Sunday, October 31, 2010

Review: The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare by Arliss Ryan

In certain circles, there is some debate over who really authored Shakespeare's masterpieces. The contenders are quite a varied lot and I suspect that we'll never be able to say for certain that the glover's son from Stratford-upon-Avon was truly the author of these enduring works of theater, the inventor of marvelous words, and arguably the greatest writer in the English language. The historical record leaves tantalizing gaps in Shakespeare's life, thereby allowing for the possibility that someone else, having borrowed his name, wrote the plays attributed to him. What the historians rarely debate is the place and character of Shakespeare's wife Anne Hathaway in his life. She is widely considered to have been a less than pleasant soul who, as a much older woman, trapped Shakespeare into an unhappy marriage by falling pregnant. Arliss Ryan takes a quite different view of Hathaway in this imaginative novel, taking on the character of the woman as well as the authorship question all in one fell swoop.

Opening with the aged and dying Anne Hathaway being tended to by her young granddaughter and promising the girl the knowledge of who actually wrote Shakespeare's plays, the novel quickly slides back in time to Anne's childhood and young adulthood. Her second meeting with the teenaged Will Shakespeare and the conversation they have upon the banks of the river offer the first echoes of what will become some of the most famous lines in the English speaking world. And according to Anne, these lines come from her imagination, not his. By her account, their early marriage is a reasonably happy time; she loves her husband and he loves her. But he wants to become more than just a glover like his father and so he hies off to London leaving wife and family behind. Not content to wait years for his return, Anne eventually makes her way to London as well to search out Will. But once she has found him, she has to pretend she is merely his sister come to serve him rather than his wife. She enters the world of the theater through her sewing ability and eventually becomes as caught up in it as Shakespeare himself. As an intelligent and reasonably educated woman (in this fact novelization differs from accepted historical supposition), she eventually comes to help her beloved husband when he suffers from writer's block. And from there it is a short step to half and then full authorship of the most glorious and enduring of Shakespeare's plays, all without ever being able to acknowledge her contributions.

Narrated in Anne's voice, the novel is engrossing and eminently believable in terms of the authorship question. Ryan has drawn a good and full portrait of Elizabethan England, the London of that era, the roles and expectations for women, and allows her characters to know and interact with the major players in the theater of the time in ways that are easily convincing. The insights into the theater world of Elizabethan times is truly fascinating. The Hathaway of the novel, while not found in this incarnation in the historical record (actually, Hathaway is barely found in the historical record at all), is a wonderful creation. She is smart and resourceful, loyal and persevering. She could easily have been the playwright that we so revere today with Shakespeare himself only responsible for the beauty of the sonnets and poetry. Most decidedly a feminist rewriting, Ryan has crafted a well-written and interesting take on the question of authorship, intellectual property, love, and the the importance of acknowledging, rather than hiding, the source of amazing talent. Anne is the most fully constructed character here with all others, including Shakespeare himself, being much less dimensional. But it is, after all, Anne's story, her confession, her claiming, that is so gripping and intriguing. Historical fiction lovers will find this imagined life eminently appealing. And even if Anne Hathaway didn't write Shakespeare's plays, I am quite certain that her fictional character here is a grand stand-in for some other real life woman, brimming with talent and marginalized in her time, her achievements gone unnoticed or claimed by men.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

Sunday Salon: The Halloween Edition

I suspect that most people use the month of October as an excuse to read scary books. After all, Halloween costumes (at least for adult women) tend to skew either trampy or scary/gory. And so the books we read for the month reflect the latter incarnation of Halloween. But I am a bona fide coward. I was not thrilled to note that our latest bookclub book snuck in an unexpected murder. It was not presented gorily (is that a word?) but it resulted in a body and a crime scene and a murderer. All things that make me break out in a cold sweat when I read.

Given my absolute wimpiness in all things scary, you are probably not terribly likely to take my advice on creepy books but that doesn't mean I won't jump on the Halloween bandwagon and offer my advice anyway. The scariest book I've ever read, hands down, was The Other by Thomas Tryon. Quite honestly, it still haunts me to this day. It is a terrifying pschological thriller and the reveal can still give me a good nightmare. I think it's long out of print but it is worth hunting down if you want a lock the doors, leave all the lights on, and wet your pants at every stray house creak kind of read. I made the mistake of reading it at our cottage on an island in the woods by flashlight when I was twelve (and no, I am not making this up even if it does have the whiff of the "I walked uphill to school in a blizzard" exaggeration common to we old fogies). I had found it on the shelf of a friend's cottage and had no idea I was about to torment myself for almost 30 years simply by reading it. Truly horrifying! The book that was scary at the time but has faded with time, I'd have to say Thinner by Steven King. The book put me off reading any more of the master of horror but now in my current incarnation, I sort of half wish I could have just a small piece of the pie in the book. OK, starving to death wouldn't be nice, but not being able to gain weight no matter what I ate is rather more appealing now than it was back when I read it originally. And finally (because I really don't read much of this stuff so I have few recommendations), for the creepiest book I've read recently, I'd suggest The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. It was a book club choice several years ago and I can still see the scene with the man crawling with maggots and yet inexplicably still alive. (This is not a spoiler as it happens in the first 25-50 pages of the book.) Horrifying and I set it down at the time with no plans to go back to it, ever. But anal retentiveness won out and I suffered through graphic and appalling descriptions of murders and crime scenes. I really think I'm going to have to quit reading along with book club in October!

Do you like scary books? Do you avoid them like I do? Which books still haunt your nightmares, many years on? Do you have any fluffy bunny reads to scrub the scary books from my brain?

This week I made my way through a charming read set in a cooking school populated by damaged people, watched as a middle-aged woman let the past overwhelm and almost sabotage her happy present, and went along for the ride as two Hollywood outsiders had to make the choice of their lives. What did you read this week?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review: The Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate

I love to read. And I love to cook. What could be better than combining two of the things I find most enjoyable? Books that incorporate food and cooking into their storyline have an immediate attraction for me and this latest novel by Senate was no exception.

Opening with Holly Maguire musing about her fortune as told by her late grandmother, this book is a solid and satisfying confection, a tiramisu of a book, if you will. According to Holly's Milanese grandmother, renowned both for her delicious Italian cooking and for her fortune-telling, the great love of Holly's life will be a man who likes sa cordula, a traditional dish made from lamb intestines. It is this fortune that sent a heartbroken Holly running back to Blue Crab Island, Maine from California. She felt her long-time boyfriend slipping away and so she fixed him sa cordula, which he loathed, only reinforcing the fact that he was not her great love. So Holly returned to her grandmother and the love and acceptance she has always found with Camilla Constantina. Cruelly, Holly only has two weeks with her beloved grandmother before Camilla passes away, leaving Holly crushed and floundering. To honor her grandmother's memory and legacy, Holly determines that she will take over Camilla's Cuchinotta and teach the Italian cooking classes for which Camilla was famous. The big problem with this is that Holly can't cook. But she has her grandmother's recipes, a load of determination, and four students who didn't immediately demand their money back when Holly told them the news about Camilla's death. And to start with, that suffices.

Holly's four students are hurting as much in their own ways as Holly is. And together all of them need a little of the magic that always pervaded Camilla's Cuchinotta to help them realize that they are the architects of their own lives. Each of the secondary characters is well fleshed out and their individual back stories have a chance to be highlighted as the main plot with Holly opening up and learning to risk love again moves along. Each story is a vital ingredient and each secondary character helps Holly to recognize things about herself and where she wants to go in life. Cooking with all the triumphs and failures that are a part of learning to trust oneself in the kitchen is celebrated here. And Holly makes some pretty amazing sounding dishes once she starts getting things right, in the kitchen and in her personal life. There are occasional places where the lessons learned are a little overdone or saccharine but for the most part, they hit the right note. The ending is a little tidy for a book celebrating the vagaries of life and acceptance of all its parts, sad, happy, and true all in similar measure but over all, the book works and is ultimately the sort of read that leaves the reader smiling and satisfied. A quick and fulfilling read, I'd recommend this one (and I'd also recommend reading it close to your kitchen or a good restaurant because it will make you hungry).

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

Every summer when the books arrive for consideration for the Great Group Reads designation, I read the back of the book and slide each into my pile in the order in which I intend to read the books. The pile is roughly set up with the books most appealing to me on top, descending to the least appealing, at least as far as the jacket copy is concerned. (Yes, given half a chance, I would eat dessert first too. I'm just that kind of girl.) Last year, my favorite book out of the entire batch was the very last book in the stack, the one I was fairly certain I would enjoy the least. That was a big surprise but there were any number of smaller surprises along the way as well. You'd think I would have learned from that experience. And yet, I stubbornly made my pile this year and then read through it. I wasn't sure I was going to find anything to like in this "ripped from the headlines" book but it turned out to be fantastic. Room might not have been on the very bottom of the stack, but it sure wasn't at the top either. Just goes to show how often I am wrong about my own reading taste and makes me worry I am missing out on some other wonderful books!

Room is the story of five year old Jack, by turns a precocious and incredibly innocent child, and his mother who have lived in one single room for all of Jack's five years. It is just the two of them with only occasional nightmarish visits from Old Nick, their jailer, a man from whom Jack's Ma makes him hide. Jack and Ma have very little, locked up as they are in this tiny room, but their relationship with each other is so touching and incredibly important. Ma teaches Jack, she protects him, she encourages him to be as active as a boy can be in such a confined space, and she loves him desperately, giving him the very best upbringing she can under the circumstances.

Jack narrates the novel and it takes a little getting used to his voice but he turns out to be the perfect choice to tell his and Ma's story. Unlike Ma, he has no knowledge of a world outside Room (he even believes that what he sees on tv is all imaginary), he has no understanding of the terrible existence that he and Ma live, and even Ma's fear of Old Nick is much muted in this naturally inquisitive and intelligent child. Since the outside world doesn't exist for him, he doesn't feel the desperation and ache to escape that Ma feels although being an empathetic child, he can feel her urgent desire. By choosing to use Jack as the novel's narrator, Donoghue also neatly sidesteps the need to detail the terrible sexual abuse that Ma suffers at the hands of her kidnapper although Jack's existence certainly hints at its continuing presence.

This is not so much a book about a kidnapping as much as it is about feelings and relationships though. Ma and Jack's relationship is touching and life-sustaining. But it's certainly not all positive. There's frustration and despair and tension in spades here too. The writing is constrained and tight, pulling the reader into the story gradually at first and then to the point that the pages start flying past. I literally read this in an afternoon. There's a wealth of topics to discuss in here; it's a great choice for book clubs. But it's also a great choice for readers who want a thrilling, moving, gripping read. And for those people who can stomach another such premise, read it in conjunction with John Fowles' The Collector for a fascinating compare and contrast.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Review: Miss You Most of All by Elizabeth Bass

How can you resist a book set on a farm called Sassy Spinster Farm? Rue and Laura are sisters who live on the farm where they grew up, taking in guests who want to experience working the farm life for themselves. They are working hard to not only make the farm pay but to live their lives to the fullest and to understand what matters most in life. Rue is exhausted and drained from her latest round of chemo for advanced breast cancer. Laura is prickly and anti-social, resenting the presence of the guests at the farm. Erica, Rue's pre-teen daughter, is faced not only with a mother battling cancer and a father who has invited her twee former fifth grade teacher to move in with him but also with all the hazards and pitfalls of being young and figuring out friendship. Webb, who is working the farm for the summer, is an old friend who has been in love with Laura, despite the fact that she ignores him and his good-hearted loyalty, just about forever. Into this mix comes Heidi, Rue and Laura's former step-sister, the bratty little baggage who left the farm without a backward glance so many years ago when her mother left the sisters' father. Laura doesn't want to let Heidi stay but Rue is adamant that family is forever. And Heidi's presence changes everything, helping each of the characters to examine herself and her choices much closer.

The characters in this are delightful and quirkily human. They make mistakes and are stubborn but they are warm and good-intentioned and the book is all around charming. There's joy and humor and deep sadness here but ultimately it is an uplifting read that leaves the reader feeling good. Some of the plot is a little far fetched and there really aren't any surprises to be had (and in certain cases, this is absolutely the right thing) but there is something luminous and sweet and appealing here. Perhaps it is the sense of love that pervades the book. Whatever it is, this is a book that leaves the reader sighing with pleasure when the back cover finally closes. It is like the best life lived, complete with ups and downs, laughter and tears, but on the whole, worth every minute. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a well-written feel-good novel (plus one cathartic cry).

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book to review.

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

A step backwards again in reading far more than I reviewed. :-P This meme is hosted by Sheila at One Person's Journey Through a World of Books.

Books I completed this week are:

Destiny Unleashed by Sherryl Woods
Grayson by Lynne Cox
What I Thought I knew by Alice Eve Cohen
Book Lust to Go by Nancy Pearl

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
Great Lakes Nature by Mary Blocksma (this is going to take me all year as I read her year's entries on the corresponding days of this year)
Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

Reviews posted this week:

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

Miss You Most of All by Elizabeth Bass
Room by Emma Donoghue
The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare by Arliss Ryan
The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye
The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi
Rainy Lake by Mary Rockcastle
Ill-Equipped for a Life of Sex by Jennifer Lehr
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow
Finding Marco by Kenneth Cancellara
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson
Sweet Dates in Basra by Jessica Jiji
The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
The Laments by George Hagen
Smart Girls Think Twice by Cathie Linz
Proust's Overcoat by Lorenza Foschini
Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Georgia's Kitchen by Jenny Nelson
A Slender Thread by Katharine Davis
Cooking With Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson
Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Sex, Drugs, and Gelfilte Fish edited by Shana Leibman
Daughter of the Queen of Sheba by Jackie Lyden
The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter by Holly Robinson
Daughter of the Bride by Francesca Segre
Chronicles of a Midlife Crisis by Robyn Harding
Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle
Half Empty by David Rakoff
She's Gone Country by Jane Porter
The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart
Huck by Janet Elder
Out of the Shadows by Joanne Rendell
I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee
Never Trust a Rogue by Olivia Drake
After the Fall by Kylie Ladd
Heart With Joy by Steve Cushman
The Lacemakers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri
The Known World by Edward Jones
Victory Over Japan by Ellen Gilchrist
Web of Love by Mary Balogh
Pure Dead Frozen by Debi Gliori
The Best American Travel Writing 2009 edited by Simon Winchester
The Concubine's Daughter by Pai Kit Fai
The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal
The MacKenzies: Cole by Ana Leigh
Dreaming in Chinese by Deborah Fallows
Agnews Grey by Anne Bronte
Running the Books by Avi Steinberg
The Time in Between by David Bergen
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
Before Lunch by Angela Thirkell
The Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez
From Zero to Mastectomy by Jackie Fox
Destiny Unleashed by Sherryl Woods
Grayson by Lynne Cox
What I Thought I knew by Alice Eve Cohen
Book Lust to Go by Nancy Pearl

Monday Mailbox

After a couple of weeks of nothing in the mailbox because I have been valiantly been trying to work through the backlog I've accumulated, the sky has opened up and it positively rained books this past week. And if we're being honest, I'm happy with that. It makes going to the mailbox so rewarding. :-) This past week's mailbox arrival:

Falling Home by Karen White came from Joy at Joan Schulhafer Publishing & Media Consulting.
There's something so appealing about stories where prodigal daughters return home, especially when that home is in the South and there's serious family strife that precipitated the flight away in the first place. I don't know why but that sort of premise just makes me rub my hands with glee.

Penelope's Daughter by Laurel Corona came from Erin at Berkley.
The Odyssey from the perspective of Penelope and Odysseus' daughter Xanthe? Think about just how delicious can this one can be!

On Maggie's Watch by Ann Wertz Garvin came from Caitlin at Berkley.
Suburban mom-to-be causes the neighborhood watch to go amok? It could happen in any neighborhood I've ever lived in and I'm eager to see how the book plays out (she says as she clicks on the latest e-mail update from her own neighborhood).

The Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate came from Gallery Books.
I know I've already mentioned my over the top fondness for books that have anything at all to do with food or cooking so this one set in a cooking school sounds completely and totally appealing to me.

The Tapestry of Love by Rosie Thornton came from the author.
I thoroughly enjoyed Thornton's last novel, Crossed Wires, and so am delighted to have my grubby mitts on this one about a woman who moves from England to the Cevennes Mountains in France after her divorce in an effort to follow her dream.

Winter Bloom by Tara Heavey came from Gallery Books.
This one arrived after the proposed tour date but I am looking forward to reading and reviewing this charming sounding novel about a mysterious, overgrown garden that draws very disparate people together.

Hollywood Ending by Lucie Simone came from Christelle at BookSparks PR.
A love story and Hollywood from the non-famous perspective. Definitely a different sort of premise and one that is intriguing to me!

The Naked Gardner by LB Gschwandtner came from the author thanks to Lisa and Crystal at BookSparks PR.
If the title wasn't enough to draw me in (and it was, if I'm being honest), the fact that this is about a woman who goes on a river rafting trip in order to find herself and make a decision about which direction to take her life would have sealed the deal.

As always, if you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Avis of She Reads and Reads as she is hosting this month's Mailbox Monday and Kristi at The Story Siren who hosts In My Mailbox and enjoy seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Saturday Shout-Out


On my travels through the blogging world, I find many books that pique my interest. I always add them to my wish list immediately but I tend to forget who deserves the blame credit for inspiring me to add them to my list (and to whom my husband would like to send the bill when I get around to actually buying them). So each Saturday I'm going to try and keep better track, link to my fellow book ferreter-outers (I know, not a word but useful nonetheless), and hopefully add to some of your wish lists too.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown was mentioned on Breaking the Spine.
What goodies have you added to your wish lists recently? Make your own list and leave a comment here so we can all see who has been a terrible influence inspiring you lately.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Running or oh my aching legs

So I haven't been out on the road as much as I should be this training go-round but I am actually exercising so I think I get a partial pass on this, right? I have been playing marathon tennis matches, sweating through spin classes, and am even contemplating the comic relief of joining the adult jazz class at R.'s dance studio just as long as they don't think there's a snowball's chance in hell that these old hips will ever be capable of doing the splits. But I am running some (and even some that I haven't mentioned on here). Yesterday and today I actually got to do my favorite kind of running: with a friend. Weird how I'm really an introvert but I like to have someone huffing and puffing alongside me so I can run my mouth for the bulk of the time. Just shows how out of character the whole running thing is for me!

So K. is also training for a half marathon although hers is in December so slightly before mine. And she's running quite a bit farther than my pitiful mile and a half. Of course, if she was going to go almost 4 miles, I had to also. This is why I need the distraction of running with another person. When I start whining to myself, I let myself stop. When I want to whine in company, I tamp it down thanks to the fear of being told at the end of the run: "You're a colossally whiny pain in the ass and I never want to run with you ever again." Now this doesn't mean that my running partners over time don't think "Shut the eff up and just run woman!" But I think I'd prefer to be ditched because I chat pleasantly rather than because I am a big fat whiny baby. With luck K. won't tire of my diarrhea of the mouth any time soon though!

While yesterday was longer than I have been going, it wasn't really too bad, highlighting the fact that I clearly mentally sabotage myself right, left, and center on most of my solitary runs. So when we decided to do the same thing today, I was feeling pretty confident. Big mistake! Day two of running more than twice the distance your body has been doing hurts a heck of a lot more than day one. Getting to the turn-around point was brutally long. If I didn't know better, I'd say they added to the path overnight so it was farther than yesterday. Could happen, right?

As long as those almost four miles felt today, the worst part of the run was the chafing. Apparently an additional twenty pounds means that things that didn't need to be Body Glided up for such a (realtively) short run before sure do now. My inner thighs are on fire. And boy howdy did my shower once I got home hurt like a son of a gun. I'm now walking like I just got off a horse. That should bode well for that dance class tonight. Can you use bowlegged and graceful in the same sentence or is that too much of a stretch? OK, you probably can't use my name and graceful in the same sentence without the qualifier of "not" without stretching the bounds of credulity so I'm guessing not. This nasty rub rash reminds me of a girl I knew in high school who told me once that if you were a virgin, your legs touched at the top of your thighs but if you weren't, they didn't touch. Did I mention that I was rather naively gullible back then? Three children later I think I've proved her wrong. Or maybe that only counts for people at healthy weights and there's hope that someday my thighs won't touch. I'm going to close my eyes and wish for that day to come very very hard right now.....

::blink blink::

::blink blink::

::blink blink::

Nope. Anne, wherever you are, sadly I think you got it wrong.

After our run, K. and I went to the Trader Joe's conveniently located directly across from the lovely Greenway we've been running. Oh how I love you Trader Joe's. But I have to say I'd love you more if you gave a small corner of your refrigerated space over to water. You could eliminate some of the cheeses, in particular the lovely ones that most mock my efforts at eating reasonably (ie not the entire block all at once). Anyway, we can't have been the only sweaty, smelly people who wandered in from the Greenway desperate for cold hydration. Room temp bottles just don't cut it when your body temperature is roughly the same as the inner core of the sun. On the plus side, I did decide to do my lunch time shopping while I was there and apparently I should shop for food immediately following a run more often because I made far healthier choices than I normally would. Hey, maybe I'll reach that magic thigh not touching place sooner than I think! I came away with a salad with Italian beans, edemame beans, grapes and electrolyte added water. I can feel the health oozing out of me right now. Oh wait, that's just the water running through me. And yes, I am well aware that I probably bought into silly marketing with the electrolyte added water (there was no flavoring or sugar or anything like that) but maybe it's real and I wouldn't want to miss out on all the benefits if so, right? I mean, I haven't forwarded any chain e-mails lately so I can't afford to press my luck too much.

For those of you who know my usual barf-filled travelogues, you'll be pleased to know that vomit seems to stalk me in all areas of my life, even running (and no, it wasn't me puking although there were moments where I felt like I might). The puppy had to go to the vet for her spay appointment today. As she gets motion sick if she's in the car for more than 10 minutes, she threw-up all over on our way to the vet's. Two saving graces: one, I was smart enough to put a towel down for this eventuality and two, she hadn't had food or water since the night before so there wasn't a lot to upchuck. However, being lazy, I decided to leave the towel in the car for her return trip (certainly she'd have another episode after anesthesia, right?). This is a terrible plan when you then park your car in the sun while you run for 40+ minutes. OK, this is probably *always* a terrible plan but it is even worse in the aforementioned situation. My van now smells positively vomitrocious and I suggest that all of you start buying stock in Febreeze given my stupidity quotient! I got to drive home with doggie stomach acid fumes, rank dance shoes (which seem to have found a permanent home in my car), and my own sweaty stench all wafting at me. Not much of an olfactory reward for being so good on the exercise front but not nearly as fattening as a cookie scent would have been, I guess.

Provided that my legs don't fall off in the intervening interval, I plan to go shake my thang tonight at that dance class. Tomorrow is spin class and then tennis. Thursday is a tennis match. And Friday will be either a tennis match or a clinic, one of the two. So it looks like it may be Saturday before I see the road again. I'm just hoping the chafing is healed if the thighs are still touching by then (hope springs eternal).

Review: The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

There's something about this book that calls out to make it into a film. I can't quite put my finger on it, not being a movie buff, but there's definitely something cinematic in its pages. If this book was more predictable, it would have the makings of a fantastic Hollywood movie. Its very lack of predictability definitely gives it great potential as an engrossing read despite the seemingly depressing premise. And Hollywood will either miss out on a thoughtful, strange, and convoluted film or they will change it beyond all recognition. The good news is that the book itself doesn't have to cater to a teenaged-boy demographic and therefore can keep all those interesting and oddball happenings and characters that populate its pages and capture readers.

Matt Prior is a former business reporter who left his fairly secure (well, as secure as newspapers get these days) job to start a website marrying the concept of finances and poetry. Not surprisingly, the venture failed, leading him back to the newspaper for a brief spell before being caught in a round of lay-offs. Now out of work and floundering in debt, he is about to lose his house; his wife is on the verge of an affair with her old high school boyfriend found again through the miracles of social networking; and his father is sunk in the quicksand of dementia.

Opening with Matt buying milk at the local 7/11 yet again so that his boys have milk for their cereal in the morning, the plotline immediately veers into the random and just bizarre enough to be believable realm. After buying the milk, Matt ends up driving two young stoners to a party and smoking marajuana for the first time in many years. As if his depression over finances isn't enough, Matt rashly decides that with marajuana as strong and wonderful as what he's just smoked, he can sell it himself to other former smokers looking for a toke of nostalgia and earn enough to keep from losing his house. In earning enough to keep his house, he won't have to share just what dire straits they are in with his wife and can therefore concentrate on ways to convince her to stay in their marriage and give him another chance. In convincing her to stay in their marriage, everything in life will get rosy again. Can you spot where in this line of reasoning he goes wrong?

The current financial crisis is a major backdrop to Matt's unconsidered scheming. It informs his weariness and beats him down at every opportunity, manifested so soul-destroyingly in a scene where Matt, desperate to stave off foreclosure, calls the latest in a string of banks to hold his mortgage, and fails to find his way through the labyrinthine automated call system to speak to an actual person. Then in a subsequent scene he reaches a live human being, is treated sympathetically, and is promptly disconnected without even the comfort of remembering which of the random extension numbers he dialed actually netted him the live bank employee. Frustration, desperation, and futility ooze from the narrative but they are couched in a black humor so as not to overwhelm the reader. Matt's bumbling, sweat-inducing foray into drug dealing is pretty funny. He's so out of place in the whole drug and party scene but then again, as a middle-aged husband, dad, son, and man, he's pretty out of place in his own life.

I really struggled to get into the book initially and I never did completely lose my judgemental feelings about Matt choosing to deal drugs but Walter did a good job making all the plot twists believable and convincing me that while I would never approve of Matt's choices, the imminent demise of your only known way of life and quite possibly your family's ultimate happiness as well can certainly make people consider things they never would have before. Not necessity but desperation making strange bedfellows and all that. Given that I am not much of a poetry reader, I know I missed many of the barely veiled homages to famous poets but those that I caught (William Carlos Williams and William Blake among them) were skillfully rendered and perfectly placed. I ended up liking the novel quite a bit more than I initially thought I would but it took a bit of perseverance in the beginning before I got into the sarcastic, satirical groove of the whole thing. An unusual, forthright look at the crisis driving so many people to the brink, read this if you want to know what happens when one man jumps off and sends his and his family's life spinning more out of control than it already is.

Make sure to check out Jess Walter's website for more information, including whether or not his tour will be coming to a city near you.


Thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fall Into Reading Challenge

I'm almost a month late joining in on the Fall Into Reading Challenge at Callapidder Days but when I realized I hadn't yet signed up for it, I scrambled to do so. The seasonal challenges are always high on my list since they serve to try and motivate me to finally finish the books that have been lurking around unfinished, often for months. The past few seasonal challenges have not been terribly successful for me but I am determined to actually get through the books on the list this time. As always, the only books on the list are those that are currently unfinished as I am typing this post. This fall that gives me a very short list of two quite long books:

1. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
2. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

And yes, the latter book has been on the past few seasonal lists and never has been finished. Here's hoping that this season will be the one to get me through it!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Hmmm. I reviewed three but read five. I don't think I'm going in the right direction on the read versus reviewed ratio. Oh well! At least something got reviewed this week. A step in the right direction anyway. This meme is hosted by Sheila at One Person's Journey Through a World of Books.

Books I completed this week are:

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
Before Lunch by Angela Thirkell
The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter
The Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez
Zero to Mastectomy by Jackie Fox

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
Great Lakes Nature by Mary Blocksma (this is going to take me all year as I read her year's entries on the corresponding days of this year)
Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
Destiny Unleashed by Sherryl Woods

Reviews posted this week:

A Slender Thread by Katharine Davis
Safe From the Sea by Peter Geye
The Miner's Daughter by Alice Duncan

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

Miss You Most of All by Elizabeth Bass
Room by Emma Donoghue
The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare by Arliss Ryan
The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye
The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi
Rainy Lake by Mary Rockcastle
Ill-Equipped for a Life of Sex by Jennifer Lehr
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow
Finding Marco by Kenneth Cancellara
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson
Sweet Dates in Basra by Jessica Jiji
The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
The Laments by George Hagen
Smart Girls Think Twice by Cathie Linz
Proust's Overcoat by Lorenza Foschini
Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Georgia's Kitchen by Jenny Nelson
A Slender Thread by Katharine Davis
Cooking With Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson
Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Sex, Drugs, and Gelfilte Fish edited by Shana Leibman
Daughter of the Queen of Sheba by Jackie Lyden
The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter by Holly Robinson
Daughter of the Bride by Francesca Segre
Chronicles of a Midlife Crisis by Robyn Harding
Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle
Half Empty by David Rakoff
She's Gone Country by Jane Porter
The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart
Huck by Janet Elder
Out of the Shadows by Joanne Rendell
I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee
Never Trust a Rogue by Olivia Drake
After the Fall by Kylie Ladd
Heart With Joy by Steve Cushman
The Lacemakers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri
The Known World by Edward Jones
Victory Over Japan by Ellen Gilchrist
Web of Love by Mary Balogh
Pure Dead Frozen by Debi Gliori
The Best American Travel Writing 2009 edited by Simon Winchester
The Concubine's Daughter by Pai Kit Fai
The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal
The MacKenzies: Cole by Ana Leigh
Dreaming in Chinese by Deborah Fallows
Agnews Grey by Anne Bronte
Running the Books by Avi Steinberg
The Time in Between by David Bergen
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
Before Lunch by Angela Thirkell
The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter
The Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez
Zero to Mastectomy by Jackie Fox

Saturday, October 16, 2010

World Party Challenge

I looked at doing this challenge last year but never did commit. And this year given how many outstanding challenges I still haven't completed, it seems counterproductive to add another one in at this stage but I'm going to do it anyway. Suzi at Packabook is taking over this challenge where participants each read a book or books set in the country of the month. Since I am joining a tad late, I have about two weeks to read something set in Afghanistan, October's country. Shouldn't be too hard to find something appropriate on my shelves! In any case, here's the rest of the 12 month challenge countries:

October – Afghanistsan
November – Turkey
December – Greece
January – Iran
February – England
March – Ireland
April – Jamaica
May – Pakistan
June – Russia
July – Spain
August – Thailand
September – India

I know I can find some great reads for all of these places. Want to join in? Just click the link above to Packabook and sign yourself up too!

Review: The Miner's Daughter by Alice Duncan

Many years ago I read another Alice Duncan romance and I enjoyed it quite a bit. She seems to focus on period and place settings that don't saturate the book market. Having had a happy experience with that past book, I immediately searched out as many of her backlist as I could. And then they sat in Tupperware bins unread for months and then years. But I was recently inspired to dig one out and see what I thought about it now. Unfortunately I found this one far less enjoyable than the one from years ago. I don't know if my tastes have changed or if I was always destined to feel distinctly disgruntled reading this one but it was definitely a disappointment.

Mari is a young woman who is desperately trying to hold onto the mine her recently deceased father so loved. As a matter of fact, he might have loved the Marigold Mine more than he loved Mari, naming her after it rather than vice versa. But she's obstinate about her less than ideal relationship with her father and she's not about to give up on his dream and the last tangible connection she has to him. Unfortunately the mine is not producing and she's deeply in debt. Salvation comes in the form of a fledgling Hollywood movie company. They think they've located an abandoned mine to use in their silent movie but in fact it is Mari's mine. The offer of enough money to pay of her debts and continue to live on for some time is very appealing although slightly less so when director Martin Tafft insists Mari herself play the leading actress. And the offer becomes downright fraught with danger when Tony Ewing, whose sketchily-moralled father is a major financial backer of the studio, arrives on the scene, immediately clashing with Mari. As Mari and Tony bicker and strike sparks off of each other, dodgy and strange things start to happen on the set, leading to suspicions of sabotage. Mari has to trust that this buttoned up Easterner is not out to get her and Tony must understand Mari's Western pluck and determination before they can even think about the deeper meaning of their feelings for one another.

Hollywood during its infancy, silent movies and the early years of the twentieth century are certainly under-represented in historical fiction, even historical romance which by rights should recognize easily the fertile ground therein. And Duncan does indeed offer interesting tidbits about the history of the film industry and the mechanics of early movies throughout the novel. But the characters inhabiting this time are silly and stereotypical. Their dialogue is stilted and sometimes even cringe-inducing. Thankfully, Mari's dog Tiny steals the storyline with his antics whenever he is on the page. His presence helps to distract the reader from the lack of real attraction between Mari and Tony. Just having the characters muse to themselves that they are attracted to the other is not enough to convince the reader and frankly, I thought that what they really felt for each other was an irritation rather than an attraction. Now I realize that I seem to be the only person who felt this way as the amazon reviews are all glowing so perhaps romance readers should read it and draw their own conclusions. But for my money, there are other romances out there with characters who are equal in appeal to the time and place in which the story is set and that's sadly just not the case here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dead Vegetable and Leftover Stew

I have been craving my Nan's vegetable stew. Given that she's been gone for more than 15 years now, this is a terribly unproductive craving. It's even less productive when I admit that I don't have her recipe. In truth she didn't have one. This stew was designed to clear the fridge of anything that was in danger of becoming unrecognizable or masquerading as a penicillin culture. So it was never the same twice. But it was always amazing. And with the temps finally dropping a bit, I really, really, really want this stew. Now I've admitted before that I follow recipe directions like a champ but am reluctant to forge my own path. But Nan's stew calls for just that courage. Plus, I have been a little more confident in my own skills since I read Jam Today by Tod Davies (read my review) last year and tried going commando then. (Full disclosure, I printed off the recipe I created at the time so I would have a copy of it to follow in future. The whole "old dog, new tricks" thing, ya know.) But I figure if I did it then, I can do it now and so off to the fridge I went.

Now my best advice to anyone interested in the concept of this soup is just to go for it and hope for the best. But in case you have some strange desire to recreate what I did, keep reading and good luck.

Pour opened container of chicken stock into a large pot. When chicken stock stops pouring because the rest is a solid mass, take container and throw away. Pour mold infested chicken stock down the drain and rinse pot out. Pour second opened container of chicken stock (don't ask!) into pot, this time being successful because second container has only been opened less than a week. Dump in two cans of stewed tomatoes, the type that no one else in the family will eat except you and that you really only bought because it was buy one get one free at the grocery store two weeks ago. Open freezer and pull out frozen broccoli that is just this side of freezer burned, approximately 5 cups. Dump into pot. Collect sad looking collection of vegetables and leftovers everyone is beyond tired of eating from the fridge: half a wrinkled red pepper, three ears of corn on the cobb which are now off limits to the kid with new braces, 2-3 stalks plus leaves and heart of limp, bendy celery, one perfectly good onion, about 1 cup of baby carrots whose bag has been left open and are therefore so dry they are merely a pale orange, a Tupperware container of herbed potatoes that weren't as good as you'd hoped (originally boiled and then baked with red onion, garlic, olive oil, basil and parsley), and roast beef billed by the recipe title as the best ever (obviously we disagreed or there wouldn't have been so much leftover) still swimming in it's au jus. Toss all of the above into the pot and stir. Take a last gander into the fridge for anything else and decide to add the seeds of one dessicated half of a pomegranate under the impression that they can do no harm and pomegranate juice is healthy for you. Boil and then turn down to a simmer until everything is either soft or rehydrated as the case may be. Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan on top if you have an oldish container of that in the fridge as well.

My Nan must have been looking down on me from above and smiling because you know what? The dead vegetable and leftover stew turned out pretty darn tasty. I would probably skip the pomegranate seeds next time since they don't add anything and contribute a very disconcerting texture when they have been heated. But given that Nan's one big failure with this one was the time she tossed in some green bologna, I figure a slightly wonky texture on occasional spoonfuls is small potatoes. Of course, the fridge is mostly cleaned out (I decided to pass on throwing the cucumbers in sour cream into the pot, deciding discretion was the better part of valor) but this has now generated an enormous potful of stew. So my next question is: Does re-cooking these things re-start their eventual mold development date? Because if not, the freezer's about to look really full again!

This post was written as a part of Beth Fish Read's Weekend Cooking meme in which I contribute very sporadically. Feel free to join in or just to surf through other folks' contributions. They seem more competent in kitchen matters than I do (and less inclined to use questionable ingredients too).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review: Safe From the Sea by Peter Geye

Sometimes a book unexpectedly crosses your path and it turns out to be so incredibly fantastic you can't help suggesting it to everyone that you know. This is such a book for me. You like cookbooks? Read this one! You like mysteries? Read this one! You hate to read? Don't care; read this one! And before we go any further, I should say that this is neither a cookbook nor a mystery. There is no food in it, at least not that I recall. And there is no mystery either. You know from the beginning the outcome of the maritime disaster. But the prose and the atmospheric setting and the characters and just everything are so amazingly wrought that I can't stop raving.

Noah has been estranged from his father for five years when he gets a taciturn call asking him to come and help his father ready the cabin for the winter, no apology, no bridging of the estrangement, no further information. Somehow he knows that he cannot and should not say no despite the fact that Noah and his wife are trying and not succeeding at having a baby which is casting a shadow over their marriage, a shadow that this seperation might not be able to overcome. And yet Olaf's summons must be heeded.

Olaf is dying and while he wants Noah to care for him in his last weeks, he is also looking to atone, not only for being one of only three survivors from the epic shipwreck of the ore freighter Ragnarok, but also for the shipwreck of his life and family. As Noah helps his father shore up the cabin against the heavy, cold northern Minnestoa winter, he also learns the story of the wreck of the Ragnarok, not as the newspapers reported it but from the perspective of his father. And he comes to understand who his father is, the man that he was capable of being, and the reason for the gulf between that idealized, perhaps longed-for father and the actual father of his childhood. Their relationship is gruff and silent and loaded with portents and recrimination and the weeks of shoring up the cabin don't change that. But the depth of emotion and the conflict of father and son is riveting throughout the surreal narration.

Geye's writing in this first novel is superb and even sublime. The inferno raging below the frozen, flexing decks invokes the imagery of Hell and the forsaken, an apt allegory for Olaf's life. It is an exquisite and terrifying picture of the wreck which continues wreaking devastation throughout both Olaf and Noah's lives many years after the actual sinking of the ship. The clipped dialogue and the portrayal of the area is spot on, easily evoking the true to life culture and reverence surrounding shipwrecks found throughout the Great Lakes region. Everything about the novel was captivating to me, from the father-son dynamics to the running of the freighters. And the theme of events, certainly catastrophic events but also simple ones, that forever change lives and relationships is monumental and artfully handled. I can't say it enough: read this book and revel in its beauty.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rosy Thornton's The Tapestry of Love

I just love it when I have advance information. And when I have advance information about a book that I'm definitely going to want to read, life is even better. Now I'm sure some of you could not care less about what makes me giddy like a school girl but in this case, you should be rubbing your hands together in anticipation because I have something for all of you too in conjunction with tomorrow's (or is it already today in the UK?) release of Rosy Thornton's newest novel The Tapestry of Love in paperback.

Shamelessly stolen from Rosy's website: A rural idyll: that's what Catherine Parkstone is seeking when she sells her house in England and moves to a tiny hamlet in the CĂ©vennes mountains. Divorced and with her children grown, she is free to make a new start, and set up in business as a seamstress. But this is a harsh and lonely place when you're no longer just on holiday, and Catherine finds herself with unexpected battles to fight. French bureaucracy, the mountain weather, the reserve of her neighbours - and most unsettling of all, her own fascination with the intriguing Patrick Castagnol.

The Tapestry of Love is the story of how a woman falls in love with a place and its people: a portrait of landscape, a community and a fragile way of life.


Doesn't this sound phenomenal? I read and thoroughly enjoyed her wonderful Crossed Wires (read my review) last year and am looking forward to this new book as well. For all those of you who comment here (except those of you who only post weird spam I have to delete), Rosy has sent along a recipe sheet of Cevennes cuisine that I can fire off to your in-boxes just as soon as I determine that you have no interest in selling me an Eastern European mail order bride who may or may not have funds she'd like to transfer to my account. Since the book is set in the Cevennes mountains in France, this cuisine plays a large part in the novel. What an inspired idea! Now I'm looking forward to reading the book and tasting the food too. To sweeten the pot, in addition to Rosy's recipe sheet, I'm happy to submit the e-mail addresses of the first ten people who comment to The Book Depository (worldwide free shipping, don't cha know) so you will get a 10% off voucher you can use to purchase The Tapestry of Love. You'd better get commenting!

Review: A Slender Thread by Katharine Davis

I don't always come up with the proper retort when I am in a situation but I go home and perfect my rapier wit where no one can hear me or I write it down here and bore all two of my readers. But I am blessed to be able to find the words, even if they come a day late and a dollar short. Not so for all people; some people actually lose their ability to speak and understand words. This is horrible to me and I can imagine very little worse than losing language. The loss of this ability to communicate is at the heart of Davis' new novel. Margot has always relied on older sister Lacey's guidance, so when Lacey is diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, it alters Margot's life and outlook on everything. Lacey shepherded Margot from childhood into adulthood and now Margot feels she needs to pick up the pieces in Lacey's life, including with her husband and almost grown children, in view of this devastating diagnosis.

Set mainly in the present, when all involved are digesting what the future holds, the book also offers flashbacks to Margot and Lacey's childhoods and teen years in order to build the foundation of this incredibly close sisterly bond. And while Davis has done a nice job creating the sisters and their history, the strength of the book lies in the present narration where life goes on amidst the uncertainty and stress of Lacey's terrible life sentence. Husband Alex feels shut out of Lacey's head even though he still loves her as much as he ever has and so he alternately retreats into work and threatens to abandon the work that takes him too far away for too long. Lacey and Alex's twin daughters sense the tension and distress swirling around their house as they make college plans but they are shut out of the information about their mother's deteriorating condition, channeling their own unease in either small scale rebellion or clinging behaviour. And Margot grows distant from her long time live-in love as she becomes more entwined in Lacey's life.

But the book is not only about the effect of a life shattering illness on both the person stricken and all of their loved ones, it is also an examination of the bonds between sisters. Margot and Lacey shared so much as children and while they stayed close as adults, their lives diverged in many ways. The love and caring between them has stayed strong though and it is perhaps this very strength of connection that leads to so much frustration and strain when the boundaries of their individual lives overlap too extensively. How much does one sister owe another? And how can they maintain individual lives in light of these health changes?

The characters in the novel are sympathetic and readers will find themselves rooting for both Margot and Lacey to sort themselves out as we know they should, shaking our heads as they continue stubbornly on wrong paths, and cheering as they find the autonomy they both need in the face of serious illness. The sisters are the most well-realized of the characters but the bafflement and pain of the other characters is evident whenever they are on the page as well. Davis has drawn an affecting domestic drama eminently suitable for book clubs. Making Lacey a weaver and Margot a former painter living with a successful artist adds a visual arts dimension that will also appeal to many. I enjoyed this one although I must admit that now when I struggle to find a word, I do have a small flash of panic attached. I guess the fact that I fear living Lacey's sentence means this was indeed a successful novel.

Thanks to Angela from Penguin for providing me with a copy of the book for review.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Body 2, Head 0

Instead of mind over matter, my running career seems to consist of faking out my whiny brain, trying to shut down the negative chatter, and just continuing to put one foot in front of the other in a relatively straight line (if not watched carefully, I am like a horse given her head--always turning back to the home stable). Today was a win. I actually forced myself out there and took a run. And I really do mean forced. I did not want to go. I knew I should go. I knew I really needed to go. But I did not want to see the pavement any closer than from the window as I lounged on the couch with a book. Do you see what I am up against mentally with this running thing?! And yet the head lost today because I got out there despite my internal dialogue. Of course, I had to listen to myself trying to defeat me most of the way through the run. On the plus side, by the end of the run, the voices in my head were silent and I didn't feel as badly as I have the past few times out. Signs of improvement I think. Maybe the next time this happens I can actually try running a bit farther instead of stopping. This time though, I was tired of pushing my glasses up my nose and the call of the barking dogs left at home reeled me in.

I don't know how people who wear glasses and not contacts do it. My eyes have been red and itchy and since I was uncertain if I have allergies (never have until I moved here) or if I was suffering from pink eye, I haven't been wearing my contacts. So the run meant that either I ran with glasses or I ran blind. And I mean truly blind. Having had a terrible foot injury when I was able to see and being a klutz of the first degree, I decided that running blind was one of my dumber considerations. And that's going some! So I left my glasses on and plugged away. When the doggoned things weren't slipping down my nose, they were fogging up turning them into a whole new kind of road hazard. I'm going to have to go back to thinking about running blind (still not my best idea) or concede allergies and just put the contacts in regardless.

Other than the glasses thing, the run itself was uneventful. Same route as usual. Same huffing and puffing as usual. Same internal negotiations about when I can stop running as usual. Same jiggly bits as usual (you'd think this would be helping the weight loss plan but it's not). I did learn something new post run though. I learned that if you putz around in your yucky, smelly running clothes long enough for the too small sports bra to dry, it is significantly easier to peel off than when it is oozing sweat. You're welcome for that mental image. :-) And with that bit of worthwhile advice, here's hoping that the body beats the head into submission some more this week and the number of times I run goes up (even if I stop posting about each and every one).

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at One Person's Journey Through a World of Books.

Books I completed this week are:

The MacKenzies: Cole by Ana Leigh
Dreaming in Chinese by Deborah Fallows
Agnews Grey by Anne Bronte
Running the Books by Avi Steinberg
The Time in Between by David Bergen

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
Great Lakes Nature by Mary Blocksma (this is going to take me all year as I read her year's entries on the corresponding days of this year)
Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

Reviews posted this week:

Not one daggummed thing!

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

Safe From the Sea by Peter Geye
The Miner's Daughter by Alice Duncan
Miss You Most of All by Elizabeth Bass
Room by Emma Donoghue
The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare by Arliss Ryan
The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye
The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi
Rainy Lake by Mary Rockcastle
Ill-Equipped for a Life of Sex by Jennifer Lehr
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow
Finding Marco by Kenneth Cancellara
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson
Sweet Dates in Basra by Jessica Jiji
The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
The Laments by George Hagen
Smart Girls Think Twice by Cathie Linz
Proust's Overcoat by Lorenza Foschini
Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Georgia's Kitchen by Jenny Nelson
A Slender Thread by Katharine Davis
Cooking With Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson
Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Sex, Drugs, and Gelfilte Fish edited by Shana Leibman
Daughter of the Queen of Sheba by Jackie Lyden
The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter by Holly Robinson
Daughter of the Bride by Francesca Segre
Chronicles of a Midlife Crisis by Robyn Harding
Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle
Half Empty by David Rakoff
She's Gone Country by Jane Porter
The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart
Huck by Janet Elder
Out of the Shadows by Joanne Rendell
I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee
Never Trust a Rogue by Olivia Drake
After the Fall by Kylie Ladd
Heart With Joy by Steve Cushman
The Lacemakers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri
The Known World by Edward Jones
Victory Over Japan by Ellen Gilchrist
Web of Love by Mary Balogh
Pure Dead Frozen by Debi Gliori
The Best American Travel Writing 2009 edited by Simon Winchester
The Concubine's Daughter by Pai Kit Fai
The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal
The MacKenzies: Cole by Ana Leigh
Dreaming in Chinese by Deborah Fallows
Agnews Grey by Anne Bronte
Running the Books by Avi Steinberg
The Time in Between by David Bergen

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.
For me, I can't wait to read: The Winter of Our Disconnect by Susan Maushart. The book is being released by Tarcher on January 20, 2011. The publisher's site reads:

Many families today are governed by a myriad of technological devices. As they scramble to get ready in the mornings, hardly a word is spoken as the kids text their way out the door and their parents jockey between an overwhelming number of new emails and voicemails.

Such was life for journalist, radio host and mother Susan Maushart. But when she realized that she couldn’t go to the bathroom without her iPhone, she knew something had to change (“I was the Amy Winehouse of Windows Live Messenger. Was it time to check myself in to rehab?”). In The Winter of Our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (And a Mother Who Sleeps with Her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale, Maushart details how her family survived – and even thrived – without technology for six months.

Before undergoing what she and her kids came to call “The Experiment,” Maushart had become increasingly appalled by the way her children, aged 18, 15 and 14, inhabited media: “exactly as fish inhabited a pond – gracefully, unblinkingly and utterly without knowledge of the alternatives.” So when she first pulled the plug on her family’s armory of electronic weaponry, Maushart and her family weren’t sure how to adjust.

But within a matter of weeks, the single mom was astonished to discover that they were actually having meaningful discussions at the dinner table. And before “The Experiment” was all said and done, her daughter rediscovered sleep; her son rediscovered his saxophone; and Maushart rediscovered her relationships with all three of her children.

Insightful and deliciously witty, The Winter of our Disconenct reveals how technology, though often necessary for our lives and work, can prevent us from nurturing our most important relationships. Using the most recent research to support her personal experience, Maushart shows how having fewer tools to communicate with can actually help us to communicate more.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Exercise and all that fun stuff

So today was training day 3. Yes, I know I started last Wednesday (and yes, today was garbage day too but apparently I timed it correctly as there was no truck in evidence today and I only had to smell unpleasantness from the cans too full to close, but I digress) which means I rested more days than I ran but I did also have a day with a tennis match in there too. And seeing as we lost in a 3 set tie breaker, I'm willing to fudge it a little and say that it partially counts as an exercise day. Of course, we lost because of a combination of lack of conditioning on my part and unforced errors (also sadly mainly attributable to me thanks to the aforementioned lack of conditioning) so the day just reinforced the need for me to be out on the road putting in the mile(s). And in case I needed additional reinforcements, only one of my very cute tennis skirts still fits me. Worse yet, today's sports bra (no, I didn't run *or* do laundry this weekend but I did dress up like Gene Simmons in KISS so I was more productive than you thought, no?) no longer contains all it was designed to contain so I look like I'm smuggling very lumpy cantalopes in my bra. And you know any time you start comparing a part of your anatomy to rotten fruit, things have gotten out of hand. So I was back out on the road today.

The weather was perfect for running with only a mild breeze. I felt phenomenal. It was almost like being in shape again. Then I turned the first corner and hit the first hill. My short lived dream of feeling good when I run right now died a miserable death. The women walking behind me whom I had just passed were dangerously close to overtaking me (how mortifying would that be?) so I powered up the hill and lost them. OK, they made a different turn than I did but it sounds like I actually put on a burst of speed if I say it the other way. I started feeling reasonably decent again at the halfway point but was back into self-negotiation mode by the time I hit a mile. I was also breathing like I have emphysema and not interested in swallowing my own spit by that point. Yes, I must have made a charming sight: dumpy brunette chugging down the road hawking loogies about every fourth foot fall. My neighbors who work have no idea the spectacle they're missing. I did manage to run all the way home again instead of stopping short and once at my driveway, I tried to take my pulse. Nevermind that I had no watch to time it with. It was clear that the poor overworked heart was pumping somewhere between cardio workout and heart attack level, probably leaning closer to heart attack.

Now I'm feeling good that I went out and did it. Tomorrow is a spin class and Thursday is another tennis match. Friday could be more tennis but I'm sure I'll squeeze in some more running soon. I have to really since I'm behind the training schedule for the half in January. Good news though, my sister is behind too and says she thinks she'll have to walk some of it. Not that I believe her for one moment especially since she probably walks faster than I run. But I'm on it now.

Monday, October 4, 2010

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at One Person's Journey Through a World of Books.

Books I completed this week are:

Victory Over Japan by Ellen Gilchrist
Web of Love by Mary Balogh
Pure Dead Frozen by Debi Gliori
The Best American Travel Writing 2009 edited by Simon Winchester
The Concubine's Daughter by Pai Kit Fai
The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
Great Lakes Nature by Mary Blocksma (this is going to take me all year as I read her year's entries on the corresponding days of this year)
Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal

Reviews posted this week:

Honolulu by Alan Brennert

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

Safe From the Sea by Peter Geye
The Miner's Daughter by Alice Duncan
Miss You Most of All by Elizabeth Bass
Room by Emma Donoghue
The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare by Arliss Ryan
The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye
The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi
Rainy Lake by Mary Rockcastle
Ill-Equipped for a Life of Sex by Jennifer Lehr
The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow
Finding Marco by Kenneth Cancellara
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson
Sweet Dates in Basra by Jessica Jiji
The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
The Laments by George Hagen
Smart Girls Think Twice by Cathie Linz
Proust's Overcoat by Lorenza Foschini
Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Georgia's Kitchen by Jenny Nelson
A Slender Thread by Katharine Davis
Cooking With Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson
Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Sex, Drugs, and Gelfilte Fish edited by Shana Leibman
Daughter of the Queen of Sheba by Jackie Lyden
The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter by Holly Robinson
Daughter of the Bride by Francesca Segre
Chronicles of a Midlife Crisis by Robyn Harding
Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle
Half Empty by David Rakoff
She's Gone Country by Jane Porter
The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart
Huck by Janet Elder
Out of the Shadows by Joanne Rendell
I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee
Never Trust a Rogue by Olivia Drake
After the Fall by Kylie Ladd
Heart With Joy by Steve Cushman
The Lacemakers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri
The Known World by Edward Jones
Victory Over Japan by Ellen Gilchrist
Web of Love by Mary Balogh
Pure Dead Frozen by Debi Gliori
The Best American Travel Writing 2009 edited by Simon Winchester
The Concubine's Daughter by Pai Kit Fai
The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Interview with Katharine Davis, author of A Slender Thread

A big welcome today to Katharine Davis, author of East Hope, Capturing Paris, and her latest book, A Slender Thread. Katharine was a good sport about answering my questions:

Which book or books are on your bedside table right now?

Tinkers, by Paul Harding. I read it early in the summer but it’s a must re-read. I just finished Father of the Rain, by Lily King which left me breathless –a truly gripping story. I’m also dipping in and out of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View because I’m working on a novel that takes place in Florence.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I can’t remember anything about it now but I remember reading it over and over.

What book would you most want to read again for the first time?

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. It was the first adult book I remember reading and has one of the greatest first lines in fiction “Last night I dreamt I was at Manderly” or something close to that. That novel turned me into a reader.

How did you get started writing?

I’ve always been a huge reader and writers were the rock stars of my world. I’d had a career teaching French, raised two children, and at the age of 50 decided to “become” a writer- if not then, when? I quickly learned that I loved to write and stopped worrying about “being a writer.” So, I’m an extremely late bloomer and I do get a little cranky reading those lists of the brilliant ones under forty! If you love writing, it’s never too late.

If you heard someone describing your books (or just the latest book) to a friend out in public, how would you most like to hear them describe them/it?

I would love to hear, “A Slender Thread was an amazing book. I can’t imagine how Lacey survived. You just have to read it.”

What's the coolest thing that's happened to you since becoming a published author?

I think getting fan emails from strangers. I am always delighted to hear good things from readers- I love knowing my books are being read and enjoyed.

What was the first thing you did when you heard that you were going to be published?

I called my husband, my children, and all my friends. I was so excited. Then I worried that “they” would change their mind. Had I really heard this correctly?

Tell us three interesting or offbeat but true things about yourself.

I learned to drive in Switzerland and my teacher wore a lab coat and swore at me in German. I hate pigeons and cross the street if a group of them are in my path. I never smoked because I hate lighting those little paper matches.

If you couldn’t be an author, what profession would you choose and why?

I’d love to be a country singer and tell sad love stories in perfect harmony. In reality I’m not at all musical, can’t sing, or play an instrument. Yet, I think it would be a thrill to sing outside if front of a huge audience under a starlit sky. This will never happen!

What’s the hardest thing about writing, besides having to answer goofy interview questions like these?

Keeping the faith. Can I get the story that’s growing inside my head onto the page and make it live for a reader? Can I stay with it month after month, year after year? The most difficult thing is believing in myself and not giving up.

Are you working on something new now? If so, give us a teaser for it.

I’ve started a novel that takes place in Florence, Italy in 1969. Three women, aged 21, 51, and 81 are all at the same Pensione and their lives intersect in unexpected ways. This summer I’m cooking Italian, playing Italian language CD’s in my car, and of course I hope to visit Florence for necessary research.

Be sure to check out Katharine Davis' website for more information about the book and for her Thursday Thoughts Blog.

Friday, October 1, 2010

It's National Reading Group Month!

October is a busy month. It's National Breast Cancer Awareness month. It's the lead up to Halloween. And best of all for those of us who are book obsessed, it is National Reading Group month. And that means that the Women's National Book Association has published it's annual list of Great Group Reads. Once again I was lucky enough to be on the panel that selected these wonderful books. They're books to read and discuss with others. They'll make you think and argue and laugh. Hopefully they will inspire great discussions in book groups, in stores, on the bus, and on street corners. I've read them all (duh!) so I have my favorites among them (no one but my mom can get that info from me though, sorry). Now I'm challenging you to read them and let me know what your favorite or favorites are. And I won't even give you a time limit to do it in, especially not the insanely abbreviated time limit in which I had to read them!

Here's the official list of the lucky thirteen in the order they appear on the official page which also has blurbs and links to other resources:

Blame by Michelle Huneven
The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle
Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship by Cathie Beck
Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monninger
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
The Queen of Palmyra by Minrose Gwin
Room by Emma Donoghue
Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye
Up from the Blue by Susan Henderson

Now get reading!

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