Archive for January, 2012

Here is a sprinkling of books recently published in January – a lot of these are going on the ever growing to-be-read list:

Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron: This novel is the third winner of The Bellweather Prize awarded biennially by Barbara Kingsolver for an unpublished novel that addresses issues of social justice. I must admit I have been slightly disappointed in the first two winners (The Girl who Fell From the Sky and Mudbound) but this one seems to be getting good reviews so I am hopeful. Running the Rift is about 10  years in the life of Jean Patrick Nkuba, a gifted Rwandan boy, 10 years leading up to and including the tumultuous months of Tusi/Hutu violence. Nkuba is a gifted distance runner hoping to win an Olympic medal for his country. The novel explores his coming of age and training while the undercurrents of violence build. Before he can realize his dream, he must run for his life leaving behind everything he loves.

From The Washington Post: Benaron does not spare us any of the abominations of the genocide, but her denouement is surprisingly redemptive — not to say romantic.

From The Seattle Times: This well-written and well-researched novel is an impressive debut, although at times the book suffers from a surfeit of disturbing events. Our sympathy never deserts Jean Patrick. We concur with Bea when she says to him, “Your hope is the most beautiful and the saddest in the world.”

Book Blog Reviews:

The Literate Housewife: Naomi Benaron took these horrific events full of blood, terror, and despair and wrote nothing short of an amazing novel. It is a novel which steadfastly bore witness to human determination, loyalty, the love of family, and, against all odds, hope.

Devourer of Books: The story Benaron tells is gripping, and she tells it in a very personal and engaging way. It is easy to sit down with Running the Rift and read for 100 or more pages at a time. Jean Patrick is a complex and sympathetic character, and the reader cannot help but root for him – and keep reading to make sure he will be okay.

Linus’ Blanket: Running the Rift is an amazing book, carefully nuanced and paced in a way that  perfectly examines the way the ordinary can coexist with unspeakable horror and violence. Benaron convey the joy, frailty and contradictions which are the handmaidens of human existence, no matter the cataclysms that life offers up. (You know it is a really good review when you can’t decide which part to quote)

The Translation of the Bones by Francesca Kay:In Battersea, south London simple-minded Mary-Margaret, claims to have experienced a miracle in the Chapel of the Holy Souls, Father Diamond, in the midst of a personal crisis of faith and other church authorities try to downplay events as the members of the church and the neighborhood deal with issues of belief, faith, hope, and despair.

From The Telegraph: If Francesca Kay’s second novel were a piece of music, it would be a requiem, finding the poetry, perhaps even the glory, in loss and despair. Which is not to say that her novel is depressing or gloomy – far from it. In its depiction of a community grappling with the pain of what it means to be human, it is a novel which manages to be both poignant and uplifting.

From The Independent: With its finely worked tapestry of voices and viewpoints, its keen-eyed pleasure in the contrasts of inner-urban life, its lyrical excursions into memory and yearning, The Translation of the Bones sharpens the reader’s mind – and stretches its sympathies – rather than drenching it in mystical mawkishness.

Book Blog Reviews:

Cornflower Books: This is a moving book about faith, belief and love, isolation, loneliness and passion, and about motherhood, too

A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook: With writing so quietly majestic and probing, Francesca Kay shows how intricately and inevitably love and suffering are connected. Without love there could be no sorrow, and thus suffering is spared. The novel is heedless of the miracle’s credibility but rather how we respond to such a claim. It registers precisely the potential within religious belief for mania, obsession, literal-mindedness, and delusion as profusely as for uplift, consolation and compassion.

Heft: A Novel by Liz Moore: Arthur, a 550 pound housebound former academic, Kell, a seventeen year old poor boy in a rich school, and Kell’s mother, Charlene who reaches out to Arthur for help. This is a novel about lost and lonely people seeking a connection with each other while dealing with the untold reality of their lives. Many reviews mention that this novel is not perfect but worth reading nonetheless.

From The San Francisco Chronicle: The novel progresses at a comfortable pace, thanks to Moore’s graceful prose. There are no bad metaphors to wince at in this book. In fact, Moore scarcely allows herself any showy literary tricks, which, these days, is a trick itself.

From The Star Tribune: While the three main characters remain physically apart for the majority of the novel, their stories intersect and create a narrative that pulls in other stories of hidden sadness along the way.

Book Blog Reviews:

Book Reporter: HEFT is both a lyrically written tale and an engrossing page-turner. In Arthur Opp, author Liz Moore gives us a complete, three-dimensional person rather than the media’s stereotypical obese recluse; Arthur is quite heartbreakingly real, as is young Kel Keller, who we also grow to know. Their stories, simply told without soap opera-ish flourishes, tug at a reader’s emotions. Although not a light read, this tender tale is ultimately hopeful and unforgettable.

Bibliophile by the Sea: The way in which the story unfolds is not perfect, but I cared so much about the characters that I was able to overlook any flaws in the story structure.

Books Matter: But the novel reminds readers that one is not “chosen” to be alone, only chooses to be so. In this imperfect novel of very imperfect characters, that hefty choice, between grappling with the often harrowing outer world and hiding from it, blooms.

Other releases of note:

1222 A Hanne Wilhelmsen Novel by Anne Holt – Norwegian Crime Fiction

Poser: My Life in Twenty Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer – a memoir of motherhood and marriage structured around her love affair with yoga.

How it All Began by Penelope Lively – …the powerful role of chance in people’s lives and deftly illustrates how our paths can be altered irrevocably by someone we will never even meet.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy – a modern day retelling of Jane Eyre

First You Try Everything by Jane McCafferty – An engrossing tale of a marriage that’s falling apart and a wife who will stop at nothing to keep it together.



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Sunday Caught My Interest

Happy Sunday. It is starting to spit rain here, a good day to stay inside unless you are a dog going for a walk with your person. I spent my weekend reading a manuscript authored by a friend of my husband who wanted so critique. It was fun to see a work in the beginning and it was a stretch for me because the genre was so different from what I usually read  (it is a vampire mystery). Himself has been working on my office desk and re-purposing some old bookshelves for my craft area. It also means musical b0okshelves around so eldest is cleaning out his shelves. Once this is all done, hopefully I can tackle the bedroom shelves with its stacks of too be read books.

Here is what caught my interest this week.

My mom and I frequently talk about how our friends are so important to us – women who laugh with us and support us when times are tough. Alyce of At Home with Books highlights a book about four women who were childhood friends, The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar. I read Umrigar’s The Weight of Heaven some time ago and really enjoyed both the writing and the story. Unrigar is very good at examining how a character gains growing insight while undergoing a difficult time. In her newest novel, she explores the relationship and lives of four Indian women, one of whom is dying to cancer and she wants to see her three friends before she dies.

Sometimes I am in the mood for a quick, easy, fun read and The Boston Bibliophile reviews one that sounds like it fits the bill. The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: a Novel in Pictures is based on Frankie’s scrapbooks- a 1920’s girl who goes from Vassar to Paris to New York. Not quite a graphic novel, this seems like a good read to while away a couple of rainy hours.

Gin Phillips’ first novel, The Well and the Mine was a good read for a debut novel. It had a interesting storyline and made for a good book group discussion. Devourer of Books reviews Phillips’ second novel, Come in and Cover Me. Jen did have a difficult time connecting with the main character but felt the book was interesting and that Phillips is “a strong writer”. Ren is an archeologist who has discovered the work of a potter and artist. What people don’t realize is that she was led to the site by the ghost of her brother who died when she was twelve. This doesn’t seem like a ghost story – instead it is a tale of loss and how that loss can damage a person.

Every once in a while I come across a book that is hard to find but sounds totally worth it. This week it is Lynn Coady’s book of short stories Play the Monster Blind reviewed by Gavin at Page 247. Set in a small town in Canada the stories are also linked by characters and shared history as well as the location.  I can get this book through inter library loan and it is available from some used book sellers. What sold me on the collection were these words from Gavin:

Reading these stories felt like walking barefoot over gravel, sharp and painful, wanting to hurry and get into cool grass.  Coady is an insightful writer, exploring the dynamics of family and community in a small town.

Anyone who has lived in a small town, particularly as an adolescent, knows the feeling Coady expresses in her stories.  Gossip, back-biting, bullying, the need to fit in and the need to escape…I know, this sound depressing, but Lynn Coady’s abilities bring a sharp humor to these stories and make even the most unlikable character understandable.

Finally, Diane of Bibliophile of the Sea reminds me why everyone should read Steinbeck’s East of Eden at least once in their life. It remains one of my all time favorite books discussing choice, family, inheritance, evil, and redemption.

Happy Reading.

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Ted arose early the next morning and took a taxi to the Museo Nazionale, cool, echoey, empty of tourists despite the fact that it was spring. He drifted among dusty busts of Hadrian and the various Caesars, experiencing a physical quickening in the presence of so much marble that verged on the erotic. He sensed the proximity of the Orpheus and Eurydice before he saw it, felt its cool weight across the room but prolonged the time before he faced it, reminding himself of the events leading up to the moment it described: Orpheus and Eurydice in love and newly married; Eurydice dying of a snakebite while fleeing the advances of a shepherd; Orpheus descending to the underworld, filling its dank corridors with music from his lyre as he sang of his longing for his wife; Pluto granting Eurydice’s release from death on the sole condition that Orpheus not look back at her during their ascent. And then that hapless instant when, out of fear for his bride as he stumbled in the passage, Orpheus forgot himself and turned.

Ted stepped toward the relief. He felt as if he’d walked inside it, so completely did it enclose and affect him. It was the moment before Eurydice must descend to the underworld a second time, when she and Orpheus are saying good-bye. What moved Ted, mashed some delicate glassware in his chest, was the quietness of their interaction, the absence of drama or tears as they gazed at each other, touching gently. He sensed between them an understanding too deep to articulate: the unspeakable knowledge that everything is lost. (pg. 214)

Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad won, among other accolades, the 2010 National Circle Award for Fiction and the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. A set of interlinking chapters (or stories) Good Squad is about a circle of people in the music industry including Bennie Salazar, a rock music executive, his assistant, and various other people. The chapters do not necessarily follow a strict timeline, rather taking a character that appears in one chapter (even if briefly) and focusing on them in the next. It is very hard to write about the plot of this book because it is so wide spread and yet also so interconnected. The settings vary from the Bay Area punk rock scene, to Los Angeles, New York, Africa, and Italy. The characters are numerous and varied ranging from a 12 year old girl and an aging music promoter. It can be difficult to follow all the ins and outs but I found what Egan said in an interview to be helpful. In each story is a character lurking on the outskirts is generally the focus of the next.

The Goon Squad is about culture and aging, language, and change that happens at warp speed. Considering that my husbands first computer had the same computing capacity as the math calculators our sons use for math and Eagan is write. How do people cope with rapid technological change and how that change impacts our culture? How does that change effect how people relate to each other? With time being the Goon Squad waiting to ambush us, is happiness limited – or are things more hopeful?

I did not expect to like this novel. I was suspicious of all the hype it received and I was unsure about the punk rock/music aspects of the story. However it was sitting right by the check-out station at the library and I grabbed it on a whim. And it completely blew me away. I enjoyed the way Egan wrote about language and culture and I loved the experimentation she did with structure. My favorite chapter is the power point chapter (and it is definitely worth seeing it on Egan’s website). The power point not only discusses the pauses in rock music and their importance, it touches upon many of the themes of the book in a subtle way that was almost musical in its approach. The Goon Squad is funny and sad, a commentary on the present and a look to the future, it is both simple and complicated – in other words a good read.

I didn’t expect much when I picked up this book and I was so pleased that my reading experience was so good. Sometimes I guess I should put my expectations on hold and be more open minded about books – if that leads to a wonderful experience then all is well.

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Sunday Caught My Interest

I have spent the past week in very rainy Oregon where, fortunately, we are high above the water. The only inconveniences we have had is canceled events, some rerouting of roads traveled and a small leak in the roof. Seeing the pictures on the news and the paper of flooded homes and the damage done, we are feeling fortunate. Youngest wanted to come down for the weekend to hang with grandparents and help his grandfather fix the roof. Eldest had his first car accident on a very icy freeway back home and once again we are feeling fortunate that no one was hurt – cars are replaceable and people are not. I have spent my time reading The Cat’s Table and The Tiger’s Wife, took a load of books to the used bookstore and purchased a book of essays for youngest along with Gravities Rainbow. I picked up All the Little Live Things by Stegner, Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan and The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall which I am leaving for my mom. And joy of joys, she subscribed to the Sunday NY Times so this morning was cheerfully spent reveling in the newspaper.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

I haven’t read much South African fiction other than some work by J.M. Coetzee. Stefani of So Many Books reviews another South African author Nadine Gordimer which sounds fabulous. The Pickup (which was longlisted for the Booker Prize) is the story of an unlikely couple: wealthy,  white, rebellious Julia Summers and Abdu, an illegal alien desperately trying to not be deported from South Africa to his impoverished country. The first half takes place in South Africa and the other in Abdu’s homeland. This is a story of immigration, of dissatisfaction with your family, of yearning for something different and Stefani makes it sound wonderful.

Last year I read Stewart O’Nan’s Last Night at the Lobster and thought it was a little jewel of a piece – short, and evocative and I am looking forward Songs for the Missing. Now Diane from a Bibliophile By the Sea tells me about his latest work The Odds: A Love Story. What a like about O’Nan is his ability to convey vast amounts in such a short form. The Odds is the story of Art and Marion Fowler, married for thirty years, now both unemployed, in debt and in danger of losing their house. They cash everything in and go to Niagara Falls for a second honeymoon and Art convinces Marion to gamble their funds in an attempt to save their marriage and themselves. Ti from Book Chatter also raves about the book.

One of the best books I read last year was David Malouf’s Ransom and yet I haven’t look at the rest of his work. Now I have a second book of his to put on my list courtesy of Kimbofo of Reading Matters in her review of Fly Away Peter. She writes of the novel, “It is a truly beautiful and devastating story set before and during the Great War. I read it in two sittings and felt stunned by the sheer power and emotion that Malouf wrings from just 144 pages of eloquently written prose.” The novel is about three people, Jim a bird watcher (to be it simply), the well-to-do farmer Ashley, and Imogen Harcourt, an English photographer. Set in 1914, the two men go off to the trenches of WWI. With language like the following, this book is definitely going on my list to read:

Often, as Jim later discovered, you entered the war through an ordinary gap in a hedge. One minute you were in a ploughed field, with snowy troughs between ridges that marked old furrows and peasants off at the edge of it digging turnips or winter greens, and the next you were through the hedge and on duckboards, and although you could look back and still see farmers at work, or sullenly watching as the soldiers passed over their land went slowly below ground, there was all the difference in the world between your state and theirs. They were in a field and very nearly at home. You were in the trench system that lead to the war.

I am fond of book lists and The Boston Bibliophile describes what sounds like an excellent reference work 500 Essential Cult Books: The Ultimate Guide. Marie says these are “the underground classics, the ones that got passed from friend to friend, or the ones you picked up in a used bookstore and read when you should have been doing your homework.” I wonder if Steal this Book is listed. I bought my copy when I was in high school at a used bookstore and have never parted with it – in part because I consider it a classic. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

Finally, Wendy from Caribousmom has an excellent list of books about the African-American experience. The list is worth looking at.

Happy Reading.

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The swerve (to use Judith’s own term) that slipped her outside the customary course in life derived from one of those off-hand moments in which odd circumstances and amplified emotions invite an odd and overcolored response. Amusement was the presumed objective, whatever the actual result might be.

“It was strange,” she said when she spoke of it, which was only once, and much later, to her friend Lucy Maynke. “My life had utterly settled into itself and then this little…swerve occurred, or maybe I meant it to occur, maybe I’d actually plotted it out in one of those corners of your brain or heart you only access in your dreams.” She gave Lucy Maynke a look of actual bafflement. “I really don’t know.”

At the time, though, it seemed simple. Judith was renting a storage garage for some old furniture, and when, late in the transaction, she was asked her name, she gave one that was not her own, a name in fact she hadn’t thought of in years. A few hours later, Judith, who was not a loser of keys, lost a key. (pg. 7)

In Tom McNeal’s novel, To Be Sung Underwater, Judith Whitman is a successful film editor in Los Angeles living in an beautiful modern house with her husband Malcom (who may be unfaithful) and her angry teen-age daughter. Judith doesn’t think much of herself as a mother and is very ambivalent about her role in her daughter’s life abdicating much of the care to a succession of nannies and caregivers. She also prides herself on her work. But Judith, at age 44When Malcom wants to get rid of Judith’s bedroom set from her high school days Judith rents a storage garage and sets up a bedroom in that garage. As Judith begins to question her life, her identity her work which isn’t going well for the first time in her career, she spends more and more time in the garage reflecting  on her life in Nebraska, remembering her first love Willy Blunt. Going back to a decision she made twenty-seven years earlier. Becoming increasingly unrattled, Judith hires a private detective to find Willy and sets in motion a return to Nebraska.

I first heard about To Be Sung Underwater reading a review in The Los Angeles Times and I was instantly intrigued. McNeal was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford one of a distinguished group of people that include Harriet Doerr, Tobias Wolff, Vikram Seth, and Alice Hoffman) with the Times calling McNeal “one of the finest examples to come along in a while”. Stegner is one of my favorite authors and many of those authors with the fellowship follow in his footsteps with meticulous writing, carefully drawn characters, a stories that explain the human condition and the review states that the novel is no exception to this rule.When I add to this mix a great title, a beautiful cover, and a theme of exploring those roads not taken that everyone has in their life, I definitely put on my list and when I was able to, read with great expectations.

Did it meet those expectations – yes and no. McNeal does a masterful job of describing the love of two young people one summer in 1970’s Nebraska. A summer of swimming in ponds,  making out in the car, and sneaking time in a bedroom while a father is gone. There are many lyrical passages and, as a reader, I could understand where Judith was coming from with her parents divorced, a mother giving her mixed signals, and a father unsure of how to parent a teenage daughter in her first relationship. I also appreciated how the author moved between the present and the 70’s.

On the other hand I had trouble with present-day Judith – I didn’t much care for her. I can appreciate having  a mid-life crisis but hers seemed a little over the top and I did not care for the ending at all. It seemed contrived, and changed the novel to me into a “made-for-film” experience. At one point I even said to a friend the book was a well written Nicholas Sparks novel. And time away from the novel hasn’t changed my feelings.

I wonder if part of my intense reaction is due to the expectations I had before I even began the book. I had such high hopes for the novel, hopes that were not met. And I don’t know how I could have tempered those expectations. I cannot unread a review nor can I change the themes that interest me because those themes are part of who I am. Perhaps I should not pay as much attention to the title or the cover and because these were small influences on my expectations I feel my reaction might be the same regardless.

Others have raved about this novel and it has high reviews at both Amazon and Good Reads. One part of me wants to recommend the novel especially if you were a teenager in the 70’s (like I was), if you are fond of grand romances, or if the theme of roads not taken is one of interest to you. The other part asks you to tread carefully lest your expectations are not met.

As always, here are some favorable reviews:

S. Krishna’s Books: “Tom McNeal is a talented writer, and that shows in To Be Sung Underwater.  His prose is beautiful and atmospheric, transporting the reader to a different place entirely.  His words are carefully chosen and convey so much emotion.”

Quench Book Blog: “To be Sung Underwater is a beautiful novel that bravely examines the effect a broken relationship can have on one’s life path…As you reach the inevitable and surprising ending of Judith’s journey, you’ll find yourself gliding toward the last word, yearning to float along the pages a little longer and marvel at the profound depth of To Be Sung Underwater.

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Sunday Caught My Interest

Woke up this morning to snow in Oregon. Youngest and I are down here delivering him back to school with reams of paperwork for his European Year. Last week was spent either organizing or being ill with the flu none of which is conducive to reading much. I did sort through  some of my books trying to figure out which ones I have read and don’t want to keep and which I have that I don’t think I will ever get to spurred on by a to-read list of over 150 books which doesn’t even count the books on my shelves. And here it is another Sunday and I have more books to put on my list.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose is one of my favorite books. When I read it some years ago I fell in love with Stegner’s language, the way he paints with word, how he can show the complexity of a person as they deal with their circumstances. I then read Crossing to Safety and felt the same way. Matthew of A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook has shown me the next book to try with his review of All the Little Live Things the story of an elderly retired man living with his wife on a small ranch. Feeling guilty about the death of his son, he lets a hippie move onto the property and becomes platonically close to a young woman living near by.  It sounds like a simple story on the surface, but it also sounds like the rest of Stegner’s work, when you mine a simple tale, you reach gold.

Somehow I haven’t heard of Denis Johnson who has won a National Book Award and was a  finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a poet, novelist, and short story writer as well as writing plays and non-fiction. Train Dreams, his novella, was first published in The Paris Review and won the O’Henry award in 2003. Trevor of The Mookse and the Gripes writes a beautiful review of this 100 page work depicting the life of Robert Granier in “snapshots and pictures” starting in 1917. Trevor wowed me with his review as did this excerpt from a review in The New Yorker:

[A] severely lovely tale . . . The visionary, miraculous element in Johnson’s deceptively tough realism makes beautiful appearances in this book. The hard, declarative sentences keep their powder dry for pages at a time, and then suddenly flare into lyricism; the natural world of the American West is examined, logged, and frequently transfigured. I started reading ‘Train Dreams’ with hoarded suspicion, and gradually gave it all away, in admiration of the story’s unaffected tact and honesty . . . Any writer can use simple prose to describe the raising of a cabin or the cutting down of tress, but only very good writers can use that prose to build a sense of an entire community, and to convey, without condescension, that this community shares some of the simplicity of the prose. Chekhov could do this, Naipaul does it in his early work about Trinidad, and Johnson does it here, often using an unobtrusive, free indirect style to inhabit the limited horizons of his characters . . . A way of being, a whole community, has now disappeared from view, and is given brief and eloquent expression here.” —James Wood, The New Yorker

Looking for a nostalgic read centered around a 1950’a drive-in theater?  Leeswammes’ Blog Reviews Marjorie Reynolds’ novel The Starlite Drive-In.   In 1990, when bones are found at the Starlite Drive-in, Callie Anne Benton thinks she knows what happened. In the 1950’s she lived at the drive-in with her father, the caretaker and her mother, and agoraphobic. When her father is injured a young man is hired to help things get complicated. This is a more coming-of-age story set in a summer of hot nights and movies rather than a simple mystery.

Finally, Danielle of A Work In Progress highlights thirteen diaries ranging from the known to the more obscure. If you like this format to read, this post and its comments will give you plenty of material to choose from.

Happy Reading.

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I hope everyone had a nice week. Here we have been enjoying being a family of four again. Himself starts a new quarter on Monday with all his class notes in order. He has also spent a lot of time working on our new office furniture. Eldest is drinking lots of protean shakes trying to add onto his weight so he can get into the air force. Youngest has been haunting the mailbox to see if he was accepted to Study Abroad – fortunately he got into his first choice and will spend the next year in Europe. Needless to say – we have a happy child.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

One of my favorite reads is Mary Lawson’s The Other Side of the Bridge in part because of its depiction of a quiet, simple man. Matt from A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook reviews a book that sounds similar in tone – John William’s 1965 Novel Stoner. As one reviewer notes, this is a novel about a man that goes to college and instead of returning to the family farm, he becomes a professor of English Literature. William Stoner doesn’t have necessarily have a happy life but he continues to strive. Matt writes:

But the beauty, as Williams shows, is in the details, the filler and backstory that make up our lives. Stoner doesn’t defeat his adversaries, nor does he live happily ever after with his true love, but he is admired for striving constantly to become someone other than who he had been. In a way, he has triumphed over the inimical world by being indifferent to disappointments and joy, and by focusing on the work for which he has a passion. He is defined by his formidable determination.

Caribousmom reviews a book that sounds wonderful. Australian Elliot Perlman (author of The Seven Types of Ambiguity) has written an new novel, The Street Sweeper. Although long (640 pages) and a slow starter, this book sounds worth the effort. Perlman uses two very different characters, an African-American ex-con on parole and a Jewish History Professor desperately searching for some research to save his academic career, to explore the role of history on a global as well as individual level, memory, and the connections that bring us together. If Caribousmom’s review didn’t sell me on the book, the quote she has in her review does:

History can provide comfort in difficult or even turbulent and traumatic times. It shows us what our species has been through before and that we survived. It can help to know we’ve made it through more than one dark age. And history is vitally important because perhaps as much as, if not more than biology, the past owns us and however much we think we can, we cannot escape it. If you only knew how close you are to people who seem so far from you…it would astonish you. – from The Street Sweeper –

Alternative History, a mystery, and WWII is a potent combination for a book. Jenny from Shelf Love reviews the third book of a trilogy by Jo Walton, Half a Crown which seems to be just that book and it peaked my interest enough to look at the other two novels, Farthing and Ha’penny. Set in a 1949 England where the British have sued for peace with Germany, the trilogy follows Scotland Yard Inspector Peter Carmichael as he attempts to solve a murder of Sir James Thirkie, the architect of the peace agreement. I love the idea of a cozy British house mystery in such a different historical setting. These are going on my list for sure.

Swapna Krishna has shown me a new author, Kelly Jones who went to Gonzaga (one of our local universities). Swapna reviews the author’s latest novel The Woman who Heard Color. The author has an art minor and infuses her novels with her love of art. In this novel, Hana, an art dealer does what she needs to do to keep her family safe and alive in Hitler’s Berlin. In the present, an art detective tracing lost works of art meets with Hana’s daughter and learns the story behind Hanna, the art, and the love between mother and daughter.

Happy Reading.

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Sunday I sat down  to work on this post and was distracted by one of my Christmas Presents, The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill…two hours later, no blog post, a third of the way through the book and it is bedtime. Needless to say it is a gripping novel. Monday it was Book group night and I had to ransack the house for my notes on A Visit from the Goon Squad. Lots of reading has taken place at our house this past week. Himself is trying to finish off a collection of Robert Silverberg stuff before starting in on his Christmas books. Youngest has started The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. Eldest is reading his Christmas novel, Terry Brooks, Legends of Shannara: Bearers of the Black Staff so he can read one that his father got (Stephen Baxter’s Flood). I spent New Year’s Eve reading himself’s latest compilation of the year’s best Sc-Fi/Fantasy. It is very nice that Santa recognizes that we are a reading household.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

If you are in the mood for a family saga covering three decades, The Boston Bibliophile has one on her best of 2011 read list: The Year we Left Home by Jean Thompson. The novel starts in the 1970’s as one of the Erickson clan gets married and follows the family over the next thirty years. The family is from small town Iowa with some of the children desperate to stay where they were raised and others just as desperate to shake the dust of home off their feet and find themselves in some other place. The novel has as a backdrop, the political and sociological turmoils of the past decades from the Vietnam War to the farm crisis to the decay of small town America.

In the same post the Boston Bibliophile talks about a debut novel by a Norwegian author Kjersti A. Skomsvold called The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Become. This is a short novel about a woman who has outlived all her contemporaries and is tired of feeling invisible to the world around her. She tries become more visible -wearing a watch so people will ask for the time, calling information for her own number – with heartbreaking results. I loved Kings of the Earth which was also about the invisibility of people in our world and this one sounds equally as excellent.

Jackie from Farmlane Books reviews a novel that sounds interesting: The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad which was long listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize. Set in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the place in the world where Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan meet. This is a short novel, a series of connected stories featuring the young son of the tribes covering an important area of the world.

The people I stayed with in Sacramento have an Edward Gorey shrine – all of his books including some wonderful first editions, prints, and other items. I was in 7th heaven having been raised in an Edward Gorey household. We even did an Edward Gorey jigsaw puzzle over Christmas (all tonal and patters with a torn will, broken teacups, mysterious figures, and frogs.) So when I was scrolling through Fleur Fisher’s blog my attention was caught by the cover of Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth by Chris Priestly and illustrations by David Roberts. The cover has a Gorey-like aspect and I find that this is the last in a trilogy of short stories (Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror and Tales of Terror from the Black Ship). These look like spooky tales with a twist – just right for a Gorey fan.

Happy reading!

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