Archive for December, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone – I hope that your day will be filled with friends, family, laughter and happiness.

Himself, Youngest, and I plan on surrounding ourselves with some of the best that France has to offer and full-filling a life-long dream of seeing the Isle of Mont St. Michel. My dad suggested a stop over in the lovely medieval town of Dinan, and we will end the Christmas festivities in a second medieval town, Laon.

Photo Courtesy of A Taste of France

Viaduct Dinan France
Photo Courtesy of A Taste of France

Isle of Mont. St. MichelPhoto Courtesy of 123RF

Isle of Mont. St. Michel
Photo Courtesy of 123RF

Laon CathedralPhoto Courtesy of Anne Mercedes

Laon Cathedral
Photo Courtesy of Anne Mercedes


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Two of the books published in November made my “Sunday Caught My Interest Post” of last week: The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Englemann and Lunch with Buddha by Roland Murello. In addition, Ian McEwan has published his latest novel Sweet Tooth and Barbara Kingsolver published her latest, Flight Behavior. I have heard really good things about Flight Behavior so it will be on my list. I am hit or miss with McEwan so I am holding off on that one for now. Phillip Pullman, author of the Dark Materials Trilogy, retells fifty of his favorite Grimm fairy tales in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version offering his own perspective and brief commentary after each tale.

Scholar and biographer Anka Muhlstein (author of Balzac’s Omelette) has written a new examination of Marcel Proust, Monsieur Proust’s Library. Muhlstein looks at reading within Proust’s work as well as the literature Proust read. My mother is always trying to get me to read Proust and I have struggled with his work – perhaps this book is a way to ease into the author. A second introduction to a great author comes with Jacqueline Raoul-Duval’s book Kafka in Love. Roul-Duval follows Kafka’s long distance love affairs with four women. This unique biography is part factual (based on letters and journals) and part imagined.

In Greater Depth:

The Shortest Way Home by Juliette Fay: Coming home after thirty years in both war and disaster zones, Sean finds his family in their own personal disaster zone. Huntington Disease runs in his family and his aunt is showing signs. His nephew is raising himself, and Sean’s sister has run away from home. After years of avoiding family, Sean finds himself right in the thick of it finding himself by connecting with his past and his family. This one may be a good book group book with many possible topics of discussion.

Norah Piehl of The Bookreporter writes: Fay’s novel certainly offers many opportunities for fruitful discussion about topics as varied as family loyalty, genetic destiny, responsibility, the duties of friendship and the strength of faith. It’s also interesting to see how Fay writes from a male point of view, as well as how she continues to develop the town she first explored in SHELTER ME. Full of humorous and tender moments as well as subtle revelations, THE SHORTEST WAY HOME is a quietly powerful exploration of one man’s journey back to himself.

The Light of Amsterdam by David Park: December in Amsterdam and three pairs are touring the city: a father and his son, a mother and her daughter, and husband and wife on a weekend getaway. As the pairs criss-cross the city, each as to deal with their insecurities and how those insecurities impact their sense of self and their relationships. This book hit my radar as soon as I started reading about it on European blogs – many of the reviewers I respect have raved about this book so it is on my list for sure.

Dovegrey Reader writes a beautiful review of the novel (a review well worth reading in its own right) stating: The Light of Amsterdam, and now the title becomes clear, is beautifully paced and structured, lives glance across each other, touch briefly usually at moments of reflection when people have time to notice those around them, and all those human responses to transition, change, threats and getting older, as well as the fragility yet corresponding robustness of family, are perfectly and seamlessly addressed. David Parks writes with enormous sensitivity and emotional acuity, this is proper storytelling at its very best.

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Programing Note

Himself and I are off to the airport – all has gone well except my Kindle decided to die so I have stuffed a few books into the luggage and hopefully we can find a bookstore because three books will not hold me for the two weeks.

There will be no “Sunday Caught My Interest” until the new year.

Happy Holidays!

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Sunday Caught My Interest

First a brief word…Friday I was off with friends and knew nothing about what was happening on the East coast. When I came home – reality confronted me in the face and I, like everyone else I knew, was stunned beyond words. And it is still hard to come up with the words because the depth of loss is unaccountably deep. As we adjust to this latest shock to our sense of who we are as a nation, at some point in time we will need to have a conversation. This won’t be easy as the issues are varied and complex. But somewhere there must be a starting point that we, for the most part, can agree on. It is my hope that we can find that starting point and with respect, listen to each other.

As for the rest of the week, not much reading happened at my house other than Himself starting a new book. I did meet with both my book groups and had good conversation. I will be glad when January comes and I am back to a normal book group schedule. I did go see Anna Karenina and was enthralled. The stage setting took some getting used to – I found myself having a lot of resistance (not helped by the frenetic pace of the beginning) but at some point in time, my resistance melted away and everything about the structure just fit. Tom Stoppard did a phenomenal job of boiling down the essence of the story into snippets of dialogue. And the little details in the production just added to the story, for example, Anna’s veils became more and more opaque as the story progressed. Definitely worth seeing.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Danielle from A Work in Progress offers up a crime novel where plot and characters are  “in this case the plot and the personal, as in the personal lives of the characters, are tightly intermingled.” And the setting almost becomes a character in itself – just the type of book I like. Peter May is the author of a new series set on the Isle of Lewis, part of the Hebrides. The first in the series is The Blackhouse, the story of Edinburgh detective and native islander Fin Macleod who returns to the island to see if a death on the mainland is connected to a death on the island. And of course his past comes into play.

The next book, reviewed by Bibliophile by the Sea, is set in the 1930’s and it describes how women sometimes have to settle in order to get by. Boston artist Desdemona Hart Spaulding is forced to marry in haste in order to provide a home for her elderly father. She moves to a small town coping as best she can until events unfold that unsettle both her and the town. Cascade is destined to be flooded, the town destroyed. Perhaps I am drawn to this book because I have just seen Anna Karenina – a woman who also struggled between passion and responsibility. Maryanne O’Hara has written many short stories and Cascade is her first novel.

If you are interested in non-fiction, Alyce of At Home with Books reviews Strong in the Rain: Surviving Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami, and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster by Lucy Birmingham and David McNeill. The authors tells the stories of six survivors mixing third person accounts with both historical information and discussions of future impacts. I guess after Friday, I need a little resilience in my life and Alyce writes that this books was one of the best non-fiction works she has read this year.

Finally Chrisbookarma has a link to Drink Like Your Favorite Author – ten classic authors paired with a suitable cocktail (complete with recipes) – enjoy!


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The Imperfectionists

rachmanHe sits in his cubicle in the far reaches of the newsroom and turns on his computer. As it rumbles to life, he glances around, at the senior editors’ offices along the walls, the horseshoe copydesk in the center of the newsroom, the spattered white carpeting that smells of stale coffee and dried microwave soup, its acrylic edges curling up but held down in places with silver gaffer’s tape. Several cubicles were empty nowadays, the former occupants long retired but never replaced, their old post-its fluttering whenever windows open. Under the abandoned desks, technicians have stashed broken dot-matrix printers and dead cathode-ray-tube monitors, while the corner of the room is a graveyard of crippled rolling chairs that flip backward when sat on. Nobody throws anything away here; nobody knows whose job that is. (pg. 41)

I have to admit I have a slight distrust for books that get unrelenting rave reviews from the press which in part stems from my complete antipathy for Kathyrn Stockett’s The Help. So reading Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists wasn’t on my radar. The novel appeared on multiple best of 2010 lists, was a New York Times bestseller, and was heavily promoted by Amazon. I read the reviews and thought I would pass. And then it was chosen by one of my book groups as the December selection and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised.

The Imperfectionists is a series of linked stories about the employees (and one reader) of an international English newspaper based in Rome. Each story is focused on one particular employee and are interspersed by the story of the newspaper itself. As the reporters work on stories, the editorial staff does its thing, and the administrative staff struggles to keep the paper operating, the private lives of these individuals is put on display for the readers. Obituary writer Arthur Gopal struggles with an important interview while dealing with a family tragedy, business reporter Hardy Benjamin deals with a robbery in her home as well as her intense loneliness, and reader Ornella De Monterecchi tries to find the strength to move on with life.

The stories are slightly cynical and not all together happy in outcome. My book group was hard pressed to name a character they liked although I found them fascinating and interesting. I would have liked to have had dinner with quite a few of the characters but I remain unsure if I would actually want to work in close contact with them. I did find some of the stories harder to take than others and we were universally in agreement with our least favorite part of the book. However, I liked the how Rackmann pulled this diverse group of people together, not only through their connection with the paper, but also through what they go through internally. Rackmann holds the mirror of self-perception up to each character and reflects it back to them. Some hold up to the scrutiny and make changes or come to some sort of self-acceptance, others retreat to stay in their current state of disillusionment. All this is flavored by the particular circumstances of being an expatriate – living and working in a foreign country.

While The Imperfectionists will not make my best of reads list, it was engaging to read. Rackmann makes his characters accessible, flaws and all, and interesting. I wanted to know what happened to them and why they made the choices they made. And we did have a good discussion not only on the book but on the state of newspapers  today, how individuals receive their news, and if the method of delivery effects our perception of events. All in all, a good evening with bookish friends.

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Words For Wednesday

From The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason:

In the fleeting seconds of final memory, the image that will become Burma is the sun and a woman’s parasol. He has wondered which visions would remain – the Salween’s coursing coffee flow after a storm, the predawn palisades of fishing nets, the glow of ground turmeric, the weep of jungle vines. For months the images trembled in the back of his eyes, at times flaming and fading away like candles, at times fighting to be seen, the thrust forward like the goods of jostling bazaar merchants. Or at times simply passing, blurred freight wagons in a traveling circus, each one a story that challenged credibility, not for any fault of plot, but because Nature could not permit such condensation of color with theft and vacuum in the remaining parts of the world.

Yet above these visions, the sun rises searing, pouring over them like a gleaming white paint. The Bedin-saya, who interpret dreams in shaded scented corners of the markets, told him a tale that the sun that rose in Burma was different from the sun that rose in the rest of the world. He only needed to look at the sky to know this. To see how it washed the roads, filling the cracks and shadows, destroying perspective and texture. To see how it burned, flickered, flamed, the edge of the horizon like a daguerreotype on fire, overexposed and edges curling. How it turned liquid in the sky, the banyan trees, the thick air, his breath, throat, and his blood. How his skin peeled and cracked. (pg. 3)

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We had a dusting of snow today – just a little bit to add a little winter shine to the landscape. Himself and I took the dog for a long walk yesterday when it was sunny – I love the crisp cold air. Live has been about prepping for Christmas and trip planning. Himself and I leave in a week for Europe and it still seems a little surreal to me. I did manage to see one film – The Sessions which is based on the life of Poet and author Mark O’Brien, a man profoundly disabled by polio and spending most of his time in an iron lung. The film was extremely well written by Ben Levin and was sparked by an article O’Brien wrote in 1990 called On Seeing A Sex Therapist. The article is well worth reading. I was suppose to see Anna Karenina but things fell through and we will see it next week instead. I am still reading The Imprefectionists and have started The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason which has satisfyingly sucked me into its narrative.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

One of the first books my book group read was Roland Merullo’s Breakfast with Buddha and I was thrilled to read in Bibliosue’s Blog that there is now a sequel, newly published this November called Lunch with Buddha. The story of Otto Ringling and his now brother-in-law, Volya Rinpoche starts up six years after the first novel. Once again Otto and Volya go on a road trip, seeing America and discussing the ins and outs of fully living a life. While Suzanne says the novels can be read as stand alone books, I would suggest starting with Breakfast before preceding to Lunch.

When I was at the movies I saw a preview of a film called A Royal Affair about King Christian VII, his wife Caroline Mathilde, and an adviser to the King (and lover of Caroline) Dr. Johann Friederiche Struensee. The film is the Danish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Academy Awards and I was interested in seeing it. Later I read Mary Whipple’s Blog Seeing the World Through Books and she reviews the book the film is based on The Royal Physician’s Visit by noted Swedish author Per Olov Enquist, Set in the 18th Century, the book tells the story of the mentally ill King, his progressive adviser, the love affair between Queen and Doctor, and the court intrigue surrounding it all.

If you are in the mood for a love story Lizzie’s Literary Life review’s Swiss writer Alex Capus’s novel Leon and Louise (translated by John Brownjohn). Beginning in 1918, Leon and Louise meet and fall in love. An explosion separates them with each thinking the other is dead. Reunited twenty years later, they again part and live their lives without each other through the war and subsequent years while continuing to love each other. Lizzie writes, “Do read it. There is war and the usual insanity it brings; nevertheless, it is a pleasant book with pleasant people.”

Finally, Beauty is a Sleeping Cat is hosting the Third Annual Literature and War Readalong. If you like literature about war and how individuals cope with war, the list she has put together for 2013 is well worth checking out (as are the lists for 2011 and 2012). The discussions the groups has about the books were very interesting last year and I expect the same this year.

Happy Reading!

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Sunday Caught My Interest

Its December and I do not have one decoration up. I have asked Eldest if he wants the house decorated and he hasn’t said anything yet. Perhaps when it gets closer he will want some stuff out. Himself and I will not be here for much of December so it is Eldest’s call. This week has been all about books and movies (the best kind of weeks) and travel planning. I saw Lincoln on Friday and, while it was intense, I immediately wanted to see it again. The dialog was incredibly well-written. Today was a different kind of movie – Skyfall (we are a “Bond” family).  For reading, I finished The Unlikely Journey of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and I am halfway through The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. Rachman’s novel has surprised me as I like it a lot more than I thought I would.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Sometimes I find myself needing a nice, quiet, uplifting book and Fleur Fisher has found one for me in her review of Elizabeth Goudge’s novel The Scent of Water. Goudge was a prolific English best selling writer and is perhaps better known for her novel Green Dolphin Street. The Scent of Water was originally published in 1944. Mary Lambert, a middle-aged teacher inherits a house in the country from a distant cousin. She takes the house as a sign to change her life and moves. As she adjusts to her new surroundings, the reader learns of her past, her cousin’s past, as well as the lives of the various people in the village. Fleur talks about how this is a quiet book, to be read slowly and savored. And sometimes I need a read just like that.

The Keeper of Secrets by Judith Cutler, reviewed by Heavenali, is described by various reviews as a literary, historical, mystery. The novel is set in the early 1800’s and features young Parson Tobias Campion who gave up a privileged lifestyle for the church. His first night in the Perish, Toby intervenes to stop the attempted rape of a young housemaid. Soon more violence occurs including the disappearance of the housemaid. Toby is assisted by his groom and the local doctor to solve the mysteries and restore his character which has been called into question.

Speaking of mysteries, A Work in Progress reviews a book of essays written by mystery writers, Books to Die For: The World’s Greatest Mystery Writers on the World’s Greatest Mystery Novels edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke. The books written about include some books not traditionally thought of as mysteries (Bleak House and A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens and Possession by A.S. Byatt), classical authors (de Maurier, Sayers, Christie, Hammett), to more modern authors (Ambler, P.D. James, Leonard). There are 119 authors from 20 countries writing about mysteries written from 1868 to 2008. This looks like a book to keep by the bedside and dip and savor every now and then.

If you are seeking a little sensation, Guy of His Futile Preoccupations recommends East Lynn by Ellen Wood. Written in 1861 and made into three different films (including the 1931 version which was nominated for Best Picture). East Lynne may well seem to be a Victorian soap opera. Lady Isabel Carlyle leaves her husband and young children to elope with an aristocratic scoundrel. He eventually deserts her and she bears an illegitimate child. She then disguises herself and becomes the governess in her former home. Guy calls the book, “a wonderful novel, loads of fun and highly recommended.”

Finally Ragdoll;s Books Blog has an interesting list of “My Top Ten Scottish Books” featuring books by Scottish authors.

Happy Reading!

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