Saturday, January 31, 2015

A snowy week of reading

This week I spent a lot of time preparing for the blizzard we had from Monday night through Wednesday morning. I thought I'd want to spend all my time reading, but found that all the books I was pouring over were awfully heavy, dark, and often depressing - a real contrast to the gorgeous white whirling world outside our windows.  So I often stopped the reading to chat with distant relatives on the phone, bake some bread or otherwise clear my brain of man's inhumanity to man.
Our book club is reading a light hearted novel to discuss in February - "The 100 Year Old Man who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared".  I read this one last summer, so I'm listening to it in audio now to refresh my memory for next month.   It's been a welcome change of pace to these others.   I also finished an ARC I got from the publisher and will be posting a review of  The Thing About December by Donal Ryan next week.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North
by Richard Flanagan

This won the Man Book Prize this year, and it well deserves the honor.  Flanagan's portrayal of Australian, Japanese, and Korean combatants involved in the building of the Siam-Burma railway during World War II (some as POWs, some as their cruel guards and tormenters) is a stunning work that manages to revolt us with its sickening detail about the treatment these POWs suffered while at the same time it delves into the psyches of all the participants, giving us not excuses, but explanations and even glimpses of redemptive behavior after the war.   Compelling, disgusting, beautiful, violent and brutal.   A must read.   I can only wonder how this did not make the Maine Readers Choice long list.

* * * * *

An Untamed State
by Roxanne Gay

Another brutal, unvarnished, violent tale about the kidnapping in Port-au-Prince of a young Haitian American woman whose father refuses to pay ransom for her, fearing to set a bad precedent.  I found myself unable to read parts of the descriptions of the unspeakable torture she endured for 13 days before her rescue. The second half of the book deals with her slow and painful semi-recovery and how the whole incident impacted her marriage, her relationship with her parents, and her young son.   Roxanne Gay is an incredible writer, giving us word pictures of incredible horror and delicate scenarios of the aftermath for victims and their families.  I would never have read this if it weren't on the long list for Maine Readers Choice, but I don't regret having read it. 

* * * * *


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Weekly Wrap - January 24th

This has been good reading week. In addition to our monthly book club meeting, I was able to make more progress on the Maine Reader's Choice Long list, visit with a cousin who appears annually this time of year, get some preliminary tax filing paperwork done, try out a couple new recipes, and spend quite a bit of time in front of the fire (our high temp this week actually climbed to 43ish last Sunday. Overnight it consistently dipped to the 0° mark (sometime even going below!)

Weekly reads include:

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
by Haruki Murakami

 I really wanted to like this one, but it was a huge disappointment. I lived in Japan for 5 years so I recognized many of the locales and foods in the story, about the damaged psyche of a 20 something year old male whose friends dump him suddenly in his early college years.  He rambles around feeling sorry for himself, contemplating suicide, and struggling to relate to women until he can find out why he got booted off the team.  The ending is particularly "meh."  Frankly,the first word of the title describes the entire book perfectly; "COLORLESS".  Although the author would have us think this is his purpose to describe poor Tsukuru's life, it works for the whole book: it's just plain boring. The book jacket is the best part of the book.

* * * *

On Such A Full Sea
By Chang-Rae Lee

I'm having "conflictions" about this one. Parts of the story were cleverly written, a couple of the characters were well-drawn, but I just didn't get it, and I hated the ending. I don't normally do futuristic sci-fi, dystopia or futuristic looks at manufactured foods, manufactured family units, and regimented societies. This one has all of those elements and a story line that just didn't grab me, even with the cleverly and thinly disguised setting of my hometown, Baltimore.

* * * *

by Bret Anthony Johnson

A Stunner!   A true page turner.   I read this (not even in audio) in less than 24 hours.  Could not put it down.  Set in hot, muggy Corpus Christi Texas, it tells the story of the psychological impact of  child kidnapping, missing children search, on not only the immediate family of the victim but the community at large.  The characters are drawn in fine lines...we feel every emotion, we ride the emotional roller-coaster with them, and as a reader, you do not put this down until you're finished.  I can't tell the story without spoiling it, but it's definitely going into the hopper for my book club to discuss sometime this year, and it will be on my list of those I want to advance from the long to the short list for the Maine Reader's Choice Award.  5 stars.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Saturday book box - January 17th

This week I've continued my reading and listening, and am now trying to catch up on the remaining volumes of the Maine Readers Choice Long List that I must finish by the end of next month.  Here's the list for the past week of what I finished:

A Symphony of Echoes
 by Jodi Taylor - #2 in the Chronicles of St. Marys series

As I've said before, I'm not a time-travel fan, but this series is so fun. I love the characters, the plots, and the whole insouciance of this group of "historians" who magically zip through time fixing things that weren't quite right in history, or even go forward a bit to see how things might be. In this one the group goes looking for Jack the Ripper, witnesses the murder of Thomas a Becket, tries to save Do=Do birds from extinction, and makes sure a would be interloper doesn't screw up the succession to the british throne in the days of Mary Queen of Scots. Great fun in audio, and just what the doctor ordered as an antidote to an overdose of really heavy reading.

* * * * * * 

by Ben Ames Williams

It's taken me over six weeks to savor this 866 page chunkster.  It was worth every minute.  Our book club chose to read this one over two months, and I can't wait to get together with them next week to compare our reactions.  It is the story of the founding of the town of Union in the midcoast area of Maine.  In 1786 when the town was established there were 17 families and 75 inhabitants.   Although written as an historical novel, the people and events were all real, and many of the places, and names are familiar to those of us who live here in this area.  Union today has a population of 2300.  It is only 16 miles from where I live.

Starting in the 1770's and going until 1784, the story tells us how the central characters, Mima Robbins and Joel Adams, meet, court, eventually marry and ultimately produce 10 children; how they cleared the acres and acres of land of the thick forests of trees, planted crops, built houses, raised barns, hunted, trapped, lugged buckets of water, battled mosquitoes and black flies, and always, always, always had to be worrying about surviving the long cold winters.  Always the thought was "Come Spring everything will be OK".  As I sat here reading in my comfortable home with indoor plumbing, central heating, power, inter-connectivity with the world, instant access to news, enough healthy food to feed my family, and the knowledge that good medical care is only a 911 call away,  I was in awe of the strength, fortitude and independent spirit of those early settlers.  I don't know if I could have done it!

It's a lovely long winter's nap read and highly recommended to anyone who wants to get a real feel for what life was all about in the days of the Revolutionary War and the founding of our country.

It's not easy to find this one - not available in audio or ebook, but most libraries can get it for you.

* * * * * 
 Nora Webster
by Colm Toibin

Although I own the e-book, I devoured about 80% of this one in audio.  I loved the dulcet tones of  Fiona Shaw's narration.  It was perfect to tell the beautifully written story of Nora Webster, widowed at age 40, who had 2 grown daughters, and two pre-teen sons at the time her beloved Maurice died a painful premature death.  Toibin skillfully lets us into the terror she faces as she balances a precarious budget, learns to live a lonelier life, and eventually comes to terms with her change in status and opportunities.  A truly elegant story, one worth reading in any format.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Saturday soup bowl

As you know, I said I wasn't going to do reviews for awhile, but I am going to try to use this space to keep a running list of what I've been reading, and if I'm so inclined, I'll add a few words about the books I've finished. The left side bar will always show what I'm currently reading in a variety of formats. For now, I'm aiming for a weekly soup bowl of entries noting what I've read in the past week.

As you can see, I'm still working my way thru COME SPRING which our book club will be meeting to discuss on January 21st. I'm not quite half-way thru it, so I need to get going. The story is interesting, especially since the setting is entirely within 10 miles of where I now live. It's just that the book is so darn BIG, and my arthritic hands, and light-sensitive eyes don't want to spend long periods of uninterrupted time with it. It is a prime candidate for an e-book format, but I have been unable to locate one.

In the meantime, I've finished two more books from the Maine Readers Choice Award long-list:

The Wind is Not A River by Brian Payton
I was really impressed. It's loosely the story of the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Island chain (Alaska) during early WW II. Evidently the US Govt didn't want the general populace to know about this and kept it very hush hush. The story concerns a couple and their relationship, but it also is a survival story of how John Easley, a journalist who has entered the area without permission and, by virtue of his plane being shot down, is now stuck behind enemy lines without anybody's knowing he's there.

His wife Helen's part of the story - how she sets out to rescue him - is less believable, but as a love story it makes for a good read, and gives us a look into the early USO as it cobbled shows together to go entertain the troops.

* * * * *

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman.
This one was hard to follow at first, but eventually the reader figures out the time map and falls in love with Tooly Zylberberg and her eclectic and peripatetic "family."  The story goes back and forth to follow her life to such exotic spots as Bangkok, Australia, South Africa, Wales, Brooklyn. It's almost too convoluted to try to explain, and I suspect I'm going to read this one again---especially if it makes the MRCA short list (it's on the long list which is why I read it).  Next time, I may flip through chapters and read it linearly in time order. I also listened to the audio, presented by a spectacular narrator Penelope Rawlins in which she offers us a wide spectrum of voices and accents. A great book to start off the New Year.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Another "Best of" List

Yes, I've been very absent from posting.  Real life and reading have seriously overtaken my reviewing time.  I'd considered shutting down the blog for awhile because I don't see having enough time to do serious reviewing, but I decided instead to change my focus.

For 2015, I am not going to solicit or accept from publishers (or authors) any new books for review. I'm still going to read, and I'm still going to blog about my reading but I need to remove the obligation I feel to write a review.   I found I was not reading books the way I want to at this stage of my life.  Instead of reading for fun, relaxation, or information, I've been reading with "what am I going to say in a review?" in my mind as I read.  No more of that for the foreseeable future.

I hope to give you at least a monthly update on what I've been reading and doing to keep busy with books, travel and life.  To start off the New Year, here's a list of the best books I read in 2014.  If I reviewed them, I've linked to the review.  The list is not in any particular order.

Benediction by Kent Haruf
Transatlantic  by Colum McCann
All the Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr
The Long Way Home  by Louise Penny 
Shotgun Lovesongs  by Nickolas Butler 
The Free by Wily Vlautin  
Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson 
Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach
Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Several of these are books that I've read as a panel member for the Maine Reader's Choice Award.  The entire long list for the award for is listed here.  Do check out the list.  There are some fabulous reads there.   I for one am going to have a very difficult time choosing 10 out of that 25.  I'll keep you posted.   In the meantime, in addition to reading those books, I'm going to finish up some that I have promise reviews for and then concentrate on some non-fiction, some mysteries, and a few cozies.

I'm way behind where I'd wanted to be on reading presidential bios, I'm horribly behind on several series I want to continue, and January 16th is looming to close.  I'm supposed to be leading a discussion of Ben Ames Williams' epic novel of Maine "COME SPRING"  and I've only finished 185 of the 866 pages.   It's incredibly interesting, set right here where I live, and I want to dive in and not come up.  With projects like this looming, it's no wonder I'm suffering from blog neglect.

Once again, I wish you all a fabulous New Year, and promise to pop up in your feeders periodically.

Tutu starts another year.

Where ever you are, however you celebrate,
Tutu sends love and best wishes
for a year of health, peace and prosperity.