Archive for May, 2012

Happy Memorial Day weekend everyone. Much of my week was spent preparing food for youngest and his friends for their three day music festival. They added to their numbers from last year which meant 3x the recipe for main meals: tex-mex pasta, mushroom barley soup, vegetarian chili, and roasted garlic tomato sauce with pasta. I like to send hearty meals as they only eat twice a day and dinner is often at 2 am all complicated by the high numbers of vegetarians in the crowd. I celebrated the end of the week by not cooking and reading the latest Louise Penny mystery. I know that I have skipped several in the series but it was there on the shelf and I couldn’t resist. I will go back and catch up later.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

I have been dabbling in exploring German Literature with a book here and there and it may be time to read some Theodor Fontane. Chrisbookarama briefly mentioned Irretrievable by Theodor Fontane published by the New York Review Books. First written in 1891 and set around 1860, the novel is about a couple who are disparate in  interest, thought, and attitude. Two grow further apart, turning away from each other and their own feelings. I am particularly intrigued because Fontane was a poet as well as an author, a mixture I really enjoy in a writer.

All I really know about Arnold Bennett is that he is an author that resides in my mother’s bookcase. I can see one of his novels now sitting on the shelf (although I must confess I do not know the title). So when Fleur Fisher mentioned his novel The Grand Babylon Hotel and links up to her previous review I think I have to put this on the list. It has a convoluted plot with disappearances, nefarious deeds, a little romance and the fact that it is set in a prestigious London Hotel helps. My favorite Agatha Christie is At Bertram’s Hotel which seems to have a similar feel. I wonder if Christie read Bennett. Best of all, I can download it free on my kindle and have it ready for when I need an entertaining read.

I have just started to read William Nicholson’s The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life which is about ordinary people in an ordinary village connected by the circumstances of life. This week Buried in Print reviews a novel by Australian author Elizabeth Jolley, The Newspaper of Claremont Street. As pointed out in the review, The LA Times writes of the novel, “Every word of this spare little novel is right.” The “newspaper” is Margarite Morris who knows of all the news on this street. Buried in Print talks about the random connections in life and how they do or do not impact our lives. I will keep my eyes out for this one.

If you are looking for something amusing to read check out Caroline’s list of funny  books on her blog Beauty is a Sleeping Cat (I love her blog name most likely because of the orange blob of a cat stretched out beside me).

Finally, I have ordered a copy of Andres Neuman’s Traveller of the Century based on this quote I found on Lizzy’s Literary Life:

It’s the same with books, you see mounds of them in bookshops and you want to read them all, or at least to have a taste of them.  You think you could be missing out on something important, you see them and they intrigue you, they tempt you, they tell you how insignificant your life is and how tremendous it could be.

From Andrés Neuman – Traveller of the Century

And then there is this – the best writing I have seen yet on the phenomenon known as Fifty Shades of Grey – done by the intrepid posters at Boot Riot. Fifty Shades started as fan fiction of the Twilight Series but instead of vampires and werewolves, we have a tormented hero and lots of sex. Despite many reviews of the poor writing, Fifty Shades is being widely read and the notes from the readers of Book Riot are worth reading…

Happy reading!


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Happy Sunday – I am back at home. My cat is very disgruntled that I have been gone so long and the dog was ho hum at first but then needed a couch cuddle. It is nice to have the whole family back together and the great thing is seeing all of youngest’s friends after their first year of college. Not much reading this week. I have started The Bird House by Kelly Simmons and Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir. I hope to finish these this week as well as get the house back in order.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Matthew from A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook is reading The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks, an author whom I have heard about but never read. The novel is about a small town which suffers a huge tragedy when a school bus is in an accident and many of the town’s children are killed. Told from many perspectives, the book explores how people need to find a reason for the unreasonable, someone to blame. I remember when there was a school bus accident in California and article after article of the aftermath as time passed. It sounds like a hard subject but the novel definitely sounds worth reading.

Danielle of A Work in Progress always has the best book lists. One of the books she has recently acquired is Millions Like Us by Virginia Nicholson. While this book is not yet available in the states, her earlier book Singled Out is. This non-fiction work focuses on how two million British women lived without a man as a life partner after WWI. My grandmother’s choice of a husband was also dictated by who survived not only WWI but the influenza epidemic as well. I look forward to reading the accounts of how these woman coped, some badly and some re-writing their expectations to live fulfilling lives.

Iris of Iris on Books is hosting Dutch Literature Month. One of the books she has mentioned recently is The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermot. Iris describes the book:

Felicia, a woman who returns with her baby son to an island in the Moluccas, Indonesia, after she has been away for many years. The island is reigned by her grandmother. There, she learns that everything carries stories: nature, houses, and all other objects. Some are to be feared, others to be respected. You may even meet the dead. This book, in which time and storylines circle around each otherexpand and retract, is one of the first works of “magical realism” in Dutch fiction.

Iris goes on to say that if you like a straight forward story, this novel isn’t for you. I do like books that have a mystical note to them so I think this one will go one the list.

Kim from Reading Matters highlights a book based on a true case of isolation, abuse, and the exploitation of children. However, Lauren Davis, the author of Our Daily Bread, only alludes to the abuse and focuses more on the notion of the other.The novel is set in a small rural Canadian town dominated by a strict fundamentalist church. There are a few characters who try to maintain a live away from the church’s scrutiny as well as “the poverty-stricken Erskine clan eke out an existence by growing cash crops of marijuana and burgling homes and shops in the town. Recently they have turned to “cooking” crystal meth (methamphetamine) in a caravan.” Kim loved this book and I think I may like it as well.

Claude Lanzmann is not a name that is well know in America however you may have heard about his oral history documentary of the Holocaust, Shoah. It turns out that Lanzmann has had a rich and complex life, first as a Jew in hiding in France, a member of the resistance and then as an editor of es temps Modernes working with Sarte as well as many other literary figures in Europe. Winstonsdad reviews Lanzmann’s autobiography The Patagonian Hare and I love it when a blogger’s review makes you want to run out and pick up the book right away.

I have mentioned before how much I like books that highlight the importance of place – where the place a novel is set is almost a character in the book. Little did I know that there was a prize for such a novel. The Ondaatje Prize is given by the Royal Society of Literature for “a work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry which evokes the ‘spirit of a place’.” Cornflower Books has a post on this year’s short list for the 2012 prize.

Finally, Jen at Devourer of Books has a post on four books and one documentary based on events in North Korea, both fiction and non-fiction. If you are interested in this part of the world, it is worth checking out. She also has individual posts reviewing each work.

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There was a thin child, who was three years old when the world war began. She could remember, though barely, the time before wartime when, as her mother frequently told her there was honey and cream and effs in plenty. She was a thin, sickly, boney child, like an eft, with fine hair like sunlit smoke. Her elders told her not to do this, to avoid that, because there was ‘a war on’. Life was a state in which a war was on. (pg. 3)

The thin child thought less (or so it now seems) of where she herself came from, and more about that old question, why is there something rather than nothing? She devoured stories with rapacious greed, ranks of black marks on white, sorting themselves into mountains and trees, stars, moons and suns, dragons, dwarfs, and forests containing wolves, foxes and the dark. She told her own tales as she walked through the fields, tales of wild riders and deep meres, kindly creatures and evil hags.  (pg. 7)

A.S Byatt uses the structure of the thin girl in wartime as a basis for retelling a Norse myth of the end of the world in her latest novel Ragnarok: The End of the Gods. We never know the thin girl’s name and only have a bare sketch of her circumstances as Byatt focuses much of the attention in this slim novel on the myth itself, retelling it in expressive and lyrical language. The thin girl has been evacuated from the city to the country with her mother. The father is fighting in the war and the girl is convinced that the father will never return. The turmoil of the end of the Gods matches the turmoil of the world in which the girl lives with the rumbling of the planes overhead matching the rumbling of thunder in Asgard, the world of the Gods.

Odin was the god of the Wild Hunt. Of of the Raging Host. They rode out through the skies, horses and hounds, hunters and spectral armed men. They never tired and never halted; the horns howled on the wind, the hooves beat, they swirled in dangerous wheeling flocks like monstrous starlings.Odin’s horse, Sleipner, had eight legs: his gallop was thundering. At night, in her blacked-out bedroom, the thin child heard sounds in the sky, a distant whine, a churning of propellers, thunder hanging overhead and then going past.  She had seen and heard the crash and conflagration when the airfield near her grandparents’ home was bombed. She cowered in an understairs cupboard as men were taught to cower, flat on the ground, when the Hunt passed by. Odin was the god of death and battle. (pgs. 40-41)

The girl, like many of us, is trying to make sense of a senseless time and finding comfort and structure in myth.  In this short novel there is much about bonds and the breaking of bonds, of noise and confusion, of order and disorder. Byatt is an excellent writer yet I had difficultly getting into this book. The chaos of the beginning of the Gods was so discordant that I found it jarring. I also had difficulty at times discerning between the author’s voice and the voice of the little girl and I would have to read the passage again.. But then I would run across a phrase like “fall into the quotidian” or “dailiness defeated her” which would also make me pause for the opposite reason to savor the simple prose that was so evocative.

I am one of the few readers I know who did not like Byatt’s Possession and I was surprised when I loved The Children’s Book which also explores myth and story. Ragnarok was hit and miss with me. I admired Byatt’s skill; I liked the subtle examination of the importance of myth; the chaos of the beginning and ending of the Gods was hard for me to push through. I also wanted more of the little girl and less myth. Even so, I feel the novel is worth reading.


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Happy Mother’s Day to all. I decided to stay in Oregon so I get to actually spend Mother’s Day with my mom. She is hosting my cousin’s family for the weekend so we have had a nice visit discussing politics, the world, books, etc. Her 2 1/2 year old is very verbal and bright so I have had many interesting discussions and the 10 month old just started walking yesterday. I managed to finally finish Ragnarok which was somewhat of a struggle to get into – expect a review early this week and I also read the second Louise Penny mystery, FAlatal Grace, which I enjoyed as much as I did the first.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Jon Hassler was a Minnesota writer I have never heard of until I read Matthew (A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook) reviewed Grand Opening. He sounds like an interesting author focusing on small towns and how they shape the people who live in them. I like books that are focused on a space. Grand Opening takes place in 1944 when the Foster family move to a small Minnesota town to run a grocery store. They encounter lines drawn by religion, politics, and longevity all of which complicate the Fosters’ attempt to rebuild their lives.

Sometimes a brief mention is all you need to add a book to your list. Alyce of At Home with Books just finished Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow. Mldoinow explains how our conscious and unconscious minds work together and the new research on our subconsciousness. The chapters alone are enough to pull me into reading this book: 1. The New Unconscious, 2. Senses Plus Mind Equals Reality, 3. Remembering and Forgetting, 4. The Importance of Being Social, 5. Reading People, 6. Judging People by Their Covers, 7. Sorting People and Things, 8. In-Groups and Out-Groups, 9. Feelings, and 10. Self.

I have long debated about reading We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver for a long time. The novel is about a boy who commits a massacre at his school. Told through a series of letters by the boys mother, the novel goes into the nature/nurture debate about children who commits such crimes. Needless to say, the subject matter is difficult which leads to my hesitation. However, Ti of Book Chatter posts an excellent review which leads to a great discussion in the comments section. I may have to reconsider and read this book.

Finally, Matthew of A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook has an excellent list of books about mothers and motherhood. And Danielle of A Work in Progress has a fantastic list of female North American writers. There is bound to be something for everyone on theses two lists.

Happy Reading!

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We are finally having a beautiful sunny day in Oregon after much rain and clouds. I have been having a nice time with my mother. She is in the midst of reading Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels. I finished The Lake of Dreams and started in on A.S. Byatt’s Ragnarok. We went to my mom’s book group and had a nice discussion on Lake of Dreams which most people were enthused about.

Here is what caught my interest this  week:

Sometimes you pick a book up on a whim and find a jewel – Penelope Lively’s novel, The Photograph was such a book for me. A husband, after the death of his wife, discovers a compromising photograph of his wife holding hands with another man. The husband’s search for the truth surrounding the photograph uncovering secrets and causing others to take a hard look at their own lives and relationships. When I clicked on to read The Boston Bibliophile’s blog, she reviews a book in which an Israeli-Arab finds a love letter from his wife in a used book store. The letter is not written to him and he goes on to a search for the truth. The novel is called Second Person Singular by Sayed Kashua. There is a second plot about a paralyzed young Israeli being taken care of by a Palestinian social worker. The novel explores Arab-Israelis in Israel from two different economic levels. I am looking forward to reading this one.

The Mookse and the Gripes tells me that Stone Upon Stone written by Wieslaw Mysliwski and translated by Bill Johnston has won the 2012 Best Translated Book Award. Trevor thought the book was “superb, and I do (and will) highly recommend it”. Often called a “masterpiece”, Stone Upon Stone, is set in the Polish countryside as  Szymek Pietruszka recalls his life as a youth in the village, fighting as a guerrilla soldier, taking care his invalid brother. My mom and I both like novels that have a firm sense of place, where the setting is almost a character and an good epic is always a nice thing to have waiting for you on the shelf.

Mary Whipple of Seeing the World Through Books writes a thorough and thoughtful review of a debut novel called Malena. The author, Edgardo David Holzman, grew up in Argentina and worked for the Organization of American States. He also was involved in investigating human rights abuses in South America where he heard stories of atrocities. Holzman uses his background to paint a dark picture of the Military Junta. Set in 1979, Holzman uses a variety of characters to show a complete picture of the events after the Peron regime. Mary writes, ” Ranking among the best debut novels I have read in years, this novel is an incredible achievement, not only because of the subject matter, but because the pace and the plotting keep the reader on tenterhooks from beginning to end.”

Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat has found a novel written by a poet (and novelist) which is one of my favorite things. Coventry by Helen Humphrey is described as “lyrical” and “poetic” as she uses random connections and the bombing of Coventry in WWII to highlight the effect of loss and change on individual lives. Caroline writes, “Coventry is a lyrical novel, written by a poet, telling the story of a poet who is trying to make sense.” Trying to make sense of senseless destruction, Caroline adds, “Coventry is a beautifully written book, the novel of a stylist but some rough edges would have given it a whole other dimension that would have been more appropriate for the subject. Still, and this may seem paradoxical, it is a book I would like to read again, if only for its language. Maybe I’m not doing it justice, maybe I’m just not used to someone describing war in such a lyrHappy ical way and depicting people who are so caught in their inner lives that they seem ultimately untouched by the collective experience of destruction.”

Happy reading!


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