again – balanced by bombed out buildings, corruption, and grayness.  I found parts of the book drab but loved the ending.

The Shuttle by Francis Hodgson Burnett (Originally published in 1907)

Better known for her children’s novels, Burnett tackles a subject that is getting a lot of play right, in light of the recent publication of The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin. In this novel, the shuttle is the back and forth commerce and exchange of ideas with England and America, especially the importing of American money to England’s impoverished upper-class. Rosy Vanderpool, a sweet, non-thinking American girl marries Sir Nigel Anstruthers who turns out to be a deplorable, despicable man who isolates and estranges his wife from her family. The heroine of the novel is Rosy’s much younger sister, Betty Vanderpool. When Betty is all grown she travels to visit her sister and tries to set things right. This puts Betty in the direct path of the evil husband with various nefarious doings and game play happening – each person making moves like a chess game with  Although I found the writing to be repetitive, I did enjoy this novel. It isn’t the Secret Garden but it was a fun read

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