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Archive for June, 2013

The week did not start out well – on Monday night my friend with cancer ended up in the  hospital with a low white blood count. I grabbed the book I had at hand and met her in a very crowded ER. Unfortunately I was reading David Malouf’s Fly Away Peter. As time ticked away I found myself in the trenches of WWI. While Malouf’s prose was beautifully done, it was a tad too graphic for the situation. So the next day, I go to the movies to relax with friends and found myself sitting at the edge of my seat watching The Place Beyond the Pines – which, again beautifully done, is not a relaxing movie. And my other read this week is The Tenth of December by George Saunders, and again, not necessarily a calming read. I think I need to crack open my Josephine Tey mystery I got out of the library. And I had the challenge of switching my google reader feed.  The good news is that it wasn’t hard to actually do (the research and decision part was far harder). And Himself is back from his week of traveling and will be working around the house during the next month.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

I first heard about Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell in the New York Times Book Review. And I must admit I am a little Leary about it as I tend to stay away from Young Adult fiction but one sentence from the review made me sit up and think differently:

Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.”—John Green, The New York Times Book Review

Vishy’s Blog also has a wonderful review of the novel which is about two young misfits who fall in love. The novel takes place over the course of one year, 1986 when Eleanor, the new girl in town who is not fitting in and Park, the odd man out in his family meet on the bus.

I really enjoyed Gerbrand Bakker’s novel The Twin – a quiet, restrained examination of a surviving twin and his father on a remote Dutch farm. (Click here for my review). Ten White Geese (known as The Detour in Europe) is Bakker’s third novel and second to be translated into English. Iris on Books reviews Ten White Geese this week and it is definitely going on my list. This novel is also set on a remote farm where a female Emily Dickinson scholar leaves Amsterdam to settle in Wales. There is a boy, a mystery about who the woman is and why she is there and once again there is a quiet exploration of a life.

The Indextrious Reader reviews a book I should probably pick up this week – light-hearted with a touch of pathos at the end – discussing Flee, Fly, Flown by Janet Hepburn. The plot reminds me a little of The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out a Window and Escaped by Jonas Jonasson as both feature elderly people fleeing the confined existence in a nursing home. In this case it is two women who leave Ottawa in a “reclaimed” car and a young man as a driver embarking on a journey across Canada. I love road trip books so will watch out for it.

Finally, two bloggers have picked their top favorites of the read so far this year – Capricious Reader and The Book Stop. Eleanor Park is mentioned by both of them and there are many other books to look at as well.

Happy Reading!

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A wet and rainy week in the Hinterland led to sunshine today and the promise of a beautiful week ahead. I have managed a few handfuls of strawberries from the garden this week trying to get to them before the rabbits and squirrels. Much of this week was spent with my friend who had a hard time with her cancer treatment. I did manage to finish Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van. I am also halfway through Fly Away Peter by David Malouf and A Coin in Nine Hands by Marguerite Yourcenar both of which I am enjoying. I also picked up There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron but I did not like it very much – I ended up just skimming through it and was disappointed. Himself is away this weekend and most of the next week so I hope to get a lot of reading done.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

I loved William Maxwell’s So Long See You Tomorrow and have some of his other novels on my to-be-read list and now I have to add Time Will Darken It (and even bump it up the list) all due to The Book Snob’s fabulous review. Set in a Midwest town at the turn of the 20th century – Maxwell once again deftly shows the repercussions which build up over a series of ordinary things. Emotions build as Franz Potter hosts some family much to his pregnant wife’s dismay. It is a plot that sounds so simple, but I have seen what Maxwell can do with simplicity.

S. Krishna reviews a book about the war in Afghanistan from the unique perspective of those left behind, What Changes Everything by Masha Hamilton. Krishna points out that while this novel may seem like a series of connected short stories, it is instead, a novel with a large cast of characters. This is the story of those impacted by the war and how they deal with their losses. It is a short read that sounds like it packs a pretty good punch – it also sounds like a good book group book. Hamilton has extensive experience as a journalist both in the middle east and Russia. She has also written several novels. I was also pleased to see that she is very involved in The Afghan Women’s Writing Project (To Tell One’s Story is a Human Right) with 30% of the E-Book profits going to the organization.

A few years ago I read Hiroshima in the Morning by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto – a book I am still processing (I have very conflicting feelings about this book). The memoir, among other things, is about how a mother balances writing, creativity, and the rest of life. Perhaps I need another perspective and I may have found one. Tales from the Reading Room had a discussion about Elif Shafak’s memoir Black Milk: On the Conflicting Demands of Writing, Creativity, and Motherhood. Shafak is a highly regarded and award- winning Turkish writer and she sounds absolutely fascinating. She was raised by her diplomat mother and her very traditional grandmother in a cultural that does not necessarily value female independence. Shafak seems like a very interesting person and I think I may be on the lookout for this book.

Many years ago when the boys were young, Himself traveled a lot for work. One of our family rituals was to stand on the front porch and wave our feet to him as he got into the car. It sounds like a really silly thing to do but having a set thing to do  at the beginning of their dad’s trip really helped the boys. My family growing up had lots of rituals and it is something I have tried to incorporate into my own home. This idea was solidified when I read The Intentional Family by family therapist William J. Doherty when it first came out. So when I saw the name of a book in Iris on Books Blog – I had to find out more about it. Rituals by Dutch author Cees Nooteboom contains the reflections of Inni Winthrop, who has failed in a suicide attempt. He then looks at life in the Netherlands over a period of thirty years by examining the rituals of two men he knows, one using time as a ritual and the other using Japanese rituals. I love the premise of this book but i haven’t read anything by this author. However A. S. Byatt once called Cees Nooteboom “one of the greatest modern novelists” and, according to Wikipedia, he has been considered for the Nobel Prize so it may well be worth my time.

Finally, Fleur in Her World has a lovely list of books set in Cornwall so if you are in the mood for an English summer vacation without leaving home, there is lots to choose from. Only one is not available in the United States (The Burying Beetle by Ann Kelley) and a few are only available for electronic readers. The Wilke Collins’ book, Rambles Beyond Railways, is available for free on electronic devices.

And Salon.com had a wonderful article about a study that shows how Reading Novels Makes Us Better Readers (courtesy of Chrisbookarama)

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I ended up spending an extra few days in Oregon capping the week with a potluck for her book group where they chose the next five books to read. It was a very interesting discussion with lots of good books – they decided to read Canada by Richard Ford, Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth, The Roundhouse by Louise Erdrich; The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, and The Good Earth by Pearl Buck.  I returned home on Friday to a very grateful husband and an obsessive cat. Himself expressed his happiness at my return with a great dinner and the cat expressed his happiness by winding around my head all night. At my mom’s I started to read Shani Boianjiu’s novel, The People of Forever Are Not Afraid but was unable to really get into it. I did finished The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg and The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett. Both very different books and good in their own rights.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Fleur Fisher has a lovely post about celebrating the magic of library reservation systems with a list of books she is looking forward to reading.  When I was a child, I loved reading Lucy M. Boston’s Green Knowe series but I know very little about her. Fleur mentions her adult novel The Yew Tree which sounds good but what rally caught my attention was Boston’s two memoirs: Perverse and Foolish and Memory in a House published in one volume named Memories. Boston had an amazing life (she didn’t publish until she was over 60) and while this book may be hard to find- I think it would be worth the effort.

Another brief mention of a book (this time by Danielle of A Work in Progress) sent mnewest e looking for information about Joan Silber and her 1980 novel Household Words. Following a young Jewish new mother from the 1940’s through her middle-age, Words is about what we say in a household and what we don’t say. Rhoda Taber lives in the suburbs, is expecting her first child (she eventually has two very different daughters), her reliable husband, and the expectation that life will follow a predictable path. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen and Rhoda must find her own way through the thicket of an unexpected life.

Two mysteries caught my notice this week. The first is Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft (reviewed by S. Krishna) and The Perfect Ghost by Linda Barnes (reviewed by Bibliophile By the Sea). Barnes is also the author of the Carlotta Carlyle detective series which I have enjoyed in the past. Her newest book features a ghost writing team – Em, the anxiety-ridden, shy partner and Teddy, the outgoing public face of the team. Except Teddy is dead (in the middle of the project) and Em must step out into the public and finish the job. Loyalty is about a family of lawyers working together who have a family problem (a daughter-in-law has gone missing). The family turns to the one member of the family who is not a lawyer – instead, after flunking out of law school, Josefina becomes the firm’s private detective. She has to navigate between family loyalties and the truth in order to find the solution.

Finally two bloggers have their Top Ten Beach Read Lists: Lakeside Musing and Capricious Reader. And Reading Matters has a list of Ten Literary Prize Winners for 2013 several of which are already on my to-be-read list.

Happy Reading!

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From The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman:

On clear summer days, Janus seemed to stretch up right to it’s tiptoes: you’d swear it’s higher out of the water at some times than at others, not just because of the rising and ebbing of the tide. It can disappear altogether in rainstorms, disguised like a goddess in a Greek myth. Or sea mists brew: warm air heavy with salt crystals which can obstruct the passage of the light. If there are bushfires, the smoke can reach even this far out, carrying thick, sticky ash which tints the sunsets lavish red and gold, and coats the lantern-room glazing with grime. For these reasons the islands need the strongest, brightest of lights.

From the gallery, the horizon stretches forty miles. It seems improbable to Tom that such endless space could exist in the same lifetime as the ground that was fought over a foot at a time only a handful of years ago, where men lost their lives for the sake of labeling a few muddy yards as “ours” instead of “theirs,” only to have them snatched back a day later. Perhaps the same labeling obsession caused cartographers to split this body of water into two oceans, even though it it impossible to touch an exact point at which their currents begin to differ. Splitting. Labeling. Seeking out otherness. Some things don’t change. (page51)

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The Forrests

forrestsTheir father balanced behind the movie camera, shouting directions as he walked backwards and forwards in front of them. He handled the Kodak, their most valuable possession, as though i were an undulating live animal, a ferret or a snake, and it was leading him. The children took turns hunching under a cardboard box in the back garden for a sequence he told them would be funny later. When it was Dorothy’s turn she crouched like a turtle on the grass, forehead pressed into her bony knees, arms tucked down by her sides, and breathed hotly into her own skin, whole Michael lifted the box and placed it over her, a warm shadow, a rare private place. She inhaled it. (page 1)

The Forrests is Emily Perkins’ fourth novel, longlisted for the 2013 Women’s Fiction Prize. My mother got the book for her birthday and I borrowed it to read myself and now find myself wishing that more of Perkins’ work was readily available in the US. I find it particularity apt that Perkins starts her novel with a scene of a parent making a film of his children at play.  This novel is a series of snapshots or videos documenting the life of a family – principally the life of Dorothy Forrest. While told in a linear fashion, there are gaps as the story skips through Dorothy’s life picking up and leaving off effortlessly. If you are a person who needs to know the complete story, this novel may not be for you as readers know they are not getting a complete accounting. However, if you just go with the flow that Perkins establishes, it will be well worth your effort.

The novel starts in Aukland when Dorothy is seven years old. Her family has just relocated from New York City where her father was part of a wealthy family. There is a sense that the family has fled for some unknown reason. There are hints of needing independence from the family trust as well as hints of money issues which trouble the family through Dorothy’s childhood. The parents are distinctly odd with the father not truly connected to the realities of life. The parents relationship also seems volatile with the father disappearing for a time and the mother taking the children to a woman’s commune in the country. Dorothy, her sister Evelyn (whom she considers a”twin”), their older brother Michael, the youngest sister Ruth, and Danny – a neighbor boy who becomes part of the family, make their way through childhood, adolescence, and finally adulthood.

While Perkins does occasionally speak through other characters, it is Dorothy who is the focus of The Forrests. Three things characterize Dorothy, the sensual physical world around her, her sister Evelyn, and her relationship with Danny. As the narrative moves through her marriage, her children and grandchildren, to her old age – these are the three touchstones of her existence and these are the threads that hold the snapshots together.

This is the book of an ordinary life with the familiar highlights of the timeline (marriage, birth, death) as well as spotlighting the ordinary such as child tending, dinner making – all the flotsam and jetsam of the everyday. This is what makes the writing of the book remarkable. Perkins takes the ordinary and transforms it into sheer poetry:

‘Come on darlings, breakfast time,’ Dorothy said, picking up toys on the way to the windows. ‘Feed the fish. And then you need to get ready for school.’ Her body operated in space, not her. The tangibility of the mini stegosaurus and cloth doll, the need to remove them from the floor before someone turned an ankle or broke the wing of a kitset airplane, the silver light in her eyes after pulling the curtains, the lid of the fish-food jar to replace, the rumpled pillows and sheets to straighten, bedside books to pile, the papery skin of oatmeal that lined the saucepan as porridge thickened on the stove, the faces of rubbish day, and buying a board for Amy’s science project and letting gorgeous, leggy Grace cycle off without laying anxiety shit all over her independence and knowing already how much she was going to miss that girl and school bells and bus timetables and volunteer morning with crossing duty, these things saved her. (pages 191-192)

Through circumstance and incident, holes are left in our lives. Holes left by unsatisfactory upbringing. Holes left by loss – both permanent and temporary. Holes left by bad experiences. Holes left by the mere passage of time. Holes left by denying who you are. Perkins exposes those holes and fills them with the basics of life. Unfortunately, at times, this leaves you wondering who you are, where have you left yourself, and does anybody know the true you including yourself. What do you know and what have you invented?

Perhaps subconsciously she had known that this day would come, although that morning she had been told that there was no such thing as fate, no stories in anybody’s lives other than the ones they invented. Maybe she had invented herself into this place. (pages 201-202)

She had wanted to – what, to keep something of her sister but now Ruth was leaving and she was once again glossy, s o controlled, and since the mention of the will they hadn’t had a meaningful conversation and she felt stupidly scared of sitting in a cafe with her, of ordering watery quiche and attempting to introduce the real things, the state of her marriage, the hole left by Eve, her fear that she had lived her life on the inside, ruled by the fantasy that someone out there knew her, held her true self. (pages 262-263)

I found an interview with the author and she states, “I’m really interested in how we construct ourselves, the building up of identity and how much we live as a known quantity and how much we’re mysteries to ourselves and how much we invent ourselves and live in other people.” In her work, The Forrests, Emily Perkins has given the reader a platform to explore this notion of identity with beautiful language and an unforgettable character.

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This has been the week of travel – first to take Youngest to his new college digs – he is sharing a home near campus with four other people and then down to my mom’s. When I arrived, I learned that a family friend had died in Sacramento so I fetched Youngest to house-sit and on Wednesday my mom and I drove down to California and then back up to Oregon on Friday. It was well worth the effort, not only to see everyone but to celebrate our memories of a very good man. I read The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman this week (sobbing during the end) and promptly handed it to my mom to read. (She also liked it but did not cry.) I then downloaded The Chase of the Ruby by Richard Marsh, a writer of mysteries and thrillers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It did provide a much needed lighthearted escape for a few hours – definitely an easy read and I may download some more of his work just to have on hand.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Kim of Reading Matters has another Triple Choice Tuesday posting with the books being chosen by Lindsay Healy of The Little Reader Library. Her choice for “Book that Changed Your World” is The Mayor of Casterbridge (my favorite Hardy novel) and her “Book that Deserves Wider Notice” choice is The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman (on the top of my to-be-read list). With two fantastic choices I had to take a closer look at her third choice (a Favorite Book) – The Outcast by Sadie Jones. A debut novel published in 2009, The Outcast takes place in a small, provincial English Village in the late 1950’s. Nineteen year old Lewis Aldridge returns home after a stint in prison for arson to his father and his step-mother. Years earlier his father had also returned home from the war. However, where Lewis’s father sought conformity and sameness – Lewis seeks something different.

Angela Carter was a prize winning British novelist and journalist with a prolific writing career including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, short stories, children’s stories, and plays. She also translated Charles Perrault’s fairy stories. When I was a child I was fascinated by fairy stories devouring Andrew Lang’s collections of tales. All this was brought together by reading the Literary Omnivore’s review of Carter’s The Red Chamber, a reworking of classic fairy stories or as Carter put it in her own words, “My intention was not to do ‘versions’ or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, ‘adult’ fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories.” Carter brings a modern feminist slant to these tales dealing with empowerment and sexuality. This sounds like a great place to start exploring an author I am not familiar with.

Deb of the Book Stop reviews a book that sounds fascinating, Zaremba or Love and the Rule of Law by Michelle Granas. This book sounds like a wide-ranging complicated story covering love, politics, and mystery all within a literary novel. Set in Contemporary Poland, Granas uses the story to discuss rendition, surveillance, the need for love, seclusion, and the over-reach of government. The main character, Cordilia is the sole support of her very odd family working in semi-seclusion as a translator. She meets Zaremba, a handsome businessman who is being sought by the police on charges that may or may not be legitimate. Cordelia’s family takes him in and then he disappears and Cordelia tries to find out what happened to him. I love the quote that Deb included in the quote Deb included in the review:

She came out of the woods at last, with relief, just in time to see the upper parabola of the sun dip downwards beyond a distant cornfield and disappear.  Here the air was full of the scent of autumn, of mown hay and ripe vegetation and damp earth.  From the rye stubble at her feet came the pulsing chirr of an army of crickets.  Before she had crossed half the field a harvest moon, immense and perfectly round and burnished orange had risen over the far edge of the next field, and hung poised there, so close to earth that she might have crossed to it, climbed upon a hay mound, and touched it.

Finally, if you like books and food especially mentions of food in books, then you might enjoy Audrey’s Blog, Books as Food (found courtesy of Lyn of I Prefer Reading). I just may have to make those lemon-current scones.

And in celebration of Barbara Pym Week, The Indextrious  Reader has a lovely collection of quotes from Pym’s work about tea.

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My apologies for my absence last week – I had plans for spending a lot of time over Memorial weekend reading and writing. However, I was a slug instead recovering from all the complications of life and a three day cooking spree preparing vegetarian food for youngest and his friends to take to the Sasquatch Music Festival.  This weekend has been spent prepping to take Youngest back to Portland and down to Salem to spend more time with my mom. It is her book group week and I will be able to attend both which pleases me as I really like the ladies of her two groups. As for reading, I finished The Forrests by Emily Perkins and will be looking to read more of her work. I have also started Skylark by Dezső Kosztolányi which comes highly recommended.

Here is what caught my interest the last two weeks:

Iris on Books has a review of Charlotte Temple by Susana Rowson, an early novel (1790). I have never heard of this book so I did some research. Wikipedia calls the novel, “the most popular best seller in American Literature until Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in 1852.” It was first published in America in 1794 and has gone through over 200 editions. Charlotte Temple is a traditional cautionary tale with Charlotte manipulated into leaving England and having a relationship with a British solider without the benefit of marriage and her subsequent downfall . While this style of book may seem old-fashioned and dated to most readers, Iris mentions that scattered throughout the novel, there is a more liberal attitude which peaks through. This looks like it might be fun to read sometime.

I am not sure which blogger told me about Kevin Haworth, but I am grateful all the same. Haworth, a professor and author, has written two non-fiction books and The Discontinuity of Small Things is his first work of fiction. First I love the title and I am intrigued about a slightly different look at the Holocaust. Set in Nazi occupied Denmark,  the novel follows a handful of different people and their actions, reactions, and non-actions as small event after small event build as Denmark struggles to balance its safety as a nation and the safety of its Jewish citizens.

If you are in the mood for a quiet novel, Ali of Heaven Ali, reviews William Trevor’s 2009 novel Love and Summer. This is another novel where it seems “little things loom large”. Set in 1950’s rural Ireland an married woman and an unmarried man embark on a relationship – both feel alone, both feel like outsiders in their small community. This is noticed by a lonely middle-aged spinster with a past of her own who wants to protect the woman from hurt. I really enjoyed the quote Ali placed in the review as well as the opening section (posted on Amazon) so I think this one will go on the list.

I found two reviews of The Dinner by Herman Koch, one by Leeswammes Blog and the other by Bibliophile by the Sea. The Dinner starts out innocently enough, on a warm summer’s evening in Amsterdam two couples (brothers and their wives) meet for dinner. One brother is a successful politician, the other has always felt like he lived under his brother’s shadow. The evening starts out all civility and manners and everyday chit-chat. But underneath the surface, lurks a more serious topic involving each couple’s fifteen year old son. This sounds like it might be a good book for book groups.

Finally, Stuck in a Book has a wonderful list of books published in the 1920’s just in cast you need to wallow in the decade beyond seeing The Great Gatsby in the theater.

Happy Reading!

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