Archive for October, 2011

Sunday Caught My Interest

What a week it has been with lots of activity around me. I was a little under the weather this week so I devoured Maisie Dobbs Mysteries – great reads when you want something to sink your teeth into but don’t want a heavy meal, so to speak.  Youngest has somehow skipped his annual fall illness – college must be good for his immune system. He is also undergoing a set of interviews for the study abroad program. Eldest is off celebrating Halloween with friends in the middle of the state. Himself continues to grade, grade, and grade (such is the life of a professor) and also has to think about putting his trees to bed for the winter. Yesterday he went to the Regional XC meet and the boys are going to state! Coupled with a championship win for the Band last night and it was a good day for our high school. Here is what caught my interest this week:

I was 18 years old when Jonestown happened, Congressman Ryan and others were killed at the airstrip, and hundreds upon hundreds of people died in compound in Guyana. Living in Northern California at the time it was difficult to escape coverage of the event and I remember reading the newspaper coverage and wondering why in the world something so horrific had happened. Julia Scheeres has written an examination of the events of Jonestown to put the story , as she states, “on a grander, more human, scale.” Athira of Reading on a Rainy Day, writes a review of this just published work A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown. Using diaries, letters, videos, audiotapes, and paperwork (some recently declassified), the author takes a detailed look at what happen from the eyes of the people who where involved.

A second non-fiction book that caught my interest is Jeff Sharlet’s Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country In between which is reviewed by Gavin at Page 247. Sharlet is also the author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power and C Street: The Fundamentalist Treat to American Democracy. C Street has long been on my to read list and the new book may have to bump it to a lower number. I grew up in a political family and have long been interested in the inter-weaving of faith and politics so this book seems a natural fit to me.  The book is a series of essays about how we gain and loss faith as well as the place faith holds in our lives. Gavin writes:

Sharlet’s newest book is a collection essays that shines a blinding light on how we, as Americans, find, lose and regain faith.  How we sometimes blindly accept faith with nothing more than a song and a bottle of whiskey to guide us.  There is always a song.

Often compared to writers focusing on life in America, from Mark Twain to Joan Didion,  Sharlet searches along the borders where  our culture and our religion meet,  he is willing to look deep into the mix of religion and politics.   Often driven to the edge he finds himself looking over, into the depths of the American heart.

Some time ago a friend recommended I read Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger which won the 2008 Booker Prize and I enjoyed it. I liked the novel’s examination of modern India with all its contradictions and complexities. So I read Swapna Krishna’s review of his new novel Last Man in Tower with anticipation. Set in Mumbai, a wealthy developer wants to build on the site of an existing apartment building. He offers the residents a large amount of money to vacate but one man refuses the offer. Once again Adiga takes a simple situation and breathes into it the nuances that exist in this world. No one is all good or all bad – instead we are driven by our desires and ambitions. I am keeping this book in mind.

Wendy of Caribousmom reviews Solitaria by Genni Gunn, a novel that was on this year’s long list for the Giller Prize. The novel is set in Italy and reaches back into the family’s history in the 20’s and 40’s. During the restoration of a dilapidated villa, the body of a man is discovered. It is determined the man died in the 1950’s and he is identified as Vito Santoro. The family is stunned at this revelation because Vito’s sister, Piera, has been receiving letters from him sent from Argentina. Piera refuses to speak to anyone but her nephew David. Part of the book is narrated by Piera as she tells David the family stories but the reader is unsure of just how reliable Piera is. Wendy links to Kim Forrester’s review at Reading Matters and she includes the following quote in her review:

As often happens in families, once a child’s character is set, he is forever viewed through that filter. So Vito became our black sheep, the scapegoat loaded down with our frustrations and our fears. After always hearing himself accused, Vito began to do the things of which he was accused. He was the one who would skip classes, climb into the windows of an abandoned house, who would settle schoolyard arguments with his fists and win, the one who stole almonds and figs and walnuts from the fields and was viciously beaten for it by Papà, even though all us children had eaten the stolen fruits. He became dangerous and we both loved and shunned him.

Happy reading!



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Busy week as we are coming to the end of Cross Country season. Yesterday’s race was in the rain and was a great race. Youngest spent a happy week with his grandparents and eldest continues to settle in at work. Himself is busy with tests, quizzes, and grades. In addition, with the colder weather, it is time to think about putting all the bonsai under protection for the winter. Thankfully eldest is a big help with all this. As for me, I am now totally hooked on Maisie Dobbs and can’t wait to get my hands on the second of the series.

Here is what caught my attention this week:

On the Blog Hop I saw several books piquing my interest starting with I Wish Someone Were Waiting for me Somewhere, a collection of short stories by French writer Anna Gavalda and highlighted in a review from Rikki’s Teledoscope Blog. The twelve stories are 5-10 pages and feature a character’s pivotal moment told through first person narrative. Focusing on love, loneliness and satisfaction, this collection sounds perfect for those times when I need a short bite of something good.

From Bookroom with a View I found The Orphan Sister by Gwendolen Gross, the story of triplet sisters, two identical and a singleton. I wondered why I haven’t heard of this author, turns out she is published abroad with The Orphan Sister being the first of her books to be widely available – although some of her other works are available through Kindle. The sisters, mother and father are entrenched in their family dynamic when things are thrown completely upside down with the father’s disappearance. Each character must come to terms with their position in their past lives as well as their new life. This on is going on my hold list at the library.

Swapna Krisna brings two books to my attention: The first is a debut novel, Falling Under by Danielle Younge-Ullman, originally published in 2008 and just released for the Kindle Reader (at the bargain price of $2.99).  The novel is about a young Toronto artist, Mara Foster. Mara was raised by absentee parents who spend more time hating each other than caring for their daughter. Mara has her first affair (with a man in his thirties) at age sixteen and then loses her college boyfriend in a tragedy. She lives alone and develops a relationship with a new man that forces her to examine her past and see if the walls she has encased herself in can come down. Swapna raves about the writing in this novel stating, “The writing in Falling Under really is amazing, some of the passages so beautiful that they hurt. Younge-Ullman has a talent for turning the shadows of life into a thing of beauty, almost poetry.”

The second book is Nearer than the Sky by T. Greenwood which was reissued this month. I love books that center around memory, as this book does, and I have long been fascinated with Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, which also plays a center role in this novel. Indie Brown is summoned by her sister to help take care of their mother who supposedly took poison. Lily, the sister, cannot leave her very ill daughter. In undertaking this task, Indie has to examine her families past, the death of her brother, and the many close calls all three siblings had when they were children all while dealing with a mother in denial. This sounds like a great book group read.

Jackie from Vulpes Libris writes a review of Carol Wallace’s novel detailing the last days of Vincent Van Gogh called Leaving Van Gogh. Dr. Gachet is a widower with two children living in a small village in France. He is an amateur painter with connections to the painting world and he is asked by Van Gogh’s brother Theo to look after the artist. This sounds like a wonderful exploration of the brilliance of madness as well as its cost to both the artist and those around him.

One of the best things about an electronic reader is the increased access to books in USA, books that we would not necessarily see in print. One such book is reviewed by Winston’s Dad, a translated novel from Italy called Accabadora by Michela Murgia. This novel has won six literary prizes in Italy and is set in the 1950’s and 1960’s in a rural village and the bustling city of Turin. Bonaria Urrai is the village Accabadora or Angel of Death. She adopts Maria, the unloved fourth daughter of a widow and goes about her business of seamstress during the day and midwife to the dying at night. Maria doesn’t know of her adopted mother’s second job until Bonaria shepherds a young man to his death without family consent.  Maria flees to the city struggling to find love and acceptance. I read the preview section on the Amaz0n Website and the writing is well done. It is well worth it to go and read the last paragraph of the section which is simply exquisite  as it describes Maria’s adjustment to her new home with Bonaria.

Happy reading!

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Previously I wrote a post about the Booker Prize 2011 Short List. It was announced today (October 18th) that Julian Barnes won for his novel, The Sense of an Ending. The Guardian has a very nice article about the win and the controversy over the list regarding “populism over quality”.

Here are the books that didn’t make the short list this year – many of which are on my list to read.

A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards: Yvvette Edwards is an East Londoner whose mother is from the Caribbean. Her debut novel is set in the world and culture she is very familiar w and grew up in  multi-ethnic working class London.

Fourteen years after her mother’s murder, Jinx answers her door and finds “Lemon” who tells her the murder has been released from jail.”Lemon” was previously involved with her mother and is somewhat mysterious. The novel takes place in the next three days as Jinx looks back at her mother who choose to stay in an abusive relationship and this look into the past forces her to reexamine her own relationship with her son.

Availability in the USA: Available in Kindle, paperback and audio editions.

The Guardian and The Telegraph had short reviews of this novel and differed in opinion. The Telegraph states, “A light touch stops the novel being overwrought. ” And The Guardian writes, “Booker long listings cause intense scrutiny and can do a book a disservice; readable as this one undoubtedly is, the quality of writing and structure make its inclusion a surprise. ”

Blog Reviews:

Kevin From Canada

Literary License

Frisbee: A Book Journal

Derby Day by DJ Taylor: Taylor, a biographer of both Thackeray and Orwell, returns to his familiar 19th century in his latest novel. While the literary critic has received a prize for his biography, this is his first nomination for the BookerPrize

Derby Day reflects the 19th century novels it is patterned after with many characters, mysteries, and action which all culminates in Derby Day at Epsom Downs.

Availability in the USA: Hardcover April 1, 2012

From a review in The Independent:

Taylor’s second “Victorian Mystery” reads like a 19th-century great with the extraneous detail filleted out. His portrait of mid-century folk, however, is not an edifying one. Daughters are ready to bump off fathers, husbands to exploit wives, and everyone is happy to chance their assets on the wheel of fortune. While sentimentality might take a tumble, Taylor’s novel keeps us gripped until the last furlong.

Blog Review:

Both Eyes Book Blog

Andy Bull Book Review

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rodgers: Rodgers is a novelist, screenwriter, editor, and lecturers. The Testament of Jessie Lamb is her eighth novel and first to be nominated.

While I haven’t always followed the Booker Prize, I cannot remember another dystopian novel making the list since Never Let Me Go in 2005. Dystopian novels tend to be set in the near or unspecified future and explore repressive societies, the techniques they use to keep the population under control, and how individuals and groups try to survive and overcome the conditions they find themselves in.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb explores such a society where pregnant women are dying of an unspecified disease. Jessie is a sixteen year old girl at first uninterested in this and later becomes more thoughtful about the implications of this disease and her own actions about a potential solution. Her father, a geneticist working on the problem, becomes concerned and imprisons her. The novel centers around the idea of the young voluntarily deciding to die in order to save the rest of mankind – a theme which is more typically discussed in war novels feature males.

Availability in the USA: No information available

From a review in The Independent:

The scary thing about this novel is that the questions it raises are so close to home. Must women always be the victims and the fall guys? Are Sleeping Beauties so different from young men volunteering for war? What happens, as Jessie’s mum asks, once we accept that individuals can be sacrificed? Can one person make a difference? Why aren’t we doing anything? The novel does not set up an elaborate apocalypse, but astringently strips away the smears hiding the apocalypses we really face. Like Jessie’s, it is a small, calm voice of reason in a nonsensical world.

Blog Reviews:

Kevin from Canada

Farmlane Books

Both Eyes Book Blog

The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness: McGuinness was born in Tunisia and has lived in South America, Iran, and Europe including Romania. He is a professor of Comparative Literature and a published poet. The author drew on his experiences in Romania in the writing of his first novel.

This novel focuses on the experiences of an English student who begins a job in Bucharest during the last days of Ceausecu’s regime. The shops are empty and there is paranoia and secret service men everywhere. The novel depicts in detail the everyday life of Romanians during this turning point in history.

Availability in the USA: No information available

From a review in the Times Literary Supplement:

The Last Hundred Days is an ambitious work, at ease with intimacy as well as with the sudden eruption of crowd scenes as the regime disintegrates and re-forms itself. It manages to be both funny and horrifying, sceptical but not fatally poisoned by the encounter. Above all, the sardonic crispness and evocative power of its language distinguish it from the run of contemporary fiction.

Blog Reviews

Farmlane Books


Permanently Uncached

Far to Go by Allison Pick: Pick is a Canadian author also known for her poetry. Far to Go is her second novel.

Set in Czechoslovakia after the Germans invade in WWII, Far to Go is about an affluent, secular Jewish family who are caught up in the turmoil and struggle to survive.  They flee to Prague with their six year old and their nanny. In the turmoil there are betrayals and separations with the six year old finding a place on the Kindertransport which sent Jewish children to England.

Availability in the USA: Available on Kindle and in Paperback

From a review in The National Post:

Pick’s father’s parents were assimilated Jews who fled Czechoslovakia in 1941, settled in Canada and converted to Christianity. In the course of writing this novel, the author converted to Judaism. In an interview she said: “Originally, the impetus was to connect to all these beautiful traditions that had been lost. It felt like a good fit. It was very organic.” So the Holocaust persists in the literary imagination and through the refining fire of fiction a new generation confronts its own version of what it means to be human.

Blog Reviews:

Kevin from Canada


The Mookes and the Gripes

On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry: On Canaan’s Side is the Irish novelist, playwright, and poet’s fifth novel and third to be nominated for the Booker Prize. In 2008, his novel The Secret Scripture was a favorite to win but ultimately wasn’t chosen.

This novel spans seven years and explores memory, family, war, and connections. Lilly Bere is mourning the death of her grandson and reflecting back over her life. She fled Ireland after WWI and emigrated to the United States. The book ranges from her early life, the loss of her mother and brother, and the fear that follows her to her new life in the USA.

Availability in the USA: Available Available on Kindle and in Hardcover

From a review in The Guardian:

Barry’s prose is overwhelmingly poetic, its lyricism yielding a seemingly endless series of potent and moving images … This concentration on isolating tiny fragments of experience and apprehension makes for an intense and immersive read, one in which brutal events are cast in a diffuse light that gives them an almost mythic quality. But the narrative’s dreamlike qualities do not eclipse Barry’s determination to scrutinise the less travelled byways of history and to give a voice to their buffeted, battered but nonetheless enduring victims.

Blog Reviews:

Lizzy’s Literary Life

Large Hearted Boy

Dove Grey Reader

The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst: This is the second nomination for the British novelist, editor, and translator. He previously won in 2004 for The Line of Beauty. The Stranger’s Child is his fifth novel.

In the late summer of 1913, Cambridge student, wealthy poet Cecil Valance goes to stay at the family home of his friend George Sawle. The weekend visit is one of excitement and confusion and has a lasting impact on George’s sixteen year old sister. Over the following decades the memories, impacts and legends of that weekend grow as Daphne ages.

Availability in the USA: Available Available on Kindle and in Hardcover

From a review in The Times:

With this book it becomes clear how unified Hollinghurst’s aesthetic has been so far. And aesthetics, always a matter of ideology, point to the fiercely yet subtly political heart of the book: in a daring act of appropriation he has interpolated within a history of textual ellipses, lacunae and silences a secret history of homosexuality, of what can and cannot be articulated at different historical junctures.

Blog Reviews:

Three Guys One Book Part One

Three Guys One Book Part Two

Kevin from Canada

Grub Street

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Sunday Caught My Interest

A gorgeous fall day here, the leaves are turning, the air is crisp, and I have brand new snow boots! Himself is busy grading exams, eldest is sleeping off a birthday celebration with friends (he is 22 years old tomorrow), and youngest is taking his winter break with his grandparents eating really good Chinese food and having lots of Ben and Jerry’s to choose from. The best news of all is that eldest passed received medical clearance for the Air Force – no asthma!!! So he is working on his application and going forward with his plans. As for me, I have lots of books around me to read and not one is really calling out to me so far. There is only one thing to do – go looking for more.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Sometimes in reading blogs I am stopped in my tracks by a beautiful passage such as this one highlighted in a review I found on Nonsuch’s Blog of Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar, the first female member of the esteemed French Academy:

“In turning the pages of a volume of Flaubert’s correspondence much read and heavily underscored by me about the year 1927 I came again upon this admirable sentence: “Just when the gods had ceased to be, and the Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, when men stood alone.” A great part of my life was going to be spent in trying to define, and then to portray, that man existing alone and yet closely bound with all being.” (Marguerite Yourcenar in “Reflections on the Composition” of Memoirs of Hadrian)

I, like many people, know little of Hadrian other than he was responsible for Hadrian’s wall in England so I was please to find such a wonderful review of a fictionalized account of his life that seems to be both an exploration of a life as well as an age. The novel is a letter written by Hadrian as he nears death, written to his eventual heir, Marcus Aurelius. Francis writes in her review, ” Certainly did not expect to fall smitten with the language and the way in which the author imagines the voice of Hadrian filled with the benign self-deceptions of which we are all subject at the same time the best of him shines through the worst choices and impulses. He is like and not like others and therefore always apart, always alone. Touching. I took my time with this one, relishing every well-chosen word.” This sounds like a wonderful read.

Jen from Devourer of Books brings a book to my attention: The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate, a novel about the complexity of families. Josie is a marine biologist who separated herself from her family while young with books and while an adult, by distance and isolation. All this is thrown out the window when her little brother shows up at her door needing help. The two grew up with an alcoholic father and this has greatly impacted who they are and how they deal with life. I really enjoyed Father of the Rain by Lily King and thought it was one of the best depictions of growing up with an alcoholic I have ever read. I am interested to see how The Taste of Salt measures up to the subject. The reviews I have read rave about the imagery, the language, and the stories within stories so this on is going on the list.

I remember reading Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient and being blown away by the novel. I was also blown away by his memoir Running in the Family. There was one passage in the book that was so striking because the writing so well echoed the narration. I have read two other Ondaatje books and while they did not quite live up to the first two, they were enjoyable and extremely well written. On October 4th, Ondaatje’s latest novel The Cat’s Table was published and it has already shot its way to the top of my to be read list. The Cat’s Table starts with the journey of 11 year-old Michael who is alone on a three week sea voyage from Ceylon to England. The first part tells of this journey and the two friends he made, the rest of the book goes back and forth in time as an older Michael reflects backwards. Trevor from The Mookse and the Grips has an extensive review along with several quotes from the novel including the first few lines: “He wasn’t talking.  He was looking from the window of the car all the way.  Two adults in the front seat spoke quietly under their breath.  He could have listened if he wanted to, but he didn’t.”

Halloween is coming up and if you are in the mood for a spine-tingling book I am hearing raves about Dark Matter by Michelle Paver. Danielle’s (of A Work in Progress) echos those reviews calling Dark Matter “a real page turner”. The novel is set in 1937 and five Englishmen travel to the arctic on an expedition. One by one the men leave the isolated camp leaving Jack Miller behind to collect data. As the darkness gathers in, Jack begins to wonder if he is really alone. Danielle also has a second post on the book including a brief excerpt.

Finally, if you like farms The Guardian has come up with a list of the Top Ten Farming Novels which contains some interesting choices and if you like mysteries with a culinary twist, Beth Fish Reads has a list of six to whet your appetite.

Happy reading!

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A Good Hard Look

          The peacocks tilted their heads back and bellowed and hollered their desires into the night. They snapped their shimmering tails open and shut like fans. Behind each male’s pointy head, a green-bronze arch unfurled, covered with a halo of gazing suns. The females brayed and shook their less-attractive tails in return.

The birds didn’t care that it was the middle of the night, and they didn’t care who they were disturbing. They didn’t care that there was a wedding tomorrow, or that the groom, who had just arrived from New York City, was lying beneath a lace canopy at his in-law’s house, paralyzed with fear. They didn’t care that his fiancée startled awake in the next room and toppled out of her high bed, and they certainly didn’t care that her face hit a stool on the way down. They didn’t care that the rest of the small Georgia town was also awake, twitching in their beds like beached fish.

The peacocks were not out to make friends. They were out to do what they liked, when they liked. They choose this particular time on this particular night for the same reason they choose to eat the flowers in the side garden the moment they bloomed. They preferred roses and hyacinths, bet deigned to eat tulips as well. They claimed every inch of the farm, which meant the wide expanse of lawn in front of the farmhouse shimmered under a layer of white refuse. (pg. 3)

Many years ago I read some Flannery O’Connor short stories and was hooked. I couldn’t believe how this author could strip her characters to their bare essence exposing their flaws with such well chosen words. Her words made you uncomfortable and yet were so beautifully written; I had to go back for more. I ended up reading quite a bit of O’Connor’s work including A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories and a compilation of her letters (The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor by Flannery O’Connor and Sally Fitzgerald) and it was interesting to see how Flannery’s life and faith played such a big role in her writing.

So when I heard Ann Napolitano had written a novel set in Flannery’s home town with the writer as a character, I was interested in reading it.  The novel, A Good Hard Look, echos the title of one of Flannery’s more famous stories. I have heard different reviews of this book with some thinking there is  not enough of Flannery or there was too much of Flannery – so I wanted to see for myself.

The story opens on the night before Cookie marries Melvin in Milledgeville, Georgia when everyone in town is awaken by the screeching of Flannery’s restless peacocks. Cookie grew up in this small town and her family is friends with the O’Connor Family although Flannery makes Cookie very nervous and extremely uncomfortable. Melvin, independently wealthy and a former banker from New York City, settles into small town life but he feels restless and unfulfilled. In search of something, Melvin develops a friendship with the somewhat reclusive author.

Restlessness is one of the reoccurring themes of the novel, almost everyone is restless for one reason or another and this restlessness manifests itself in different ways. The peacocks screech, Cookie keeps changing her mind about curtains, Lona smokes pot before going to work on those same curtains, and seventeen year old Joe hides because it is “safer and easier to withdraw into a ball and focus on surviving these sixty seconds” rather than think about the future. As this restlessness converges and explodes the characters are left to wonder who they are and what choices they should make to do forward.

In the conversations between Flannery and Melvin, Flannery does what she does in her writing – she gets to the heart of matters, getting you to question who you are, getting you to come up with your own definitions of who you are and not simply accepting someone else’s definition. Flannery talks of the violence in her writing as well as change when Melvin questions her about her characters’ ending places:

 “Maybe I left them on their way to a happy ending…I’m sure you didn’t consider this,” she said, “but it’s possible that the characters are closer to grace at the end of the stories. Grace changes a person, you know. And change is painful. It’s just like you agnostic types to see the pain, but not the transformation.” (pg. 85)

Melvin feels “his life was a messy compilation of moments that didn’t fit together. If Flannery wove them into a narrative, they would have cohesion and significance. He would be able to read about himself and all that was inexplicable in real life would be explained.” (pg.110) This is a novel about people seeking meaning, a structure to help them explain who they are. Some, like Cookie, hide within their structure running from the messiness of life and others struggle and wrestle. All of them must eventually take a good hard look at themselves.

What I ultimately found with this novel is that while Flannery is definitely a part of the narrative, it is more about her themes then the author herself, her ideas about getting to the crux of who you are as a person and to ultimately transform yourself into something better. This is a novel that has a good chance of being on my best of list for this year. I highly recommend it.

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I am spending the week in beautiful Oregon. I came down to have dinner with youngest and see my mom. She hosted her bookgroup while I was here and we had a really good discussion of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I also picked up the first Mazie Dobbs mystery and so far I am very impressed. Lots of eating, lots of card playing and a little shopping for my niece who is expected in January. It is so fun to look at baby stuff and dream of buying girl clothes.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Rachel from Book Snob reviews a book that might be hard to find (I will have to use the inter-library loan process) but it also definitely sounds worth the search. Written by Edith Olivier in 1927, The Love Child is a study of a spinster forced by society and the mores of the time to have a somewhat reclusive and narrow life. I haven’t heard of this author so I did a little research and found that Edith was born in 1872, one of ten children of a conservative member of the church. The Love Child is her first novel and was written when she was 55 years old. I also found out that Edith was a hostess to many of the literary elite of the period including Siegfried Sassoon and Osbert Sitwell. The Love Child is about a lonely spinster, Agatha, who in her loneliness and depression imagines a little girl from her youth.  Clarissa, the girl gradually becomes visible to other people as she grows up and Agatha increasingly fears her loss. Rachel writes, “Edith Olivier’s prose is sensitive, gentle and compassionate; tinged with melancholy,The Love Child explores the pain felt by the lonely who have great capacity for love, but no one on whom to bestow their feelings.” This sounds like a fascinating book.

Devourer of Books makes a brief mention of Cross Currents by John Shors as a book on her to-be-read list borrowing a description from Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit and calling the work “a devastatingly beautiful novel.” Set in Thailand in 2004, Cross Currents is about two families, Lek and Sarai run a small sea-side resort struggling to make ends meet, and Patch (running from the law), Ryan, and Ryan’s girlfriend Brooke. The chapters have beautiful titles: Consequences, The Beauty of Others; Ten Ripples and a Wave. I read a few paragraphs of the first chapter and was sold on reading more.

Finally, The New Dork Review of Books has a post about five recent books (some of whom have been included in past Sunday postings) with links to reviews including: Night Circus, The Submission, The Leftovers, We the Animals, and one I have never heard of Fathermucker. Fathermucker by Greg Olear is reviewed by The Next Best Book Blog (and it is one of those reviews worth reading for its own sake) and is about the day in the life of a stay-at-home dad who must juggle some inner turmoil of his own as well as the physical and psychological well-being of his two children. The review dubs this book a “dramedy” and says it strikes a “enderly balances the good with the bad, the funny with the serious, the parental frustrations with the silliness of childhood.” I say the book is worth reading due to the title alone.

Happy reading!

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We have been having some beautiful weather – slightly crisp with blue skies. Nothing much new going on here – I did run away with a friend to do some shopping and to watch the movie The Debt which was excellent. We actually had a Saturday off from going to a running event and it felt strange to actually sleep in.I am currently reading two books for book club discussions – Catcher in the Rye (which I have never read before) and The Elegance of the Hedgehog ( a re-read for me but so worthwhile because it is so good). Youngest continues on his David Foster Wallace reading spree and will soon run out of material. Eldest took a break from reading while he adjusted to work and Himself is so wrapped up in the beginning of a new term that he doesn’t have time to read anything other than department stuff and things to grade – poor him!

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Since coming of age stories seem to be my thing this week, I found Devourer of Books‘ review of If Jack’s in Love, a debut novel by Stephen Wetta, caught my attention. It is 1967 and twelve year old Jack is from one of “those” families: his father is uneducated and unemployed; his mother works as a cashier; his older brother is the bully of the neighborhood who may or may not have murdered the town’s golden boy; and Jack himself, a genius, is in love with the golden boy’s sister.  These seem like very tough waters to negotiate especially when you are on that cusp of childhood and becoming a teenager. I will be watching for this one. Here is another review from Beth Fish Reads.

I love a good mystery series, particularly English mysteries. PD James and Elizabeth George are two authors I have on my shelves, not to mention my love for Agatha Christie. So when Dovegreyreader reviewed the second from latest in Susan Hill’s Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler series, The Shadows in the Street, and I find that she is also the author of Howard’s End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home, I immediately had to see if she was on my Library’s shelves (she is). Simon Serrailler is a policeman in the English cathedral town of Lafferton. He has an artistic bent, a fear of commitment, and is saddled with a extended family. The books are described as suspenseful with touches of a police procedural. Howard’s End is on the Landing is Susan Hill’s memoir of reading off her own bookshelves. Given that she lives in a quirky British house with bookcases scattered hither and yon, there is lots to choose from. It has long been on my TBR list – perhaps it is time I move it up to the top.

One thing I enjoy about The Elegance of the Hedgehog is its philosophical undertones and The Boston Bibliophile reviews a novel that seems to also have such undertones. In You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik, a young teacher named Will Silver uses philosophy and religion to highlight the work being discussed in his Senior English seminar at a school in Paris. Will is worshiped by his students, raises eyebrows among his fellow teachers, and is having an affair with one of his students. I like the examination about charismatic teachers, the morality discussion of Will’s behavior, and the relationship between two of the girls in the class which The Boston Bibliophile describes as “one of those toxic high school codependencies made up of combat and competition more than affection.” This looks like a challenging but terrific read, one that may well be a good book group pick.

I have never heard of the term Straight Edge music – thanks to Wikipedia it was a movement that came out of the 1980’s hard core punk scene. Straight edge is a lifestyle that promotes eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, refraining from caffeine and drug,s and not engaging in promiscuous sex,. I was reading some opening lines that Beth of Beth Fish Reads has in a posting and the lines that caught my interest were:

“Is it dreamed?” Jude asked Teddy. “Or dreamt?”

Beneath the stadium seats of the football field, on the last morning of 1987 and the last morning of Teddy’s life, the two boys lay side by side, a pair of snow angels bundled in thrift-store parkas. If you were to spy them from above, between the slats of the bleachers–or smoking behind the school gym, or sliding their skateboards down the stone wall by the lake–you might confuse one for the other. But Teddy was the dark-haired one, Jude the redhead.

These are the opening lines of Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson, a book set mainly in New York City in the 1980’s. After the overdose of his best friend, teenage Jude Keffy-Horn is sent to New York to live with his hippie pot-dealing father. Jude falls in with a group of Hari Krishnas and becomes addicted to abstinence in all forms as part of the Straight Edge Movement. This is another coming of age story, set in a turbulent time of drugs, aids, violence. It details the search for family and structure – something to build a foundation from that will last and stand the test of time.

There is nothing like a good road-trip novel and I haven’t read one since Breakfast with Buddha. Wendy from Caribousmom has found one that has caught my interest, Touch and Go by Thad Nodine. Kevin is blind, struggling to stay sober, and newly unemployed. He lives with Isa and Patrick and their two foster children. When Isa’s father is dying in Florida, the entire clan packs a station wagon, loads a coffin on top, and travels across the southern United States and the path of Hurricane Katrina. Wendy includes the following quote in her review and it alone was enough to sell me on this book:

Patrick was always threatening without filling in the blanks, so he couldn’t be held accountable. He called himself a Christian Libertarian; I don’t know if he invented the term or got it from somewhere, but it gave him a belief system (after the recovery home, anyway) that was open and rigid at the same time. As a Libertarian, he believed in maximum freedom – under God, which was the Christian side of the equation. Take it or leave it; it’s up to you whether you want to be saved, but don’t try to butt in on Patrick’s freedoms.

As a side note – The Blue Bookcase has a post on books which highlight contemporary Jewish life and culture as part of the blog’s ongoing Reading List posts. Two of these books are already on my TBR list: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Finally – how cool is this – brought to my attention by Nonsuch Book – an artist of the finest caliber has been carving sculptures out of paper and books and leaving them anonymously at various sites around Edinburgh, Scotland. The artist seems to be celebrating reading and the arts and his/her work is jaw dropping gorgeous. You can see the artist’s work in an article here.

Happy Reading!

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Image courtesy of savidgereads.wordpress.com and TheLiteraryStew.Blogspot.com

In a few short weeks the winner of the 2011 Booker Prize will be announced. The long list this year was very eclectic and includes a thriller, four debut novelists, three Canadians, and a lot of speculation about the judges and their intentions for this year’s prize. There have been rumblings about how the list tends to lean toward the plot side of writing rather than more literary (although I think a great book has both) and I have seen a number of comments about “the ordinariness”  of the works on the list. As usual, book tastes do differ so here is a recap of the short list first, so you can make your own decisions. The rest of the long list will be included in a subsequent post.

Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: Barnes is a well established author with three previously short-listed books to his credit: Flaubert’s Parrot  (1984), England, England (1998), and Arthur & George (2005) A letter from a lawyer has thrown middle-aged, divorced Tony Webster for a loop. The mother of Veronica, Tony’s old girlfriend, has left him something in her will and this forces Tony to look back at a very uncomfortable weekend in his long ago past – a past he has put to rest and built a comfortable, uneventful life for himself. Unfortunately his memory of exactly went on that weekend is hazy leaving him with only a vague sense of being uncomfortable. Unfortunately circumstances force Tony to look deeper into his past which, of course, impacts his present day life.

Availability in the USA: Publishing date of Oct. 5th in Kindle, hardcover, and audio editions.

Quote from a review in The Telegraph:

It would be a mistake to dismiss this as a mere psychological thriller. It is in fact a tragedy, like Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, which it resembles. Webster remains in character throughout, as does Veronica, who is not only the prime mover but also major victim. The explanation, when it comes, is unforeseen, almost accidental, and hedged about with a wealth of humdrum detail. Its effect is disturbing – all the more so for being written with Barnes’s habitual lucidity. His reputation will surely be enhanced by this book. Do not be misled by its brevity. Its mystery is as deeply embedded as the most archaic of memories.

Blog reviews:

John Self’s Asylum

Kevin From Canada

Book Atlas

Jamrach’s Menagerie: A Novel by Carol Birch: Also an established author, Birch has been previously long-listed for her work Turn Again Home (2003) and her current novel was also long-listed for this year’s Orange Prize. Jamrach’s Menagerie is a work of Historical Fiction combining a legend of an escaped circus tiger in London’s east end and real life entrepreneur Charles Jamrach with the sinking of the Whaleship Essex. Jaffy Brown is the young boy Jamrach rescues from the tiger and he is later sent on a sea voyage to the Dutch East Indies to capture a dragon.

Availability in the USA: Currently available in hardcover, paperback, audio and Kindle editions

Quote from a review in The Guardian:

It’s easy to get distracted while you’re reading Carol Birch‘s 11th novel, and distraction is part of its point: in 19th-century Wapping, there are enough strange sights, pervasive smells and sounds and curious characters to keep most novelists – and readers – going strong for three times the number of pages that there are here. But beyond the blood, brine and slime that swills down the Ratcliffe Highway, above the stench of the rotting fruit and vegetables and the excrement of a thousand animals, lies a rather subtler story of the hazy line between camaraderie and rivalry and of the bonds both forged and broken in extreme adversity.

Blog Reviews

caribou’s mom

Vulpes Libris

Savidge Reads

The Sister Brothers by Patrick Dewitt: This is Canadian Dewitt’s second novel and is set in the 1850’s during the California Gold Rush. Charlie and Eli Sisters are gunslingers hired to track down and kill a prospector named Herman Kermit Warm. Along their journey they have a series of violent encounters as well as having one brother fall in love. The novel goes beyond a simple western and provides a “revisionist” view the old west with touches of both humor and pathos.

Availability in the USA: Currently available in hardcover, paperback, audio and Kindle editions

Quote from a review in The Telegraph:

The writing is superb, with each brief chapter a separate tale in itself, relayed in Eli’s aphoristic fashion. The scope is both cinematic and schematic, with a swaggering, poetic feel reminiscent of a Bob Dylan lyric, while the author retains gleefully taut control of the overall structure.

There’s more than a whiff of morality to this unfolding of greed and chance; and a softening in its conclusion with a deliberately winsome Little House on the Prairie-type finale.

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan: Also a Canadian, this novel is set in both 1940 Paris and Germany in the 1990’s. Sid and Chip (African-Americans) are members of a Jazz trio caught in Paris after it falls to the Germans along with the third member of the band Hieronymous Falk, a young, black German and rising star in the emerging Jazz Scene. Falk was arrested by the Germans in Paris and never seen again. In the 1990’s Sid and Chip meet in Germany at the showing of a documentary about Falk and have to confront their past and their hidden feelings of betrayal.

Availability in the USA: No publication date listed

Quotes from a review in The Guardian:

Despite the book’s blurb tantalising us with promises of a black German experience, this novel is really about Sid and his version of events that led up to Hiero’s arrest. It’s also about his strained relationship with Chip. But as black jazz musicians they are already a familiar motif in American culture, and there’s a touch of central casting about their portrayal. And while Sid’s slangy vernacular is often charismatic, elsewhere the novel is problematic.

Far more interesting is Hiero, whose memory hovers like a spectre over the novel but is never properly realised. Like other Afro-German citizens, he is made stateless by the Nazis, and his could have been the story with the power to move and surprise. But we never really get to know him except through the jaundiced gaze of Sid.

In spite of this, Edugyan really can write, and the final chapter is redemptive.

Blog Reviews

Farm Lane Books

Buried in Print

Kevin From Canada


Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman: This is the author’s debut novel although he has produced several screenplays. Harrison Opuku is both narrator and protagonist of Pigeon English. He is 11 years old and has recently immigrated to London, England where he lives with his mother and sister in a crowded and often violent housing project. When a boy is killed and the police entreaties for witnesses are meet with silence, Hari and his friend Dean (an fan of CSI) decide to investigate upsetting the delicate balance his mother has managed to achieve in order to keep her family safe and secure.

Availability in the USA: Available in both hardcover and Kindle editions

Quote from a review in The Guardian:

t’s neither possible nor desirable to write lightly – or light-heartedly – about knife crime, and Pigeon English, for all its humorous touches, doesn’t. What it does do is to rid the subject of its portentousness, to root it firmly in a milieu where kindness and catastrophe, laughter and viciousness coexist. It is under no illusions about the effects of external violence on Harri’s life; in his school breaktime, he merrily plays a game called suicide bomber, in which “you run at the other person and crash them as hard as you can. If the other person falls over you get a hundred points. If they just move but don’t fall over it’s ten points. One person is always the lookout because suicide bomber is banned.”

Blog Reviews

Savidge Reads

Literate Housewife

Fleur Fisher

Snowdropsby A.D. Miller: Miller is also a debut novelist and was previously the Moscow correspondent for The Economist. Snowdrops is Russian slang for a body hidden in the snow until it thaws. The novel is the story of Nick Platt, a British lawyer who lives and works in Moscow during the mid-90’s capitalistic boom times. Nick prevents a thief from stealing a woman’s handbag and becomes involved in both her life and her sister’s all of which leads him down a path of deception and crime. The novel is told as a confession letter to Nick’s fiancee.Availability in the USA: Available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle editionsQuote from a review in The Guardian:

Snowdrops is both a very good novel and a slightly disappointing one. Good, because the writing has tremendous pace and energy. (For all Nicholas’s faults, he’s amusing, compellingly honest company.) Disappointing, because it adds little to what we already know about life in Putin’s Russia: the cascading vulgarity of elitny shops and restaurants; the flesh bars with their painted girls and dwarves in tiger-stripe thongs; the top-to-bottom corruption; the gangsters. This isn’t to say Snowdrops never brings us news, just that it’s equally happy reinforcing negative stereotypes and flinging casual racial abuse. For example: “[Russians] could wallow in mud and vodka for a decade, then conjure up a skyscraper or execute a royal family in an afternoon.”

Blog Reviews

The Mookse and The Gripes

Savidge Reads

Literate Housewife

Fleur Fisher

Other resources:

The Booker Prize Short-List complete with Synopsis

Hurray for the Bravest Booker Long List in a Long Time – article in The Telegraph

KevinfromCanada – discussion of the short list

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