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Archive for October, 2013

Sunday Caught My Interest

Alternating a little rain and a little sun today in Oregon. I have had a very nice week but I have to pack up and go home tomorrow. The new Mastiff and I have been playing a lot and I have been reading past New York Times Book Reviews. My mom and I have started the Christmas Shopping and have lunched out numerous times. And yesterday and today were baking days making muffins, brown sugar cinnamon cranberry white chocolate bars and Nutella shortbread bars. I did finish both The Woman Upstairs and Heading Out to Wonderful. I restarted Behind the Beautiful Forevers but have struggled to get into the story – not because of the writing but of the subject. I think I need something a little more upbeat right now. So I have put it down about a quarter of the way done and will try to finish it some other time.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

I really enjoyed reading By a Slow River by Phillipe Claudel and have been looking for another work by him, Monsieur Linh and His Child. Now it looks like I will have to add another book of his to my list based on the description in Lizzy Siddal’s post on books she has been reading that are reminiscent of Kafka’s work. The Investigation is about the senseless obstacles that hamper an investigator of a series of suicides. The harder the investigator tries t do his duty, the harder it becomes and he has the feeling he is being watched at every turn. While Lizzy had some issues with the ending, I have so enjoyed the Claudel’s writing, I am willing to go on the ride he is offering.

Buried in Print has provided me two books of interest. The first book is by Australian author Mary-Rose MacColl, In Falling Snow. This saga moves from WWI in France and 1970’s Australia. Iris was a young girl when she went to France in 1918 to retrieve her brother. She stayed to serve at a field hospital staffed entirely by women at an old Abby. This was unheard of in those times and the novel is based on real events at a hospital at the Abby Royaumont. The author stumbled across a book about the hospital and it served as a jumping off point. Interwoven with the first story is a narrative about Iris’s granddaughter Grace who is dealing with her own difficulties as a woman in medicine.

The second book couldn’t be more different – Amana Leduc’s The Miracles of Ordinary Men. I must admit, when I read the description of the book on Amazon I was a little leery but BIP’s review has me convinced. Seriously, this is one review to click on and read, it is that good. The novel is about an ordinary man named Sam who is growing wings – is this a blessing or a curse? And his cat, Chickenhead, has been reanimated. I love the fact a cat is a character in a novel; I also like the fact the epitaph is from the work of Soren Kierkegaard, “And is it not true in this instance also that one whom God blesses he curses in the same breath?”. I have often told my boys that one’s greatest strength is, at the same time, often one’s biggest weakness. This book sounds like it may be confusing to read and from what I can tell, this confusion is mirrored inSam’s experience as we, and he, struggle with what is real and what is not. As BIP points out, there can be multiple narratives, one for each point of view. Sam’s doctor sees only scars on Sam’s back whereas someone else sees the growing wings. And who could argue with prose like this:

Lilah crumples her napkin onto the plate and watches it unfold, slowly, like a flower. This is what she’s learned, from years of travelling and searching and needing something else: that there isn’t something else, that some people will forever look at the world and see broken things that they can’t change.

Finally, I came across three fun links this week. Savidge Reads has a list of books that “encapsulate England” for him. Beauty and the Sleeping Cat has a great list of books by German Women authors (at least two have made it onto my to-be-read list). And Heavenali has a post on “fat books” just in time for Winter when curling up with a long book sounds very appealing.

Happy Reading!

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Constance

constanceMy name is Constance Schuyler Klein. the story of my  life begins the day I married an Englishman called Sidney Klein and said good-bye forever to Ravenswood and Daddy and all that went before. I have a husband now. I thought, a new daddy. I intended to become my own woman. I intended, oh, I intended everything. I saw myself reborn. Gone forever the voice of scorn and disapproval, the needling, querulous voice so unshakable in its conviction that I was worthless, worse than worthless, unnecessary. Sidney didn’t think I was unnecessary and this was a man who knew the world and could recite Shakespeare by heart. He said he loved me and when I asked him why, he said, Better ask why the sky is blue. It changed everything. If before I trod the streets of New York City with the diffident step of a stranger, I exulted now in all that had so recently troubled me, the crowds, the speed, the noise, the voices.  (page 1)

Then came the wedding.

It was only afterward, after the lunch in the restaurant, with my sister Iris disgracing herself, and Daddy being so angry, that I asked myself just what I thought I was doing. Who did I think I was, a proper person? The new world crumpled like a balled sheet of paper thrown in the fire and I was left with a few charred remnants and some ash. In my diminishment and humiliation I thought of Sidney’s mother, a little twisted rheumatic madwoman who’d shown up for our wedding dressed all in black. I was a shriveled think like her. I was Sidney’s mother. I tried to tell him what had happened to me but he didn’t want to hear it. It didn’t conform to his idea of me. It was the first time I saw this clearly, and seeing it, I realized how foolish I’d been to think I might for even an instant have believed I’d be loved — (page 2)

Sometimes reading a book will strike a cord with a reader – resonating in a way that can be both pleasant and unpleasant. Constance by Patrick McGrath was one such book for me. The novel, set in New York, is about a young woman in the 1960’s who is a book editor in the city. She was raised with her younger sister in a large house overlooking the Hudson river upstate and her young life is clearly divided by her mother’s death when she was a child. Left with her distant father, a housekeeper who can barely look at her, and her sister, Constance has a traumatic past and, as you can tell from the quote above, father issues.

So when Constance meets an older, divorced Englishman academic with a sensitive young son, she thinks she may have finally found someone to love her (although she is not particularly thrilled about the son part). Sidney is a poet with a dark book-filled New York apartment that echos the darkness of Ravenswood, Constance’s childhood home where her father still lives in declining health. After a pursuit by Sidney they eventually marry but Constance remains unsettled and becomes almost obsessive over memories of her childhood. Her life is further complicated by her hard drinking sister and her sister’s dubious employment and an even more dubious boyfriend. And then some casually delivered news sends her over the edge and she is filled with a tumult of bitterness and anger which sends her careening through her life.

Constance is full of dark and brooding places – a decaying mansion, a claustrophobic apartment, a dilapidated hotel, Penn Station being demolished. And the narrative, alternating between Constance and her husband Sidney echoes all that angst. I had the feeling that Constance may be an unreliable narrator and when I first reached Sidney’s narrative I was relieved – finally some stable ground. And then McGrath leads you to doubt Sidney as well leaving the reader as shaky as Constance herself. By the end, I felt I may have finally come to some stability but there is still an aspect of unsureness. For instance, I have difficult remembering the ending of the novel and so I have to think – did the novel end this way – no it ended in this way instead. So why do I keep having this feeling of dissonance – it must be due to the author’s skill as well as my own past.

This novel struck such a cord with me because I, along with Constance, have a father who treats me differently than my brother. After long years of wondering, I have come to a place of peace without knowing the why although my brother still longs to know. It may be because I am female, it may be that my father simply never liked me, it may be a multitude of reasons in some complex ball of knotted psychology. I am okay with the unknown – Constance is not but knowing the reason does not lead to stability for her. And while the author leaves us with a small ray of hope – a part of me just cannot accept that Constance is finally complete within herself.

One more note, I have difficulty in thinking of this novel as an “it”, as an inanimate object. I find myself thinking of the novel as a “she”; a feeling reinforced by the title itself as well as the pervasive presence throughout the novel of Constance, a young woman in mental anguish. All of this takes some skill as a writer to pull off and while this would ordinarily lead me to want to read more of McGrath’s work, I am hesitant – I found the novel to be a tad unsettling. McGrath taps into the human need to be loved, to have a place in this world, to be nurtured, to be wanted and then shows us how destructive it is when we are denied the vary things that make us whole.

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Hello from beautiful Oregon. I arrived on Saturday and on Sunday I drove youngest back to school and stopped at one of my favorite places (The Container Store). Last Thursday was Oldest’s 24th birthday. Himself and I made him a steampuck inspired shelving unit for his wall to hold beer bottles and books. The perfect combination for a guy who likes steampunk, fiction, and craft beer. The shelves are painted to look like galvanized metal so most of my week was spent doing layer after layer of primer, base coat, and faux painting. In the past two weeks I did have some good reading time…The week before last I finished the Patrico Pron novel and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – both based on true events and one labeled Fiction, the other non-fiction. In fact, my book group had a really good discussion on what is fiction and what is non-fiction. I have also finished Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole, The Seance by John Harwood, and To Love and be Wise by Josephine Tey. I did not finish The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay. While I enjoyed the bookish atmosphere, I did not like it enough to renew it. I am also in the middle of three books: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud; Heading to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick; and Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

If you have ever wanted to crash a party in a novel you have read, you have your chance with A Curious Invitation: The Forty Greatest Parties in Fiction by Suzette Field (reviewed by Bloggers Recommend) which features parties as different as Pooh’s Party to the prom in Carrie. There is a party from Thackeray, Defoe, Proust, Fitzgerald, and even the party my friends and I tried to replicate in high school – Bilbo Baggin’s Birthday party. This sounds like a wonderful read, easy to pick up and put down – a great nightstand book.

I listened to the Semple novel on the drive down and it has me thinking of what other books might be good listens. And then I read Matthew’s (A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook) review of Past Caring by Robbert Goddard. In the 1970’s an unemployed historian is asked by a wealthy South African to investigate the life of a disgraced politician who after WWI, lived out the rest of his career on the Island of Madeira. Was Edward Stafford’s fall due to an failed love affair with a suffergette or was there foul play involved? Using Stafford’s memoir as a base, the historian becomes involved in a mystery that spans three generations. Matthew writes, “The characters are well drawn and all have hidden motives. Not only are they bound by an entanglement of intrigue, misunderstanding and betrayal, they are all colored in shades of grey. They only come into full focus and shading at the end of the story.”

Happy Reading!

 

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Sunday Caught My Interest

This has been a difficult week for our community – at the beginning of the week, two beautiful fifteen year old girls died in a car accident. They went to our sister high school in our district, our big rivals, at the onset of spirit week leading up to the rivalry football game, the week leading up to their school’s homecoming. A week that should be spent in spirit activities and dance preparations has been spent in shock and mourning. Our own high school, who suffered a loss of their own in the death of a recent graduate earlier this summer, stepped up to a plate they didn’t want to face. Instead of “Beat U-High” the motto became “Unite”. Instead of “We are CV” it was “We are CVSD”. Instead of wearing our colors, our students choose to be decked out in their rival’s crimson and gold. When one of the student’s father requested donations to Toys for Tots, our students sprang into action with “Toys for Titans”. At the volleyball game, our girls gave their team hugs and roses. We had students go to the candlelight vigil, go to the soccer game to stand with a team having to take the field for the first time since the loss of one of their players. Our football team and theirs wore a matching “Unite” sticker at the game, and our Marching Band skipped preliminary warm-ups at a competition on Saturday so they could be in the stands to support U-High’s Band during their performance. There have been tears, multiple moments of silence, shared food, shared hugs, and at the end, an entire gym floor was filled with new toys.

As I was going to sleep last night and thinking of the past week – of two girls just beginning their lives now forever frozen in photographs, of students struggling to understand the whys that are beyond comprehension – two words came to my mind.  I think of all the schools throughout the Hinterland that contributed toys and sent banners of support, and I think of all the giving, not just of material goods, but also of the intangible – the sharing of grief and the sharing of spirit. An entire community wrapped their arms around this school, these students, these families. When I think of that, the word that comes to mind is grace. And when I think of these teenagers, these children (for they are still children) and how much of what happened in the past week came from them; how it was student led and student driven, peer to peer. And then I think of all the young people I know, how they can focus and commit to something larger than themselves, how they can step outside of the self and see others around them. I see how they have such an awareness of both the immediate present and of the greater world. And when I think of that, I think of hope.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

Susanna Kearsley is more known for her books involving time travel but her latest, reviewed by Danielle of A Work in Progress, is more of a mystery with a dual timeline set both in the present and WWII. Every Secret Thing features journalist Kate Murray who is approached by a man talking of a long-ago murder and in the next moment, he is dead at her feet. This leads her to her grandmother’s mysterious past during the war and soon she is off trying to find answers.

Another suspense novel that caught my eye is only available on electronic readers but it is very affordable and sounds, if you like suspense, like fun. The Nearest Thing to Crazy by Elizabeth Forbes and reviewed by Fleur in Her World, is about a married woman, Cassandra, who finds herself alienated from her friends and family by seemingly unknown reasons. This all starts after a glamorous new neighbor moves in and now Cassandra finds herself missing appointments, misreading social cues and situations, and misinterpreting conversations. Gossip runs rampant and people begin to question Cassandra’s sanity. I have some thoughts about what is happening and now I want to find out if I am right.

A more serious novel came to me from Reading Matters, Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke and translated by Cindy Carter. Lianke is a Beijing novelist whose work is frequently banned in China. After the first edition was sold out, Dream of Ding Village was also banned, even though the author admitted self-censoring his writing to avoid such a fate. In the early 1990’s, the Chinese government encouraged rural villagers to donate blood plasma to supplement their incomes. Poor hygienic practices, corruption, and safety issues led to an estimated one million plus people in Henan Province alone with HIV/AIDS. These rural villagers have received little to no support or health care and Lianke’s novel sets this larger tragedy in a small Henan village bringing it to a human level. I remember reading a little about the AIDS crisis in the paper several years ago and I now want to know more.

Once again Chrisbookarama sent me into the internet with another one of her posts – this one features The 50 Scariest Books. I spent some time on the list. I was a little surprised as I traditionally don’t do scary but I have actually read 9 of the 50 and I want to read House of Leaves by Mark. S. Danielewski which would make it an even 10.

And Farm Lane Book Blog has a short synopsis of this year’s shortlist for The Booker Prize.

Happy Reading!

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We have ended the week with beautiful sunshine and open doors for the dog and cat. Now if I would just remember to turn the heat back on at night. Himself has been very busy prepping for putting trees to bed for the winter and we are also planning on a surprise for Eldest’s birthday in a couple of weeks. He spent the weekend in Seattle running Tough Mudder and for the second year in a row agreed that his mother knows what she is talking about when she says run more to prepare for the race. Time will tell if he will really listen to me this next year. Youngest had three exams and a paper due so he had his nose to the grindstone.

I am struggling this week to re-read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. It is this month’s book group read and I am not enjoying reading it the second time. Unfortunately I read it so long ago that I felt I had to reread it. I have also restarted My Fathers’ Ghost is Climbing in the Rain by Patricio Pron. I started it at the beginning again and find myself wanting to reread the first chapter over and over again – in a good way. I love how he is setting up the novel.

Here is what caught my interest this week:

I feel like I need a dose of atmosphere that actually takes me away so I was pleased to read the review of Henry Dunbar by Mary Elizabeth Braddon on I Prefer Reading. I enjoyed her novel Lady Audrey’s Secret and this novel looks to offer the same – atmosphere, deliciously vicious villains, old houses, revenge, missing people, and a possible love story all set in 1840’s England. This is available free on electronic readers and is on my download list.

If you are looking for a modern example of the sensational novel – Capricious Reader is reading The Seance by John Harwood. Set in Victorian England, Constance takes her mother to a seance seeking comfort after the death of Constance’s sister. The mother soon dies, leaving Constance with the crumbling manor house. In the fashion of the sensational novel, there are apparitions, strange happenings, blackmail, and assorted evil doings. Harwood’s first novel The Ghost Writer also sounds good and his latest novel The Asylum received a lot of buzz when it was published in May. Harwood is Australian and, according to Wikipedia, is more known for his poetry. Definitely someone I will be looking for.

One book that caught my interest as a possible read for Himself is The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making by David Esterly and reviewed by S. Krsihna. Esterly is a woodworker who was inspired by artist and woodcarver Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721). Many of Gibbons techniques have been lost and Esterly has to rediscover them when he is giving a commission to help restore Gibbons’ work at Hampton Court that was destroyed in a fire. I love the title of this memoir which seems to emphasize the “making” rather than the object itself – the journey one goes through in any creative undertaking.

Another non-fiction book that caught my eye is Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz (mentioned by LitLove at Tales from the Reading Room). Schulz guides “the reader through the history and psychology of error, from Socrates to Alan Greenspan…” examining the history and influences on error and celebrating the inevitability of error. That sounds a little off-putting but I think what she is trying to say is that being mindful of the potential of error and seeing the other side of things leads to growth opportunities.

Finally, thanks to Stefani of So Many Books comes this delightful link to 25 Jokes only Book Nerds will Understand. I must admit to more than one “laugh out loud moment” and posted the David Foster Wallace on on Facebook for youngest to see and show his friends.

Danielle of A Work in Progress has another wonderful reading list – this one centered on London.

And on a more serious note, for those of you who enjoy poetry I strongly suggest you read Dove Grey Reader’s review of Her Birth by Rebecca Goss. Each quote from the collection of poems was wonderful – the quote from the end poem blew me away with its clarity and acceptance of the new in life.

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family man

The Family Man by Elinor Lippman

Henry Archer, a divorced gay man in New York City, is dealing with a newly widowed ex-wife, a step-daughter he has been separated from for years, and a hole to fill in his life. Once again Elinor Lippman has created an madcap situation, peppered it with witty dialogue (one of her strengths), and created a hero I absolutely fell in love with. While some of the plot seemed far-fetched (particularly some of the resolution), I forgave all just to read about Henry’s life. I thought he was a wonderful person and I rooted for him the entire book. Despite the book’s issues, it has become my favorite Lippman novel so far.

hope street

The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag

Alba is distraught and in despair about her once brilliant academic career and wondering the streets of Cambridge. She finds herself in front of an extraordinary house and an invitation to stay for ninety days. The house is magical with talking portraits (shades of Harry Potter), ghosts, and other odd happenings; in fact, the house has specialized in helping women find hope when they are at the end of their rope for many, many years. I had high hopes for this book based on the reviews and while I wasn’t disappointed; I wasn’t thrilled either. I liked the premise a great deal, it was a mystical and whimsical idea. I just thought the plot could have been a little tighter. The “mystery” surrounding Alba’s disgrace was fairly evident to me so the continued silence about it made no sense. However, it was a quick read – perfect for those who don’t mind a magical element in their fiction and want to have an easy few hours of reading.

quiet twin

The Quiet Twin by Dan Vyleta

I discovered this novel after reading reviews for Vyleta’s subsequent book The Crooked Maid which takes place after the war with some of the same characters and in the same apartment complex. The Quiet Twin is set in Vienna during the war when life was full of complications and suspicions. No one was safe and no one was to be trusted. In an apartment complex, a doctor is faced with the murder of a dog, a little girl, a young lady with who may be a hypochondriac, and a string of unsolved murders. Who and what is connected and how does one function in such a dysfunctional society makes up the narrative of this book. After first reading, I was on the fence. I liked it but not so much that I was going to rush out and get the second book. However, after time, the book has grown on me and I want to see where the author takes both the characters and the apartment house as Vienna and the world try to put themselves back together.

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