Cariola's 2023 Reading

KeskusteluClub Read 2023

Liity LibraryThingin jäseneksi, niin voit kirjoittaa viestin.

Cariola's 2023 Reading

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 20, 9:52 am

I'm finally getting around to posting a thread topper. Instead of a theme, I decided to go with a genre this year, the miniature portrait. These were extremely popular in the sixteenth, seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. As can be seen here, they were often set in intricate, bejeweled gold frames. Queen Elizabeth was known to wear miniatures of her favorites pinned to her clothing. This one, known as The Drake Jewel, was created by Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), a goldsmith and jeweler who perfected the art form. It was gifted to the queen by her favorite, Sir Francis Drake. The phoenix depicted on the inside cover was a popular icon of Elizabeth. The second picture shows the opposite side of the piece, a portrait of a black ruler and his consort carved into sardonyx. It is possible that this is meant to remind the queen of Drake's many expeditions on her behalf.

Best of 2022:
Foster by Claire Keegan
Horse by Geraldine Brooks
The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Still Life by Sarah Winman
The Good Wife of Bath by Karen Brooks
Life Without Children by Roddy Doyle
Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung
The Women of Troy by Pat Barker
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams
Jeoffry: The Poet's Cat by Oliver Soden

Best of 2023 (so far):
The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
This Other Eden by Paul Harding
Music for Wartime: Stories by Rebecca Makkai
Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
The Fell by Sarah Moss
This House Is on Fire by Rachel Beanland
Corrag by Susan Fletcher
Pandora by Susan Stokes-Chapman

Currently Reading:

Tales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich
The Cloisters by Katy Hays
Spare by Prince Harry The Duke of Sussex
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Corrag by Susan Fletcher
A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein

The Circus Train by Amita Parikh

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro
Madly, Deeply: The Alan Rickman Diaries
Music for Wartime: Stories by Rebecca Makkai
Pandora by Susan Stokes-Chapman

The Wife of Willesden by Zadie Smith

Wasted the entire month on two books I didn't finish:
Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano
I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
The House Is on Fire by Rachel Beanland
The Fell by Sarah Moss

This Other Eden by Paul Harding

The Invisible Hour by Alice Hoffman

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 19, 12:52 pm

Tales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich

Depending on how you looks at it, Jack Mauser hasn't been lucky in love (or in much else, or that matter): he has been married five times. He met his first wife, June, in a bar and asked her to marry him that same night. Following an argument, June walked off into a snowstorm. It's hard to say whether she got lost or committed suicide, but Jack is haunted by the fact that he didn't follow her. Eleanor was an emotionally fragile self-proclaimed scholar who focused on saints and religious ecstasy and eventually retreated into a convent to conduct research and her own spirituality. He met his third wife, a dentist named Candace, when a toothache hit and dental reconstruction ensued. As with June, Jack met his fourth and much younger wife, Marliss, in a bar, where she was not a customer but a server. She was to become the mother of his only child. Dot, Jack's last wife, just may have been a bigamist, albeit unknowingly. Her husband was serving jail time, escaped, and disappeared following a small plane crash.

The first half of the book details events in Jack's life and the bare bones of each marriage. He started out working on his uncle's sunflower seed farm but eventually veered into construction, investing in a rather shady scheme to build a subdivision. He has had almost as much trouble with the law as with his wives. But the story really kicks off after his wives attend his funeral (even though there is no body) and they become stranded together, along with a hitchhiker, in a car in the middle of a dangerous North Dakota snow storm. We've heard Jack's side of the story; now we are about to hear theirs. And despite many disappointments, each woman still loves Jack in her own way.

There's a lot more to the story (or "tales," as the title calls them), but I'll leave all the details and resolutions for you to discover. As usual, Erdrich's characters are all Native Americans, and a few that are familiar from her earlier books reappear. Overall, I enjoyed the novel, which at times was sad but more often very funny. My only criticism is that it seemed unnecessarily long, and my attention often wandered. But I'm glad I didn't give up on Tales of Burning Love.

tammikuu 15, 8:30 pm

I'm glad you're here for another year, Deborah.

tammikuu 16, 12:12 am

Welcome back for 2023, Deborah. Enjoyed your review.

tammikuu 16, 1:55 pm

Hi Deborah, Were your ears burning? I was visiting with Lois/avaland this weekend, and your name came us as a long-time CR member.

tammikuu 17, 1:43 pm

>2 Cariola: I'm yet to read my first book by Louise Erdrich. This one could be a candidate (if it's ever translated to French... All the books from her I consider reading are either not translated or sold out, how frustrating!).

tammikuu 18, 11:48 am

Glad to see you here again, Deborah. Will stop in from time to time.

>5 labfs39: Shhhh! Don't tell her that.... (all good)

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 19, 12:57 pm

The Cloisters by Katy Hays

One of my book groups recently asked us to post a book we considered to be overrated. I listed 'Where the Crawdads Sing,' but 'The Cloisters' is definitely a contender. It's not particularly well written, has a very predictable plot and stereotypical characters, and relies on multiple coincidences. I was intrigued by the primary setting, the famous medieval cloister transported to New York, and wanted to see what the author would do with it. Unfortunately, it devolved into fantasies about the occult (tarot cards) and the main character, a disadvantaged but smart young woman who was unpopular in high school, crushing on a beautiful, privileged rich girl and a stoner gardener/rock musician/bartender/would-be playwright. You might like it, but it definitely wasn't for me.

tammikuu 19, 12:56 pm

Thanks for the welcome back, everyone! I'll definitely be checking in on everyone's reading.

>6 raton-liseur: I hope you can find a translation of Erdrich. Her books are a mixed bag but good more often than not. I enjoyed The Sentence last year.

>5 labfs39: >7 avaland: Maybe I picked up your vibes, since I started my new thread over the weekend!

tammikuu 20, 11:16 pm

>8 Cariola: Aw, that's too bad—the Cloisters is one of my closest museums and my go-to when I need a little Medieval fix, and I had hopes for that one. I may give it a shot just to see, but that plot doesn't sound amazing.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 25, 12:11 am

Spare by Prince Harry the Duke of Sussex

People seem to either love or hate the British royal family. I'm somewhere in the middle. On one hand, it's hard to relate to those living such a privileged life; on the other, it's hard not to empathize with the lack of privacy and affection and not having the right to lead one's own path. The rigid rules of being a royal and the control exerted by "the courtiers" would be hard for anyone to live with. We heard plenty about "the grey men" from Harry's mother Diana, and many of the same complaints arise in his memoir. And, of course, both suffered the relentless pursuit of the paparazzi, whom many, including Harry, blame for is mother's death. Even more than Camilla or the grey men, the press and the paparazzi are the prime villains in his story.

If you can get past the money, the fame, and the perks and put yourself in Harry's shoes, you might just find yourself on his side. Think how it would feel to have every move you make broadcast, dissected and distorted by the press. Think how it would feel to be in love, to have to ask your family (including the queen) if your loved one was sufficiently acceptable, and to have every aspect of your wedding dictated by "the rules," down to whether you can keep your beard or your bride can wear a veil. Think how it would feel to have your phone tapped and your private conversations turned into salacious sound bites, or to know that a family member was leaking details about your personal life to the press. I'm very glad that I'm not in those royal shoes.

The main criticism of Harry's book seems to be that he is "disloyal" to the family in telling his side of the story. If you think that keeping a stiff upper lip and bending to all of the petty rules, even when they are destroying you and the ones you love most, is what "loyalty" means, well, don't read this book. It's pretty sad to think that the US provided a haven for Harry and his young family. We have our gossip rags here, but the American press is far less relentless in pursuing celebrities like prey, and apparently our laws offer better protection against tabloid lies. Harry says many times in the book and in the interviews he has given that he felt it was important to speak his truth and stop playing the impossible role that his birth determined for him. I think that's rather brave, and while there is undoubtedly a bit of exaggeration (probably due to the level of hurt and disappointment he experienced), for the most part, it is, indeed, his truth. You may not like it, you may not want to believe it all, but there it is.

I enjoyed listening to the book on audio and learned a good deal about the inner workings of the monarchy and the enormous control it exerts over its members.

tammikuu 25, 11:47 am

>11 Cariola: I didn’t really have any interest in reading this book, Deborah, but your comments have me thinking maybe I could listen to the audio version.

tammikuu 25, 1:07 pm

>12 NanaCC: Give it a shot. He's a very good reader of his own story.

tammikuu 25, 1:44 pm

>11 Cariola: I enjoyed your review and spending a moment imagining his life.

tammikuu 29, 4:27 pm

>11 Cariola: I like your first paragraph... hits the proverbial nail on the head.... :-)

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 9, 4:31 pm

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

I gave up on this one after over 350 pages. With that kind of investment, I would usually stick it out for the next 200, but I just couldn't bear the thought of losing more hours to a book that I already wanted to throw at the wall. It started out as a very sad but interesting story about a boy in an impoverished Appalachian coal town who is later orphaned and goes through horrors in the foster care system. When his situation improved, the book got unbelievably boring. Big emphasis on high school football, drinking, cars, getting stoned, teenage rivalries and other things that I couldn't care less about (especially the football). Lots of stereotypes and sloppy anachronisms, and I'm rarely a fan of coming-of-age stories anyway. At this point, I didn't care how it all turned out. I probably shouldn't be counting it as a book that I read, but after suffering through all that, I'm counting it. Now to go get that taste out of my mouth . . .

helmikuu 2, 9:12 am

>16 Cariola: Oh dear, this book got such good reviews ! I do have it but will read it later in the year.

helmikuu 2, 9:20 am

Count it as a book you suffered through? If i can base too much on the one Kingsolver novel i’ve read, it seems she has a habit of getting somethings right, but not everything.

helmikuu 2, 5:41 pm

>16 Cariola: Ugh. That's my book club's pick for February and I was already wary because I haven't liked Kingsolver's more recent books at all.

helmikuu 9, 4:33 pm

>17 torontoc: It has also gotten some really bad reviews! Hope it isn't this awful for you.

>18 dchaikin: Yep, I definitely suffered and just wanted the pain to STOP!

>19 RidgewayGirl: Sorry, but it was godawful. A lot of readers fell for it, though, so your book club might have an interesting discussion. I have no desire to read anything else by Kingsolver.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 25, 2:27 pm

Corrag by Susan Fletcher

I've had this one sitting on the shelf for years and finally picked it up. It's based on a true piece of Scottish history. If you're an Outlander fan or a history buff, you know about the Jacobite uprising (1689-92). The Highlanders supported keeping James Stuart, a Catholic, on the English throne and opposed the accession of William of Orange, a Dutch Protestant. When William became king, he forced the clans to sign an oath of loyalty. The chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe delayed in agreeing to sign the oath, and when he arrived on January 1, the day of the deadline, there was no magistrate to administer the oath until January 6. The MacDonalds expected that the reason for the delay would be accepted. William sent 100 redcoats into the Highlands, who were quartered by their welcoming Scottish hosts. A week later, the order came to begin the slaughter of the clan as punishment, even though the oath had been signed and the chief believed it would protect their families and their way of life. The chief, 33 other men, two women and two children were killed. The survivors fled deeper into the highlands, where many died of starvation and exposure.

The title character of Corrag is a young English girl who we find imprisoned in a Scottish tollbooth as the novel begins. She has been accused of being a witch and is awaiting execution by fire. She is also suspected of foreseeing the massacre and sounding the alarm, giving some MacDonalds time to flee. She is visited in jail by a Mr. Leslie, an Irish reverend who is hoping to learn something that might help the Jacobite cause. His visits with Corrag, the story she tells him of her life, and his letters home to his wife form the framework of the novel. As a religious man, he is at first repelled by this tiny, filthy supposed companion of Satan, but as he learns more about the hardships she has faced, the reason she fled to the Scottish Highlands, her deep love of the rugged landscape of Glencoe, and her acceptance by the locals, he begins to be won over.

The massacre occurs near the end of Corrag's story--and it is definitely her story, not one of war and politics. She's a very young girl when she heeds her mother's warning to "ride north and west," ending up in Glencoe, which soon becomes the home of her heart. I enjoyed reading about the natural world, her gift for healing, the characters she meets, and the way she was slowly accepted into the community. As you would expect, there's a bit of a love story woven in as well.

Corrag is based on a real woman, but she has become the stuff of folklore. If you want to read more about her, the Glencoe Museum has a nice little piece on her that you can find here:

helmikuu 25, 6:46 pm

>20 Cariola: The book club meets this Tuesday and I didn't read the book. This year, I'm really trying not to read anything out of obligation.

>21 Cariola: Making note of this one. It looks like one I would enjoy.

helmikuu 25, 6:52 pm

>22 RidgewayGirl: I've stopped feeling that I "owe it to the author" to finish a book I'm not enjoying. Maybe one reason I/m not in a book club is that I don't want to read something I don't care about.

If you give Corrag a try, you might enjoy it.

maaliskuu 1, 11:41 am

>22 RidgewayGirl: & >23 Cariola: Life is too short to read books you don't want to read. I'm in a book club, but I don't read all the books and I don't apologize. Last year I read 5 out of 9, this year will be similar

>11 Cariola: I'm looking forward to reading Spare, which I do own. Like you, I have mixed feelings about the Royals, although now that the Queen is gone I think we should pull the plug (at least here in Canada). Charles seems determined to be awful. What I find curious are the regular people who hate Harry and Megan and how nasty they can be. Just makes me shake my head

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 3, 3:51 pm

A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein

If you know your English drama , you already know something about Christopher Marlowe. He was a cobbler's son from Canterbury who became Shakespeare's greatest rival on the London stage, writing such brilliant and popular plays as Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta, Tamburlaine (parts 1 & 2) and Edward II. You're probably familiar with his description of Helen of Troy: "Was this the face that launches a thousand ships?" Or his lyric "Come live with me and be my love."

But if that's all you know about Marlowe, you're missing a lot about his fascinating life and death, and Allison Epstein tries to bring it all to the page in 'A Tip for the Hangman'--adding, of course, a lot of speculation and embellishment. He was awarded a scholarship to Cambridge, but before he was received his Master's degree, accusations that he was a secret Catholic and intended to go to Rheims to be ordained as a priest caused the university to withhold it. However, the Privy Council intervened on the basis of Marlowe's "good service" to his queen and country and allowed the degree to be granted. While there is no specification as to the nature of this "service," scholars generally believe that Marlowe was acting as an agent for Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's notorious spymaster.

Epstein runs the full gamut of intrigue here, from Cambridge rumors of Marlowe's atheism and homosexuality, to the brilliant world of the London stage, to the tasks she imagines he was assigned by Walsingham, to his violent and suspicious death. She also gives us insight into Marlowe's own feelings about his various doings, including a love affair with a fellow student and the role he might have played in uncovering Catholic sympathizers looking to topple Elizabeth from the throne or, at least, make sure that her successor was not a Protestant. We also get a window into the dysfunctional Marlowe family and the effects of poverty, especially on his beloved sisters.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel and thought it quite well written. Epstein has done her research on Marlowe's writings, the known facts about his life, and the vast speculation about the exact nature of his service to the queen. And of course, this being a novel, she has added plenty of material from her own imagination to round it out.

maaliskuu 3, 8:09 pm

Have you seen the British series "Upstart Crow"? it is about Shakespeare and Marlowe makes his appearance in many of the episodes. I have seen this series on PBS. It is very funny with a new idea about Marlowe's death.

maaliskuu 3, 8:32 pm

Great review of A Tip for the Hangman, Deborah.

maaliskuu 6, 11:19 am

>25 Cariola: Interesting. I read A Dead Man In Deptford by Anthony Burgess a couple of years ago which took in the last six years of Marlowe's life and in an afterword Burgess said “The virtue of a historical novel is its vice - the flat footed affirmation of possibility as fact.”

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 11, 7:08 pm

The Circus Train by Amita Parikh

Lena Papadopoulos is the daughter of a master illusionist. Life has not been easy for Lena and Theo. Her mother died when she was an infant, and she contracted polio, which left her confined to a wheelchair. Things get somewhat better when Theo joins World of Wonders, A traveling circus. It becomes a home, almost a family, yet Lena still feels like an outsider due to her disability. When she discovers an unconscious boy her own age in the kitchen car, she could not have known that he would become her first real friend. Alexander's passport reveals that he is a Jew. The Nazis have begun to take over Europe, so the circus family agrees to protect him. Alexander has the gift of intuition, and it is decided that he will train as Theo's assistant.

The novel is split between the World War II period and Lena's life in the early post-war years, after circumstances have torn her family apart. Much of it deals with the changes in her relationships with Theo and Alexander and the secrets they have kept hidden, but also with her struggle towards independence.

I have to admit that while I didn't hate this book, I struggled to finish it, mainly because I am not a fan of YA books and coming of age stories. There were some surprises but also a lot of predictability, and the writing sometimes faltered (a number of real clunkers). Hence the mediocre rating.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 3, 5:39 pm

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

The Crisis is over, and the government is now run under a group of new laws called PACT (Preserving American Culture and Traditions). While the novel never explains exactly what the Crisis was, it resulted in inflation, joblessness, violence and despair, all of which was generally blamed on China. Not surprisingly, there was a sharp increase in attacks on Asian Americans, and the government did absolutely nothing about it. In fact, PACT encouraged citizens to report their friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family members for any "unAmerican" or "immoral" acts or words (or even thoughts); not to do so was "unpatriotic." (Sound familiar?) Children were even taught in the classroom that this was their civic duty. As a result, many lives were devastated, including that of Bird Gardner, the 12-year old boy at the heart of the story.

Bird's father was a professor of linguistics before the Crisis, and was his mother was a Chinese-American poet who penned only one modestly successful book. Although she was not in any way responsible for it, the underground protest movement took a phrase from one of her poems, "All our missing hearts," and made it their slogan. The "missing hearts" were children who had been removed from their supposedly "dangerous" parents. When the government launched an investigation, all of her books (and indeed MANY books considered unpatriotic or immoral) were removed from libraries and either burned or recycled into toilet paper. Bird's father was demoted to working in the college's almost bare library. Fearing that the government would take Bird, his mother went on the run and his father, claiming that their marriage had been broken for years, trashed all of her belongings to prove his patriotism and compliance with PACT. Still, he lost their house, and when the story opens, he and Bird are living in a dorm on campus.

One day Bird receives a card in the mail that is covered with doodles of cats. It triggers a memory of a story his mother used to tell him about a boy and a cat, and he believes that there is a message hidden in the card. Bird, like many of the children taken from their parents (including his friend Sadie), becomes determined to find his mother.

The rest of the novel goes back and forth in time, telling us the background of Bird's parents, their life together before the Crisis, his mother's life in hiding, and the struggles of his friend Sadie, as well as Bird's quest to find his mother. The characters are all intriguing and the world they live in post-Crisis is (unfortunately) familiar. While I don't usually read dystopian novels, I am glad I picked up this one.

huhtikuu 3, 5:38 pm

Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro

This is the first book I have read by Dani Shapiro, but it won't be the last. I was so absorbed in 'Signal Fires' that I read it in just a few days. I loved the book I read before it, and often I hesitate to start the next one. I'm glad I didn't this time.

This is the story of two families, the Wilfs and the Shenkmans. It takes place over 50 years, following the plot non-chronologically from the perspectives of each character. Dr. Ben Wilf and his wife Mimi seem to have it all: the house of their dreams and two great kids. But everything is thrown into turmoil when teenagers Theo and Sarah are in an automobile crash that takes the life of their passenger. Although the incident is officially ruled an accident, each family member is keeping guilty secrets that affect the rest of their lives.

Years later, a young couple, the Shenkmans, move in across the street. Neither family pays much attention to the other, but three chance meetings over the years create a bond between Ben and young Waldo Shenkman that will figure importantly in both of their lives.

I don't want to give away any more details. Just let me assure you that this is a remarkable, thoughtful, and moving novel that explores love, guilt, compassion, family, and the way in which we are shaped by the large and small events in our lives. It's beautifully written and now sits at the top of my Best Books of 2023 list.

huhtikuu 4, 7:24 am

Congrats on two excellent reads in a row. I haven't read either author, but the Ng in particular sounds interesting to me.

huhtikuu 4, 9:35 am

Great reviews of Our Missing Hearts and Signal Fires, Deborah. Both books are on my radar screen.

huhtikuu 4, 10:47 am

Two great reviews of books in my pile, which always makes me selfishly happy.

huhtikuu 8, 1:08 pm

>32 labfs39:, >33 kidzdoc:, >34 lisapeet: Thanks for the positive feedback. I hope you all like these books as much as I did!

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 14, 12:59 pm

Pandora by Susan Stokes-Chapman

Since the deaths of her parents when she was a child, Pandora Blake has lived with her uncle, a nasty man who took over his brother's antiquarian shop and has been making shady deals, selling fakes and possibly illegally acquired objects. Her only friend is a pet magpie named Hermes. Pandora, a talented artist, dreams of escaping by making her living as a jewelry designer. She discovers a pithos--a very large Greek vase engraved with mythological scenes--hidden in the basement and enlists the help of Edward Lawrence, a bookbinder and amateur antiquarian, to learn more about it. Edward has long sought membership in the Antiquarian Society and hopes that his research, along with Pandora's drawings of the engravings, will gain him entry.

This book is primarily a historical mystery (hence I don't want to give away too much), but it also has a lot of Dickensian elements and a bit of romance. Hezekiah is the perfect Victorian villain, aided by the Coombes brothers and his housekeeper/lover Lottie. There are also several interesting upper class characters, including Cornelius Ashmole, Edward's friend and benefactor; Sir William Hamilton (who turns out to have saved Dora's life) and his scandalous wife Emma; and Lady Latimer, an aristocratic hostess who shows interest in both the pithos and Dora's jewelry designs. Overall, I enjoyed this one, although it took a while to get through its 400+ pages.

huhtikuu 15, 6:44 am

Just checking in. It's always lovely to have a run of excellent reading, isn't it? :-)

huhtikuu 28, 4:49 pm

>37 avaland: It certainly is. Next one, not so good, unfortunately.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 29, 12:35 pm

Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman

I really wanted to love this book because I really loved Alan Rickman. Listening to it on audio was probably the best option; I think it would have been deadly in print. Stephen Crossley is a very good reader (although he doesn't have that voice that makes you feel like you're sinking into a warm bath with a glass of claret). He adds the touches of snarkiness and sarcasm that are needed at some points.

This is really more of a daily journal or calendar than a diary, and therein lies the problem. It's not very thrilling or particularly interesting to hear/read things like, "Lunch at noon with Emma and Kate. Nigella Lawson, Elton John, Susan Sarandon, and Dickie Attenborough at other tables." In other words, lots of lists, times, and names and not much else. Lots of name-dropping, lots of eating, lots of drinking. LOTS of drinking. There's an occasional commentary, like that Kate Winslet talks a lot about herself but shows no interest in anyone else. That evokes a slight chuckle and then is gone, just like the rest. Any details about film productions and publicity tours are in the same vein, and more than once the comments made me think that Alan must have been a bit of a snob. Sadly, the second half is pretty much all lists of people who are sick and sometimes visited in hospital, people who died, and funerals. I loved his work, but his "diaries" might better have been kept by his wife as a personal memento. If you really want more of Rickman, rewatch his films or listen to him reading Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 28, 5:05 pm

>39 Cariola: That audible edition of The Return of the Native sounds like an excellent way to reread that one!

huhtikuu 30, 4:56 pm

>39 Cariola: It is! I wish he had narrated audiobooks. I believe the only other one is a short African legend.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 30, 2:42 pm

Music for Wartime: Stories by Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai has yet to fail me. This is a wonderful collection of short stories, all of which were previously published in journals. Thinking back on the title after I finished the book, I can see that music was an important element in most of the stories (a cellist starting a new quartet in her home, an elderly woman who used to sing in the opera, a composer searching for traditional songs in a country ruled by a dictator, a nine-fingered violinist, J.S. Bach resurrected and struggling in the modern world), and although none were actually set in a war, the same elderly woman recounts how she was spared being sent to Auschwitz, we learn that the violinist lost his finger to torture in a Communist prison, and many characters are fighting smaller personal "wars": the AIDS crisis, a partner's infidelity, the loss of a loved one, etc.

If you love short stories, don't miss this beautifully written, multi-toned, and always surprising and moving collection.

toukokuu 5, 8:58 pm

>42 Cariola: I've added Music for Wartime: Stories to my library wish list. I still haven't read my copy of The Great Believers yet, so I'll read that book first.

toukokuu 8, 7:16 pm

>43 kidzdoc: Oh, The Great Believers was one of my top books that year and really sold me on this author! I hope you like it.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 30, 2:46 pm

Catching up on my reviews.

The Wife of Willesden by Zadie Smith

If you don't know Chaucer's Wife of Bath and her contribution to The Canterbury Tales, you might like this better than I did. Smith has taken the Wife's Prologue and Tale, kept them in rhyming couplets, and updated them to Brent, a modern-day suburb of London that is home to many immigrants. Alvita, the five-times married "wife" of Smith's version, speaks with a Caribbean dialect, as do most of the characters. She sets the story in a bar, customers replacing the original pilgrims, and adds a Chorus to the performance, as well as stage directions. This is supposedly part of a celebration of Brent receiving an honor as a neighborhood.

All that is fine, but unfortunately, it got very tedious very quickly for me. I studied the Tales in school myself and taught it many, many times as an English professor. I expected I would be delighted to recognize the changes Zadie Smith would make in her update, but I found there wasn't really much to the update beyond the setting and dialect. I think readers of the original usually get the point that the Wife is a feminist of sorts, and in this update, that seems not so much surprising as repetitive.

(Not sure why LT isn't posting the title. I've checked multiple times, and I haven't made any errors.)

toukokuu 30, 3:14 pm

The Hundred Year House by Rebecca Makkai

This is the story of a house that has been in the wealthy Devohr family for generations. It is supposedly haunted by the ghost of the original builder's unhappy wife, who hanged herself, but there are other ghosts and secrets. Most of the story involves those living there as the year 2000 approaches: Zee, a Marxist literary scholar who lives in the carriage house with her husband Doug, an unemployed PhD who has prolonged completing a book on poet Edward Parfitt (rather a one-poem success) that he believe will launch his career; Zee's mother Grace and her stepfather Bruce, who is preparing for the worst to happen at midnight on 12/31/99. Bruce's athletic but accident-prone son and his wife, a collage/mosaic artist, end up sharing the carriage house for a time as well.

From 1920 to 1950, the house was an artists' colony, and Doug is sure that the locked attic must hold a Parfitt treasure that will push him towards completion of his book. Much of the contemporary story focuses on his efforts to get into the attic, his fascination with Mariam, Bruce's daughter-in-law, and Zee's attempt to push an unpleasant colleague out of her department to make room for Doug. But there are also many secrets and mysteries to unveil, including Grace's true identity and the men in a provocative photo found in the attic files, one of whom appears to be Zee's grandfather. So, of course, we also go back in time to learn about all of the residents--family members, artists, employees--who lived in Laurel House.

It took me much longer to get through this one than it did Makkai's later books. The signature style is there, but I think the novel may have been going in too many directions. I got lost in some parts of the earlier story and wished that she had stayed with 1999, a plotline that was already fairly busy and complicated. Ultimately, I enjoyed this book, but not as much as The Great Believers or Music for Wartime.

toukokuu 30, 3:40 pm

>46 Cariola: Oh, that's too bad. I have this one, picking up a copy mainly because of the author but also because my house is also old. I'll still read it, but after I get to her newest.

kesäkuu 15, 2:50 pm

I've been having a really hard time finding a book that interests me. I got three that were on my library's hold list. Started Hello Beautiful, but it just wasn't doing it for me, so I was thrilled when I Have Some Questions for You came in. I've loved everything I've read by Rebecca Makkai . . . which should tell you how disappointed I was to dump this one about 1/3 of the way in when The Covenant of Water became available. This one is great so far, but the question is whether I can finish it in the 17 days I have left. It's huge.

kesäkuu 19, 5:23 pm

>48 Cariola: Hmmm, I have the Makkai up next. Still going to go ahead with it, because I've heard her talk about it on a bunch of podcasts and it really seems like my thing. We'll see.

heinäkuu 6, 12:10 am

>49 lisapeet: I gave up on both books and have been reading The Covenant of Water, which is absolutely stunning in every aspect.

heinäkuu 8, 1:39 pm

>50 Cariola: Oh, no, another doorstop I want to read! I suspected it would be good, but "stunning in every aspect" makes me want to throw aside the 400+ page book I'm reading now and jump in.

heinäkuu 14, 2:02 pm

>51 labfs39: Go for it! I will finish the book this afternoon and will post a review.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 15, 7:49 pm

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese

This one is a doorstopper, but don't let that keep you from the wonderful experience of reading it. It's an amazing book in every way--beautifully written with a weaving plot in which the characters' lives frequently--and sometimes unexpectedly--intertwine. Set in the Indian province of Kerala in a community of Christians, it begins in 1900 when a 12-year old girl is taken across the water to meet the much older widower she is to marry. She becomes a mother to his toddler son, the little boy sleeping beside her every night, and tries to befriend his mother's ghost, who she is sure is living in the basement, watching out for her boy. Her name is Mariamma, but her mother calls her "moloy," an endearment, and when JoJo begins calling her Ammachi (mother), everyone else follows suit. The novel carries us through three generations, ending in 1977 with Ammachi's physician granddaughter and namesake, Mariamma.

To attempt to summarize the plot would be a monumental and probably pointless task. The pleasure in reading the novel is the way the story spins out and intertwines. Suffice it to say that it is a family saga, one where secrets slowly unravel, thanks in part to the miracles of developing medicine. Verghese is a physician who teaches at Stanford, as well as a writer, so it should come as no surprise that the characters include several doctors, writers, and artists. He is adept at describing the natural landscape, creating unique and empathetic characters, and incorporating his medical knowledge into the plot with explanations that the average reader can comprehend.

I just read the New York Times review of The Covenant of Water, which I found thoroughly disappointing. One particularly annoying complaint was that the novel features only "good" people. I'm not so sure that I agree with that as even the good have their moments of "bad" behavior and fail to meet difficult challenges. And isn't that what life is about for most of us, trying to be our best but sometimes falling short? If you want to read about murderers, criminals, psychopaths, and perpetually cynical people, well, this book may not be for you. And life is not all happy-happy for these characters. They suffer losses and tragedies and have times of despair, but their faith and love keeps most (but maybe not all) of them going.

I was totally immersed in the world of this novel; learned a lot about this part of India and its landscape and customs; about leprosy, which was still common in the time period; and about the commonality of the human condition everywhere. Take the time to live in this world and to savor this book. You won't regret it!

heinäkuu 15, 9:36 pm

>53 Cariola: I'm glad you enjoyed it so much! I do have to read Cutting for Stone first as one of my nephews loves it.

heinäkuu 17, 4:31 pm

>54 RidgewayGirl: Loved that one, too, but I think this one is even better!

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 21, 1:17 pm

The House Is on Fire by Rachel Beanland

This is a work of fiction based on an historical event, the December 26, 1811 theatre fire in Richmond that killed 72 people, including the governor of Virginia. It's told by focusing on four characters, some of them real people and some fictional.

Jack Gibson, a young orphan who worked backstage for the theatre, is based on the boy who is believed to be responsible for the fire--but the author kindly gives him an excuse. The fire started when he raised a lit chandelier, setting fire to hanging backdrops. Beanland puts him in a moral dilemma when the theatre manager concocts a story to divert blame for the disaster.

Gilbert Hunt, a blacksmith and a real person, was not in attendance but rushed to the scene to help save others from the burning building, catching women who jumped from the windows. Although he had purchased his own freedom by 1811, for the purpose of her story, Beanland makes him slave to a blacksmith who is trying to purchase his and his wife's freedom.

Gilbert's niece Cecily (fictional), also a slave, attended the performance with her mistress but escaped because the gallery where blacks were seated was close to an exit. When Cecily doesn't return home, she is presumed to have died in the fire . . . but she has other plans.

Sally Henry Campbell, a widow and daughter of Patrick Henry, helps other women to escape through a second floor window and jumps to safety herself. Afterwards, she questions why most of the victims were women and claims that she had seen men shoving them aside in order to get out first. So much for chivalry! Sally helps attend to injured persons, including her dearest friend, who suffers a potentially fatal leg fracture. (In real life, Sally ended up marrying the man who caught her when she jumped.)

Beanland does a good job of creating suspense and interweaving these characters' stories. Some things are a bit stretched and some side characters are stale stereotypes, but overall, this was an interesting read, and I learned a lot about an event that I had not heard of before.

heinäkuu 22, 9:21 pm

>56 Cariola: This sounds like just the kind of historical fiction I like. Adding it to my TBR...

Muokkaaja: elokuu 14, 1:11 pm

The Fell by Sarah Moss

This short book focuses on a day in the lives of a few residents in a small English Lake District village during COVID lockdown. Kate is a laid-off waitress, divorced, a bit New Age-y, a vegan and a holistic health fanatic, the kind of person who uses bamboo toothbrushes to save the earth and believes that crystals have healing properties. Now she can't enjoy her daily walk to the fells without facing a large fine for breaking quarantine, and the confinement plus all of her personal issues depress her. She lives with her teenaged son, Matt, who seems to be managing the situation much better. The story kicks off when Matt realizes that his mom is not sleeping or out in the garden; he suspects she has gone for a walk and hopes she makes it home before she gets caught. But as dark falls, he becomes more and more concerned.

Kate and Matt are two of the alternating narrators. A third is their neighbor, Alice, a recent widow who has also just completed treatment for cancer. She happened to see Kate walking past her house that afternoon. When Matt knocks on her door, Alice convinces him to call the police and report his mom as missing. Did something happen to her up on the fell? We're introduced to one more narrator, Rob, a search party volunteer assigned to lead the ground hunt for Kate.

Through her narrators, Moss manages to convey the claustrophobia and fear that most of us experienced at some time during the COVID outbreak. Her style might be off-putting to some: each narrator's sections are written in a kind of stream-of-consciousness with very long sentences. That, I think, is because she wants us not just to hear their stories but to know how their minds are working and how they are feeling as the hours move along. If this was a 500-page book, it might be excessive and annoying, but it's quite short, just a little over 200 pages. Overall, a fast, well crafted read, if you're ready to dive back into COVID for a time.

elokuu 10, 7:29 pm

>58 Cariola: I’m looking forward to this. I really love her short novels, especially Ghost Wall. I might get annoyed by the important premise of the book, however. I was pretty accepting of COVID rules and was personally careful, but not being able to go for a solitary walk always seemed ridiculous. Maybe my annoyance would make me more sympathetic to the protagonist

elokuu 14, 1:11 pm

>59 Nickelini: I think you will like it!

elokuu 14, 1:17 pm

>60 Cariola: I was over in Victoria and went to Munro's and they had a copy, so I snapped it up. I'll let you know what I think

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 16, 3:59 pm

This Other Eden by Paul Harding

This novel is loosely based on the true story of Malaga island, one of the first integrated communities in New England. Called Apple Island here, it was first settled in the late 18th century by Benjamin Honey, a former slave, and his Irish wife, Patience. The island became a haven for an assortment of people, both black and white, looking to get away from life on the mainland and its expectations, class consciousness and prejudice. The Honeys and their descendants and neighbors have lived off the land and the sea in peaceful poverty for more than 120 years until "progress" hits, first in the form of a white preacher, Matthew Diamond, who decides to educate the children (many of whom are the progeny of incest), then in the form of entrepreneurs from the mainland who decide that Apple Island would make an ideal vacation resort.

Diamond discovers that while some of the children (as might be expected) are mentally deficient, others are quite talented, including a Native American girl who soon surpasses his own math skills and Ethan Honey, a young boy with unusual artistic talent. Diamond is conflicted in his attitude towards the Apple Islanders: he is ashamed of his repulsion for the Black adults but believes that education can better the lives of the children--especially those who, like Ethan, could pass for white. When the mainlanders send scientists and doctors to measure heads, record physical features and assess mental capabilities as a prelude to removing the inhabitants and clearing the way for their plans, Diamond decides to "save" Ethan by getting a friend in Massachusetts to foster his talents, giving him a place to stay over the summer and a seat at an art school in the fall term.

As you can expect, all did not go well for the Apple Islanders, nor even for Ethan. The most positive notes are the community's love of their island, their acceptance of one another, and the way they all have each others' backs. Harding's descriptions of the natural world are quite beautiful, and he gives us a roster of unforgettable characters. Overall, a lovely, sad, but achingly hopeful book.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 16, 10:27 pm

August and September were not great reading months for me. I started a lot of book s but didn't complete them. I had really been looking forward to The Bookbinder of Jericho, but it was long and dull and slammed the reader with feminist themes. I just couldn't stick with it. I was just looking over my library wish list and saw Pandora--which I KNOW I read but didn't post a review here. Maybe I did on Goodreads and can add it here. There are so many books coming out in the next few weeks that I am really excited about: The Vaster Wild by Lauren Groff, North Woods by Daniel Mason, Night Watch by Jayne Ann Phillips, The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon, and Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 16, 4:30 pm

(I knew I had read this one! Copied my review from Goodreads; I finished it on April 13.)

Pandora by Susan Stokes-Chapman

Since the deaths of her parents when she was a child, Pandora Blake has lived with her uncle, a nasty man who took over his brother's antiquarian shop and has been making shady deals, selling fakes and possibly illegally acquired objects. Her only friend is a pet magpie named Hermes. Pandora, a talented artist, dreams of escaping by making her living as a jewelry designer. She discovers a pithos--a very large Greek vase engraved with mythological scenes--hidden in the basement and enlists the help of Edward Lawrence, a bookbinder and amateur antiquarian, to learn more about it. Edward has long sought membership in the Antiquarian Society and hopes that his research, along with Pandora's drawings of the engravings, will gain him entry.

This book is primarily a historical mystery (hence I don't want to give away too much), but it also has a lot of Dickensian elements and a bit of romance. Hezekiah is the perfect Victorian villain, aided by the Coombes brothers and his housekeeper/lover Lottie. There are also several interesting upper class characters, including Cornelius Ashmole, Edward's friend and benefactor; Sir William Hamilton (who turns out to have saved Dora's life) and his scandalous wife Emma; and Lady Latimer, an aristocratic hostess who shows interest in both the pithos and Dora's jewelry designs. Overall, I enjoyed this one, although it took a while to get through its 400+ pages.

syyskuu 16, 10:07 pm

>63 Cariola: I'm excited to see that Daniel Mason has a new book coming out. (Your touchstone goes to the wrong book.) It seems a departure from his historical fiction, or maybe not. I'll have to look for it.

syyskuu 16, 10:27 pm

>65 labfs39: Thanks, I fixed the touchstone. Mason is one of my favorites, as is Groff.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 23, 3:15 pm

The Invisible Hour by Alice Hoffman

Ivy, a teenaged girl from a wealthy family, suddenly finds herself pregnant. Her boyfriend abandons her and her parents disown her. With nowhere else to go, she joins a group of lost souls who live on a farm called the Community, led by a charismatic former convict who controls their every move. Struck by Ivy's beauty, Joel marries her and agrees to be a father to her unborn child.

Fast forward about 15 years. Mia, Ivy's daughter, is one unhappy girl. She spends her days picking berries and working, working, working. Any education she and the other children get is watered down, censored, and biased, and punishments for not submitting to Joel's rules are harsh. Mia has seen a bit of the outside world when she and some of the others take produce to town to sell longs to experience the outside world, especially the library her mother has told her about. Books, according to Joel, lead one to the devil. One market day, Ivy tells her that she can go inside for a brief look. Mia is so fascinated by all the books that she sneaks one out when she leaves: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a very old and tattered copy that has a surprising inscription addressed "To Mia." She will later tell people that the book saved her life. (Along with the librarian who befriends her.)

I don't want to spoil all the novel's many surprises. It moves between Mia's life on the farm and on into her adulthood, where she tries to escape her past yet feels she will be forever marked by it. It's the struggle of several women in different eras, trying to make their own choices in environments that won't allow them to do so. Yes, there's a definite feminist streak to the book. And if you're into romance and time travel, there's some of that as well. As we face censorship and book bans today, the author also reminds us of the importance of reading in shaping our lives.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel (although I was less fond of the time travel business). I haven't read anything by Hoffman in quite a few years, and it was nice to revisit her work. It was also a pleasure after starting so many books this summer that I had no desire to finish.

syyskuu 17, 10:13 am

>67 Cariola: I haven't read anything by Alice Hoffman before, and this one sounds interesting. Onto the wishlist it goes.