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Archive for September, 2012

Sunday Caught My Interest

The weather has turned just enough here that you need sweats in the morning and the evening but need shorts in the middle of the day. Himself puttered around the backyard and went on bike rides. Eldest did Tough Mudder in Seattle and survived.. Youngest went to Oktoberfest in Munich. I worked on organizing my scrap area. I finished three books this week, The Arrivals (which I did not like – a little too formulaic for me), Black Rain (I had to read this one straight through which made it hard), and Rules of Civility. I have also started The Lady Cyclists Guide to Kashgar (a little lighter than I expected) and Thanksgiving Night (which is somewhat slow going so far).

Here is what caught my interest this week:

This seems to be the season for reading classic Science Fiction authors that I haven’t read before. Sakura from Chasing Bawa reviews Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany published in 1966. After reading the review I went to Wikipedia and saw that Delany writes with reoccurring themes of memory, mythology, language, and perception – all themes that I fascinated with. Babel-17 is about a war where language is used as part of the enemy’s deadly force. A poet with a gift for languages is sent to decode the language encountering a group of misfits along the way to help her.

We are a jazz family – both boys played a total of 8 years in Jazz band in both middle and high school and Himself, when he has a spare moment, plays in a drop-in Jazz band and we have a lot of Jazz music lying around the house. So the names and music of Thelonius Monk and Charlie Parker, Miles Davies and Dizzy Gillespie are familiar to me. However, I have never hear of the “Jazz Baroness” who helped support Monk and Parker as well as other Jazz musicians. And that baroness came from the very wealthy and very proper Rothschild family. Hannah Rothschild has written her great-aunt’s biography, Baroness: The Search for Nica the Rebellious Rothschild. I found out about the book at Dove Grey Scribbles and it sounds fascinating. In the early 50’s Nica heard a piece by Monk and became enthralled with his work. She moved to New York and became a fixture of the Jazz scene eventually being disinherited by her family.  Definitely going on the list.

Buried in Print brings us a novel that appears on this year’s long list for Canada’s prestigious Relit prize, Six Metres of Pavement by Farzana Doctor. Many years ago Ismail Boxwala  made a horrendous mistake that led to the death of his baby daughter. This lead to heavy drinking, a divorce, and the knowledge that his neighbors will never forget what he did. After twenty years of living half a life he meets two women – one a new neighbor his age and the other a young woman in trouble, a woman who is the same age his daughter would be.

Finally Eva from A Striped Armchair reviews a book that is going on my list for Oldest – my fantasy reader. Saladin Ahmed, an award winning short story writer has written his debut fantasy novel, The Throne of the Crescent Moon. While Ahmed is American, his novel is “steeped in Arab culture”. Eva does mention that there is a lot of violence in this novel but I don’t think that will make much of a difference for Oldest and it would be nice to expand his fantasy reading into less conventional areas.

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Newly Published in June

I am way behind in the “Newly Published” postings and perhaps it is due to being totally overwhelmed by the number of books that have been published this summer – many of them sound fantastic and worthy of note; too many, in fact, for those of us with teetering stacks of books to be read. Sigh…

Several books  in June have already reached the “much talked about level” starting with Gone Girl by Jillian Flynn. I have looked at the reviews of this book and glanced at it in the store and I don’t think I will add it to the list. It has received mixed reviews (either you love it or hate it). Basically it is a psychological thriller with a missing wife, a suspected husband, multiple agendas and not-so-nice people. Not for me. Another book I don’t think I will be reading (although the reviews have been favorable) is The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty. Cora, a thirty-six year old woman is chosen to chaperone teenage Louise Brooks to New York and of course Cora has her own reasons for going to the city. If this becomes a book group read, I will pick it up but for now I am saying no.

One book I know I am reading is the Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, a coming of age story in a world where the earth is slowing down. A friend has read it an highly recommends it. Robert Goolrick (author of A Reliable Wife) has published his second novel, Heading Out to Wonderful. I liked his first book with its strange atmosphere and descriptive writing. His second has received some mixed reviews but I felt highly enough of his first to take a chance on the second. Like the first, it is a story of obsession and love set in a small town in Virgina after WWII except this time the mysterious stranger is a young man with two suitcases – one with a beautiful set of butcher knives and the other full of money.

Before I go into  a more detailed list, There are a few other books that need a brief mention. Dave Eggers has published another novel – A Hologram for the King about a middle-aged failing business man trying to make one last go of it in the Middle East. Thrity Umrigar, Indian American author, has published her sixth book, The World We Found, about four Indian women looking back on their lives and their friendship when one of them becomes gravely ill. While this sounds very formulaic, Umrigar’s writing is well done and the books I have read of hers have a depth to them that take them beyond a simple beach read. Finally Claire McMillan has written a modern adaptation of Edith Warton’s The House of Mirth. The Gilded Age is set in modern day Cleveland Ohio telling the story of the not so conventional Ellie Hart’s return from New York (and a stint in rehab) to the higher echelons of the city.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt: This debut novel takes us back to the late 80’s and the AIDS epidemic. Fourteen year-old June has lost her beloved Uncle Finn to the disease. Uncle Finn is the only person who understood her and she thought she was the center of his life. Until she discovers Toby, her uncle’s lover and the person her family blames for death of Finn. Together, June and Toby try to make sense of a world in the midst of their deep grief. During this journey June has to deal with her rivalry with her older sister as well as her mother’s rivalry with Finn. The Wall Street Journal says the books is “a tremendously moving debut novel” with many layers and it “resolves its storylines in a wonderfully graceful conclusion—though, be prepared, a very sad one, too.” Bibliophile by the Sea writes:

A touching and sometimes emotional story, this amazing debut novel will tug at your heartstrings, but it will also make you happy that you had the chance to meet June, Uncle Finn and Toby.  It is through these amazing characters that we revisit the pains of growing up, what it feels like to lose a loved one, and how to heal a broken heart.

The Life of an Unknown Man by Russian-born French author Andreï Makine: If you like novels about being out of place, this one is for you. Emigre Shutov is a disenchanted writer living the past twenty years in Paris. After a failed love affair he feels the need to return to his homeland traveling to a very different St. Petersberg than the Leningrad he knew from his youth. Once there he meets an elderly man, a survivor of the siege of Leningrad and Stalin’s purges and hears his story.  The Observer writes, “Like all his work, this novel has a wonderful flavor of a contemporary Chekhov with a splash of Proust. . . . What starts out an intimate account bursts out into something more ambitious and universal. Ultimately it’s a haunting story, beautifully told.” and His Futile Preoccupations says it will go on his best of 2012 list an calls the book a “superb, elegiac novel ”

The Bird Saviors by William J. Cobb: Post-apocalyptic books are in favor at the moment and the ones I find the most successful are those set in the near future with  very believable premises – in this case the Avian flu has impacted both the human and bird populations. Set in Pueblo Colorado, Ruby is a young girl with a baby, a father who wishes to marry her off to an elderly polygamist, and a new job helping a widowed ornithologist count the decimated birds. The novel is described as a little chaotic mirroring the times in which it is set. Book Chatter writes, “There are shades of the future in this story in that there is a bird flu and people are falling ill with fever, but the book itself is really about broken and damaged people. Small town, small town life. Wretched people and good folks”. And the Seattle PI writes:

Indeed, actions–couched in Cobbs’ expressive and gracefully-worded style and craftsmanship–bespeak volumes in an episodic and vividly-delivered narrative characterized by multiple plotlines and shifting perspectives…Importantly, however, though a few concrete incidents and thematic underpinnings become smothered or truncated in dystopian pessimism and deathly gravitas, we glean–from The Bird Saviors‘ minor clutter of subplots and secondary characters-a lingering reassurance, and a complementary and affirming sense of hope rooted in regeneration, new birth, and a life-affirming aspiration “That perches in the soul.”

Finally for those of you who like books about reading, The Woman Reader by Belinda Jack: This non-fiction book bills itself as “the complete history of women’s reading and the ceaseless controversies it has inspired.” While focusing mainly on western readers, the author does briefly mentions readers in both Asia and the Islamic world. Jack writes about exceptional female readers and the lengths women go to in order to continue to read. The Guardian writes, “her book repeatedly tells, of the way that the woman reader has persisted and thrived under all kinds of conditions. Ambitions, strategies, arguments, bold moves, curiosity and desire have kept her going, for 40 centuries.” Things Mean a Lot writes, “Still, the historical aspect alone was more than enough to keep me interested in The Woman Reader. The tone and style reminded me a little of A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel (whose influence Jack readily acknowledges). Fans of his work are likely to find much of interest here.”

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Skios

It was true that there was also some satisfaction to be derived from being Dr. Norman Wilfred. Purely as a consequence of his being who he was, seriously worded documents drafted by the labor of others were placed in front of him to be signed. His advice and his skills as a chairman did not go unappreciated. AS soon as people heard the name they knew exactly who they were going to get. They were never disappointed. Dr. Norman Wilfred was what they expected, and Dr. Norman Wilfred was what they got. (pg. 7)

Nikki Hook felt the back of her shirt, to make sure that is was still tucked into her skirt, then touched her hair to check that it had not been blown out of place by the air-conditioning in the car. She could see the passengers through the glass screen as they emerged from passport control and crowded around the carousel like impatient pigs round an empty trough. There were twenty or so other people on either side of her, holding clipboards and lists, also waiting. Chauffeurs, drivers of taxis and limousines, representatives of tour operators. Some of the women from the tour companies were tanned and blond, but none of them was as lightly tanned or as discretely blond as Nikki, and even the ones in their thirties, like her, were not as tastefully ensconced in them as she was. All these people, young and old, had their own opinions and memories, their own secret weaknesses and choice of underwear. In their own eyes, in the eyes of boyfriends, wives, children, and grandchildren, of employers and fellow employees, they were all no doubt whoever they were. But only Nikki Hold, she couldn’t help being aware at the back of her mind, was Nikki Holt (pgs. 20-21)

He should have never come. He should have started his medical studies. He felt a lump in his throat, as if he were eight years old and going back to school again. A whole day – two days – a week – a term – stretching in front of him with no company but the cockroaches and an invisible answering machine with only the same half-dozen words to say for itself. And himself, the apparently inescapable Oliver Fox. It was funny. Everyone thought it was so wonderful, being Oliver Fox. Everyone, but himself. (pg. 26)

As you can see from the quotes, Michael Frayn’s novel Skios is concerned with identity. The question of identity is infused throughout the book from the two Greek cab drivers, a Mrs who may not be married to the Mister, to the main mix up between an neer-do-well Oliver Fox with his encompassing grin, easy manners, and mop of hair and the inestimable (in his eyes at least) intelligent, prominent, leader of an scientific institute, Dr. Norman Wilfred.  Dr. Wilford is on his way to give a lecture on the Greek Island of Skios for the Fred Toppler Foundation’s annual “House Party” where the wealthy gather to learn and converse. Oliver is on his way to Skios to meet a woman for an assignation, a woman he has previously spent all of five minutes with. At the airport, a mix-up with the luggage and the driving arrangements sends Oliver off to the Foundation and Dr. Norman to an empty villa. Oliver is quite happy being the good Doctor and the Doctor becomes increasingly distraught by the events that are happening to him, including an unknown naked woman who climbs into bed with him.

Reading Skios by Michael Frayn requires you to suspend your disbelief to a certain degree. How in this day and age of instant access to sources of information could someone not know that Oliver wasn’t Norman. Nikki Holt, the assistant in charge of the lecture seems so efficient (and she freely admits that she has a lot to lose if things don’t work out), surely she has seen a picture of the man she engaged to give the lecture. Of course that would spoil all the fun because without this key case of mistaken identity, the action of the novel would be a lot duller. I wondered in retrospect, if the author may be poking fun at the pseudo-academic world the novel takes place in – these rich intellectuals taking seminars in Greek cultural while waiting to hear  the noted and distinguished Dr. Norman Wilfred on the subject of “Innovation and Governance: The Promise of Scientometrics.”

Oliver is at ease with his new persona in part, because he has no negative feelings about his identity (unlike his feelings about being Oliver Fox). He likes the challenge, the adventure of outfitting his “spacious new house”, and he likes the ideas and opinions that come to him while residing there. He does have moments of qualm but ultimately feels he can handle anything that comes his way. And at first Dr. Wilfred is very upset and works very hard to maintain that he is indeed, Dr. Norman Wilfred to the point of desperately hugging the transcript of his lecture – proof that he is who he says he is but soon wonders if being Dr. Norman Wilfred might just be a bit confining. As for Nikki, what has her focus on discreteness and efficient led her to?

The novel takes place in a few days with a lot of action and conversation to cover the time period. At times I thought the theme was hammered a bit too much but I have never read Michael Faryn before and I see from some of his other books that he does tend towards the farcical. In the midst of all this humor is a subtle discussion of determinism  and just how connected events and people are.

I enjoyed this book but do not see it as a Booker Prize winning novel and the committee did not move it on to the short list. I did have concerns about the ending – I thought that certain things were glossed over in a somewhat callous way. Even then, I can see why they happened. In a way I felt like a stick in the mud – perhaps my disbelief was not quite as suspended as I originally thought.

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Sunday Caught My Interest

Another week has gone by with a last surge of hot weather and continued smoky skies from fires in Eastern Washington. Himself went off mid-week for a rocket launch in Nevada where unfortunately his rocket became one with the desert. He took A Canticle for Libowitz with him to read during down time. I don’t know how far he has gotten but I look forward to talking the book over with him. I had hoped to get a lot of reading and writing done but finishing the patio and cleaning the garage took more time and energy than I anticipated. I did finish Skios by Michael Frayn which was so-so and Chapman’s Odyssey by Paul Bailey which was much better. I have two books to finish by Wednesday – Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse and The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. I may have to put life aside to get them finished.

On a note of jealousy, youngest spent the weekend in Vienna and said the Opera was an amazing experience. Rotten kid!

Here is what caught my interest this week:

I don’t know if I have mentioned this book before but after reading Cat’s review (Tell me a Story) of the book I felt it deserved mentioning again. I grew up reciting A.A. Milne poems and remember sitting on the couch while my mother read the original Winnie the Pooh to my brother and I. A.A. Milne wrote a mystery story called The Red House Mystery, which Cat describes as a “classic country house mystery with a nice little twist at the end to stamp its own individuality on it.” She also includes a quote from the book that makes me want to read even more. And for Kindle uses, it is available free.

Alyce of At Home with Books is currently reading a book she finds “incredibly creative, and more importantly completely readable and compelling”. It is a debut, self-published novel by Justin Blaney called Evan Burl and the Falling. I went to Amazon and read the preface and I have put this book on my list. Evan is an orphan who is a prisoner of his less than savory uncle along with a lot of other orphans. Evan tries to protect the group but he knows that at age sixteen he will become something evil. I generally shy away from young adult work but this one sounds more promising than most – just reading the author’s bio on Amazon made me laugh.

Finally I had no idea that Daphne du Maruier had a sister who was also a writer, (author of fourteen books). Fleur Fisher reviews Angela Du Maruier’s book The Frailty of Nature which sounds fascinating – it is the story of three vicars, and three wives in three generations of a family. Sadly it is out of print but I am putting it on the “look for list” as it sounds well worth reading.

Happy reading.

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Sunday Caught My Interest

We are having beautiful fall days here in the Hinterland, unfortunately with a lot of smoke in the air from regional fires. Cross country season is in full swing and the boys are doing really well. I have managed some good reading time and I finished A Canticle for Libowitz by Walter M Miller, Jr. (now down as the most interesting book group discussion ever) as well as The Hand That Trembles by Kjell Eriksson (not as good as The Caller). I have started Chapman’s Odyssey by Paul Bailey and Skios by Michael Frayn. I also really want to get to Thanksgiving Night by Richard Bausch but it is getting hard for me to have three books going at the same time unless one of them is fairly light. Himself is going off this week to a rocket launch and I am planning on telling eldest that I am not cooking for that time and spend it all reading. A wonderful thought if my to-do list wasn’t so long.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Litlove has posted a lovely review of The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty (who also wrote What Alice Forgot). The novel is about Ellen, a hypnotherapist in a budding relationship with a man who has a stalker from a previous relationship. The story is told from the perspective of the two women with  the stalker becoming one of Ellen’s patients under an assumed name. How could I resist a book Litlove describes it like this:

There is something altogether good-natured about this novel, so tenderly amused by the absurdities of our relationships and utterly brilliant about the little struggles for power, the games of vulnerability and defensiveness that characterise them. Moriarty is wonderful on families and friends, hilariously accurate about their little ways, and in this novel they provide a sort of cushion of entertainment onto which the harder truths fall. So, this is ultimately a story about love in all its forms, and one that is easy to read and amusing, but it has much to say, with compassion, about the darker, more torturous recesses of love, too.

Words like these, “Like the best Irish novels, the prose here is restrained, stripped back, bare. Every word counts. Much of the plot moves forward by dialogue, and it is this dialogue which reveals so much about his well-drawn, believable characters — it’s like every time they open their mouths, they reveal their souls.” are one of the reasons I love to read book blogs. Already I have looked up the author, looked at his other works, checked my library (nope), checked the University Library (yes, I use Inter-library loan) all thanks to Kimbofo’s review of The Pilgrimage by John Broderick. Set in 1950’s Ireland, the novel is about an upstanding woman married to an invalid, except this upstanding woman seeks out other men to satisfy her sexual needs. Hidden lives, a claustrophobic atmosphere, a book banned by the Irish Censorship Board sounds like a good read.

I have never read anything by Emile Zola and that may have to change. Fleur Fisher reviews Zola’s novel Therese Raquin. A loveless arranged marriage, a woman trapped, a self-centered husband, a torrid affair, an act of violence, an incapacitated and suspicious mother are all parts of a novel exploring the consequences of guilt. Somehow this seems more accessible to me than Crime and Punishment – another novel I haven’t read. Although this novel was written in 1867, its content and themes seem timeless.

I have always been a fan of fairy tales gobbling up Andrew Lang’s various collection when I visited my Grandmother and tales from the Brothers Grimm at home when I was a child and reading Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales in college. It seems that modern fairy tales are a popular genre and I was delighted to see from Iris on Books that Emma Donoghue (author of Room) has” a collection of thirteen interrelated stories hiding familiar fairy tales beneath the surface.” This collection, Kissing the Witch, sounds complex and daring featuring brave, empowered women strong in their own right not needing a man to give them voice or rescue.

Finally, if you are interested in this year’s short list for The Booker Prize, the BBC website has an excellent description of the six novels

Happy reading!

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The Caller

The child slept in a pram behind the house.

The pram was from Brio, and the child was an eight-month-old girl. She lay under a crocheted blanked, wearing a matching bonnet with a string fastened under her chin. The pram sat under the shade of a maple tree; behind the tree the forest stood like a black wall. The mother was in the kitchen. She couldn’t see the pram through the window, but she wasn’t concerned about her sleeping baby, not for an instant.

Pottering about thoroughly content, she was light as a ballerina on her feet, not a single worry in her heart. She had everything a woman could dream of: beauty, health, and love. A husband, a child, and a home and garden with rhododendrons and lush flowers. She held life in the palm of her hand.

She looked at the three photographs hanging on the kitchen wall. In one photograph, taken under the maple, she wore a flowery dress. In another her husband, Karsten, was on the front porch. The last was a photograph of her and Karsten together on the sofa, the child between them. The girl’s name was Margrete. The arrangement of the three photos made her smile. One plus one is sure three, she thought – it is truly a miracle. Now she saw that miracle everywhere. In the sunlight cascading through the windows, in the thin white curtains, fluttering in the breeze. (pgs. 1-2)

A reader knows after reading this opening that something not nice is going to happen. Perhaps the baby will be snatched, the mother killed but something wicked this way comes. And it does but in an unexpected way. Karin Fossum has been called the Queen of Norwegian crime  and these are the opening paragraphs to her latest mystery, The Caller, featuring her detective Inspector Konrad Sejer. Although this is the tenth in the series I didn’t feel out of place reading it first – it is very self-contained. It was clear there is a back story but knowing it is not necessary to fully enjoy this mystery.

The Caller is not a typical mystery – there is no horrific crime at the beginning, Instead we have a serious of pranks – clever, sadistic, nasty pranks that shake people to the core. And we know the perpetrator of these pranks – a seventeen year old boy living with his alcoholic mother, smart, neglected, with no friends other than his pet gerbil and his elderly and ill grandfather, no prospects other than the same dull dreary life. And because this kid is miserable, he decides to make other people miserable. Because he has no secure foundation to depend on he will take away the security of other people in diabolically smart ways.

The first prank is to pour blood over the idyllic baby in the opening paragraphs which serves to deeply, crack the foundation of the parent’s marriage. Another prank involves an elderly man with advanced Lou Gerig’s disease and his wife. The prankster sends a funeral home to pick up the man’s body leading the wife to wonder if she wanted her husband to die.

In this mystery it is not about the crime, it is about how society’s operation depends on trust and what happens when that trust is violated. It is about how everyone lives on the edge and just what it takes to send them over. At one point in time Sejer is talking to a group of boys about the prank involving the baby saying, “It is a form of theft. The parents’ security has been stolen from them, and that’s very serious. Without security, life is terribly difficult.” (pg. 57)

I really enjoyed this mystery and, although the detective is not as much in the forefront as other mysteries, I didn’t mind. I knew enough to make the character interesting to me and the rest of the plot held my interest. The book reminded me a little of Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger – where a series of poison pen letters upsets the lives of a handful of people in a small village. It is somewhat disconcerting to see how easy it can be to push someone from a secure foundation to a place of frightening insecurity.

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Words for Wednesday

From Thanksgiving Night by Richard Bausch

On the other side of the radio station, on a small rise of ground, a strip mall that was built ten years ago languishes in weeds and wild flowers, crabgrass and dandelions; it’s shut down and boarded with postings advertizing commercial space. The postings are wearing away in the weather.

Beyond the strip mall is a small used-book shop called The Heart’s Ease.

Take a look at it now: this charmingly derelict-looking place, its windows stacked with the sun-faded spines of volumes, one on top of another as if they had all been arrested in the act of crowding to the openings to breathe. The paint is peeling on the porch, and the color of the trip is the exact shade of old paper. If you were to characterize the store or make a simile out of it, you might say it’s like an elderly man nodding off to sleep. It faces into the sunny lots across the way, the gravel road veering off to the left, toward the century-old brick-making factory, with its five house sized stacks of new red bricks, and its weirdly attendant-seeming next-door neighbor, the ancient clapboard relic of a church, white-steepled Saint Augustine’s. The church is a historical landmark, and is flanked by a shady lawn dotted with gravestones, carved dates, and inscriptions going back to the eighteenth century: BELOVED MOTHER; WITH THE ANGELS; LOST TO US….

On Main Street, just now, the sharp shadows make pretty angles. You feel, gazing upon the scene, that you saw it somewhere in a painting, if only you could remember which one. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon. Th end of August. Stillness. Not even an airplane in the sky. Some celestial creature landing here might thing the whole world was a quiet place, deserted or abandoned.

But now a little wind stirs; a scrap of paper rise in the street, and a camp bus full of alter boys from Saint Augustine’s comes rumbling along, followed by an old Ford pickup, covered in dust, which turns off onto a side street. The radio is on loud in the truck, an evangelistic rant, a frantic baritone crying the terrors of a thousand years.

It’s the dog days of summer nineteen ninety-nine. And God is coming. (pgs 4-5)

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