Archive for September, 2011

We had a beautiful watching some very successful XC running yesterday (all four of our teams won!), youngest is settling into his college routine, eldest survived his first week of work, Himself is hosting a tree distributing party in the back yard, sheepdog is nervous, and the cat is hiding from all the murders that currently populate his domain.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Youngest is in the process of applying for Study Abroad. He has lots of choices and one of those is France (if only so that his Mama could come and visit). So when Eva of A Striped Armchair briefly mentions a book about Paris and says read it “if…you savour beautifully crafted essays full of elegant prose or want to take an imaginary trip to Paris or relive memories of your actual one(s).” …and when another reviewer calls it, “The most superbly written book on Paris I have read”…then I think Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light must go on my list. A collection of essays by David Downie, this book explores Paris from the eyes of someone who has lived there since 1986. It sounds delightful.

One of my favorite TV pleasures is watching Cold Case reruns (although I must admit I always get a little teary at the end). Add to this a liking for European mysteries and it seems like Jussi Adler-Olsen has come up with a good scenario for me with his novel The Keeper of Lost Causes. Swapna of S. Krishna’s review of this debut novel set in Copenhagen. The London Times calls the author “The new ‘it’ boy of Nordic Noir”. Chief detective Carl Morck has survived a terrible shootout (his two companions were not so lucky) and he is shuttled aside to be the only member of Department Q, a department which investigates cold cases. Naturally a case captures his attention, a female politician who has been missing for five years. This looks like the first book of a series so I am hoping it is as good as I think it is.

I haven’t read much South African fiction other than Disgrace and Summertime by J.M. Coetzee and Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. I have often wanted to read more from South African authors and The Boston Bibliophile has what sounds like a really good suggestion: The Dubious Salvation of Jack V.: A Novel by Jacques Strauss. Jack Viljee is eleven years old and lives in Johannesburg with his family and the family’s black maid. It is 1989 and South Africa is on the cusp of major change although it hasn’t quite happened yet. There is a lot of anger, tension, and violence in the country and Jack is struggling to find himself which isn’t easy with such a tumultuous background. This is also complicated by the arrival of the maid’s 15 year old son, Percy – a bored, idle and angry teenager. Percy observes Jack in a very personal situation (Note: the novel contains a frank discussion of Masturbation), Jack seeks revenge and things just snowball from there.

I know Dan Savage as one of the originators of the It Get’s Better Project – turns out he is a columnist and author of several books including The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and my Family reviewed by Anne Brooke at Vulpes Libris. Just reading the review made me laugh (his mother sends him newspaper clippings about things she would like him to do or traits she thinks he should have), it made me think (how do you get married in a state that will  not allow you to do so?), and it reminds me that we are all people struggling with our relationships, our families, and all the possible conflicts that can happen in between. Anne writes, “Savage describes relationships with family members very well and with an attractive lightness of touch and the book is, partly due to these qualities, eminently readable. He is, above all, a first-class raconteur – which is a far rarer gift than you might think.”

One of the books on my radar is The Legacy by Katherine Webb. I first heard this book discussed by some of the English Bloggers as it was featured in a Reading Club. This week I found a review by Bookworm with a View who reminded me the book has finally been published in the US. The Legacy is one of those novels that has a story within a story. Following the death of their grandmother, Erica Calcott and her sister Beth return to Storton Manor where they had spent time as children. Years earlier their cousin Henry mysteriously disappeared while at the Manor and Erica wants to put the mystery to rest. She is also going through her grandmother’s things and discovers a family secret concerning her great-grandmother, Caroline. The chapters alternate between the sister’s story and Caroline’s. This is just the type of book I love to read while I am traveling.

Happy Reading!



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Sunday Caught My Interest

What a week! Two batches of mini muffins for Book Group, 94 cupcakes for the XC team on Wednesday, and a sheet cake for the team on Saturday. Plus a wonderful escape to Seattle for food, Trophy Cupcakes, Ballard Locks, Pikes Market, and a XC meet at the beautiful Salt Creek Park near Port Angeles. Great food, running, conversations, and friends! Plus two books read on the trip over and back thanks to a friend who was willing to do all the driving.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Eva from a Striped Armchair gives some thought this week to I the Divine: A Novel in First Chapters by Rabih Alameddine, auth0r of The Hawkawati the first novel I reviewed for this blog. I really enjoyed The Hawkawati and I the Deivine is an earlier novel by the author and also is about Beirut in the war-torn 1970’s. The novel has a different structure in that each chapter is the attempt of the protagonist, Sarah Nour El-Din, abortive attempts to write a memoir. Each attempt of a start reveals more and more of the character, and her life straddling two cultures – America and the Middle East.

The New York Times reviews a book I have been eagerly awaiting: There But For The by Ali Smith. This novel follows a similar format to A Visit from the Goon Squad and Olive Kitteridge and has interlocking short stories with different voices with this one centered around Miles Garth, a guest a dinner party. In between dinner and dessert, he excuses himself, goes to the guest bedroom, and locks himself in and refuses to leave communicating with others only by notes slid under the door.  The novel is written in the voice of four characters so we get to know Garth through the memories and recollections of those voices. I have long wanted to read this book and now even more so after reading the review which ends:

This lively, moving narrative is filled with such details, with historical and musical lore and, above all, with puns. All the likable characters in “There but for the” enjoy a good verbal game, most happily with someone else. It is as though playing with language is what enables them to make their way through a complicated world. It’s a knack that might also be picked up, most enjoyably, by reading Ali Smith.

Having grown up in a house with lots of language play and puns this new novel by Smith sounds like it might be a pleasure to read.

The Times also reviews a second book that sounds interesting: The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen which is centered around the Ryrie family (Ricky and John, their children Biscuit and  Paul and Jess,  John’s daughter from a previous relationship). The family is disintegrating after the death of a third child fifty seven hours after it was born. The family struggles with grief and loss in different ways losing the connections with each other along the way. The review is scattered with sentences like, “With graceful jumps into the past that illuminate the present, moving from one unerringly rendered point of view to another, Cohen weaves a complex pattern of light and dark, happiness and grief, in a 21st-century version of the family chronicle.” While the first part of the book detailing the loss of the child is dark, the author also speaks of hope and redemption. This sounds like a great read.

Swapna of S. Krishna’s Books brings a new mystery writer to my attention, James Thompson author of The Inspector Vaara Novels set in Finland. The first in the series, Snow Angels, introduces Kari Vaara, the police chief of the Lapland town of Kittilä. A brutal murder takes place during the town’s two weeks of darkness in the Winter. The second in the series, Lucifer’s Tears came out last spring. The Inspector and his American wife have moved to Helsinki and the homicide detective is dealing with a torture/murder. Swapna calls this “a great procedural” and the series sounds like something to keep on hand as good travel books.

Happy Reading!

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Sunday Caught My Interest

Our Flag is flying outside today and yesterday before the XC invitational a moment of silence was held. Later this afternoon, we will head off for a flag pole dedication at our newest park. For many people September 11th is a day of reflection of both loss and gratitude. Late this week a friend of Himself and fellow member of the Bonsai club unexpectedly passed away. I am grateful that Himself and Eldest, as well as other club members, had the time to move Steve’s trees to our house so that his wife would not have to worry about them. I am grateful that club members will adopt these trees and tend them in Steve’s memory. I am grateful for our wonderful XC community that eagerly stepped forward to provide teenagers to help Steve’s wife with the yard work in order to give her one less thing to think about. I am grateful for boys who cheer for their front runners and cheer just as enthusiastically for their last runner on the course. I am grateful that Eldest most likely has a job and that youngest choose to spend much of a beautiful Saturday sitting in the library working on a paper rather than put it off. I am grateful that my mother and I can laugh together. I am grateful that I have a dad who chooses to love me and family and friends that support me. I am grateful for an internet community that gives fellowship and camaraderie. And I am grateful for books that give us escape, inspiration, insight, laughter, tears, and remind us of what it is to be human.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Youngest finished reading Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami but I still can’t start it as it is in Portland and I am here in the hinterland. The Diane of Bibliophile by the Sea reviewed Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: Short Stories so I have put a hold on a copy and hopefully will be reading it soon. To quote Diane, “this collection often dealt with stories involving loneliness and isolation. Many of the stories seemed like very normal topics and events, but then they veer off and take a bizarre twist, characteristic of this author’s style”. I think I will like the author once I get started by like David Foster Wallace, for some reason he intimates me so short stories might be the perfect way of getting my feet wet before I dive totally into one of his novels.

When I hear the name “Elizabeth Taylor” I automatically think of the actress which is what I did when reading Dove Grey Reader’s blog and her review of The Soul of Kindness by Elizabeth Taylor. I was a little nonplussed to think that the actress had written a novel that was so highly regarded. I quickly learned about the English Novelist Elizabeth Taylor and looked her up in Wikipedia. At the end of that article was a quote from the novelist, “The whole point is that writing has a pattern and life hasn’t. Life is so untidy. Art is so short and life so long. It is not possible to have perfection in life but it is possible to have perfection in a novel.” A British critic wrote of The Soul of Kindness, “”so expert that it seems effortless. As it progresses, it seems as if the cast are so fully rounded that all the novelist had to do was place them, successively, in one setting after another and observe how they reacted to each other…. The plot… never feels as if it were organised in advance; it feels as if it arises from her characters’ mutual responses.” Now I have to put it on the list. The novel was written in 1964 and revolves around Flora who considers herself to be the soul of kindness and most of the people around her try to arrange life so she can go on thinking that way so that she becomes a very self-absorbed, spoiled woman. Unfortunately it will all catch up with her sooner or later. Hilary at Vulpes Libris adds the intriguing notion that Flora is very similar to Jane Austin’s Emma if Emma had not obtained maturity and empathy. I may have to put this one on my Kindle to read.

I really enjoyed reading Roland Merullo’s Breakfast with Buddha but I haven’t ever looked into reading any of his other works until I read The Boston Bibliophile’s review of The Talk Funny Girl, Merullo’s newest novel. Seventeen year-old Marjorie Richards is the only child of two parents who shun society and who are also involved in some sort of religious cult which encourages them to heap abuse on their only child who is of little use to them until they realize she can become the family breadwinner. Marjorie finds a job and through her boss gains strength and independence. One reviewer highlights a quote from the book describing this abuse and its effect on Marjorie, “The hurt burrows down inside and makes a kind of museum there.”  In our extensive family is a young man who underwent a difficult childhood and this quote totally describes what I see in him. The Boston Bibliophile says that this novel can be difficult to read but is ultimately about hope.

Simon of Stuck in a Book reviews a debut novel from 2009, Mari Strachan’s The Earth Hums in B Flat and the first line of the novel has already pulled me in: “I fly in my sleep every night. When I was little I could fly without being asleep; now I can’t, even though I practise and practise. And after what I saw last night I want more than ever to fly wide-awake. Mam always says: I want never gets. Is that true?” It reminds me a little of The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley which also features a protagonist that dreams of flying. Strachan’s novel is set in the 1950″s and takes place in a small English village. Twleve year old Gwenni Morgan lives with her patient father, a mother who seems to be quite mercurial, and an irritated older sister. When a village man disappears,  Gwenni decides to investigate and finds there is more at stake than a simple crime; there is also unknown loyalties, family secrets, a shaken community. Sounds good.

Finally, The Blue Bookcase has compiled a reading list of books that explore the African American experience. It is an interesting and powerful list worth exploring. On a similar note, Gavin from Page 247 talks about a pair of bloggers (Amy of Amy Read’s and Amanda of Opinions of a Wolf) who have started a reading projected centered on The Help. These ladies are using the book list put together by the American Black Women Historian’s to offer a counterpoint to the world pictured in Kathyrn Stockett’s novel. Since the movie has been released there have been a number of well written articles and blog lists detailing concerns with The Help. As Amanda puts it, “Get to know the facts behind the history of black domestic workers in the United States and read fictionalized accounts of the experiences written black writers, all recommended by educated historians.” This sounds like a wonderful opportunity and you can join in or watch silently from the sidelines. They will be discussing both fiction and non-fiction. I did not care for The Help. I couldn’t finish it the first time and only barely got through it when it was chosen for my book group. Aside from the more historical and cultural concerns, I thought it was a badly written book. This reading project will give me more perspective on other issues with the novel and I look forward to reading the discussion and perhaps may join in the actual reading.

Happy Reading!

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Sunday Caught My Interest

We had a beautiful evening yesterday – it was our annual concert in the park put on by the symphony. Great weather, good food, nice friends, wonderful music – a combination that cannot be beat. We are getting adjusted to having youngest gone except for the cat who refuses to believe it. He hangs around downstairs waiting for youngest to join him and then complains bitterly when it doesn’t happen. We also interviewed two dogs and had to come to the reluctant decision they were not our dog. Hopefully we can find a dog that Himself, I and Elly can agree on. I was a little under the weather this week so not much reading or writing got done.

However, here is what caught my interest this week:

I have seen several bloggers mention Louise Penny, the Canadian author of the Inspector Armand Gamache series of mysteries. The latest in the series, A Trick of Light is the one I have most recently seen highlighted, for example, by Devourer of Books. I used Jen’s link to FitFact and found the first book in the series is Still Life – The Inspector and his team travel to a small village on the border of the United States to investigate what at first appears to be a simple hunting accident.  Of course, things are more than they seem; there are secrets in the village, and off we go. I have been searching for a new mystery series to fill those odd spots when I don’t want to think as much when I read and this may fit the bill. There are seven books in the series so I am set for a while.  If you like to read series, I would suggest checking out FitFact. I spent way too much time there looking up different authors and had a blast.

I recently finished Shadow Without a Name by Ignacio Padilla which comes highly recommended by Matt of A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook. This week he mentions the book again in a discussion of underrated books. He also mentions Learning to Lose by Daniel Trueba (translated from Spanish). Since I enjoyed the one so much, I feel I need to follow the second recommendation as well. Learning to Lose is a long novel, an inter-generational family saga, which is about what makes up your identity as a person, and what happens if you lose that very thing. Set in Madrid, the novel follows four characters as their lives change direction. Matt, in his original review of the novel, includes this quote, “Desire forces you to see what desire reveals. ” [Part 2, Ch. 5]. Now I want to see what lies behind those words.

The Boston Bibliophile reviews The Vices by Lawrence Douglas. The book opens with the docking of the Queen Mary 2 in New York missing one passenger, “Oliver Vice, 41, a professor of philosophy at Harkness College in Western Massachusetts.” The book is narrated by a colleague who describes Vice as “…my closest friend, and remained so, even after he ruined my marriage.” Vice is a member of a rich family of eccentrics of may are may not be what they seem to be. There is Oliver’s mother, a person who seems to lie at lot, his fraternal twin who is obsessed with European tyrants, and others. The narrator, in trying to understand what happened, launches an obsessive investigation into the disappearance and supposed suicide of his friend. I read the first chapter at Amazon and this one will go on the list.

Finally one book of interest was published this week: The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta is a novel about the post-rapture and how individuals cope with the aftermath of the sudden departure of people. This isn’t a religious rapture – a wide variety and eclectic group of people are taken and there is no tumultuous aftermath in terms of a religious war between good and evil.  Life just continues on without millions of people. The novel starts three years after the event and focuses on the inhabitants of the town of Mapleton, particularly the Garvey family as each member takes a different path to coping this new world. Reviews can be found at The Seattle Times and The New York Times review written by Stephen King who ends his review saying:

Yet the novel isn’t completely bleak. If it were, we would care no more about these characters than about the ones who populate the post-­apocalyptic “Mad Max” films. In fact, we come to care about them deeply, and Perrotta is wise enough to know that even in this bedroom-­community version of Dover Beach, where ignorant suburbanites clash by night, the better angels sometimes prevail.

There is Perrotta’s beautifully modulated narration to admire, too. His lines have a calm and unshowy clarity that makes the occasional breakout even more striking, as when Laurie smells a freshly unboxed takeout pizza, the aroma “as full of memories as an old song on the car radio.” Or when a suburban housewife recalls her husband’s job-­related BlackBerry obsession, his mind “so absorbed in his work that he was rarely more than half there, a hologram of himself.” Lines like that offer their own form of rapture.

Happy Reading.

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