Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday Mailbox

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week.  Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists!
Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at The Printed Page, is on a blog tour!  This month Sandra at Library of Clean Reads is hosting.  Stop on over and see what everyone else got this week. For the total scoop on Mailbox Monday, visit the recently established Mailbox Monday blog.

As you know, I was out of town for most of the month, and I tried very hard not to request or accept books that I knew would be arriving while I was gone, but what's a person to do when she wins a contest!  So while I was gone I got three new ones-two of them contest wins--- all of which are high on my WANT THEM list so I was thrilled.

 Land of the Painted Caves (Earth's Children #6)
by Jean Auel

The first to arrive is the long awaited next installment in Jean Auel's Earth's Children series.  I read the first one of these Clan of the Cave Bear back in 1981 when it was first published.  I was a SAHM with an antsy 2 year old, so it took me awhile to get through it, but I'm so glad I did.  I have anxiously awaited and quickly grabbed each of the next ones in the series.  But we've all been waiting a long time for this last one -- in fact at one time I remember going to google Jean Auel to see if she was still writing!  It's been over 9 years since the last one Shelters of Stone came out, and I'm lining up all my copies in case I need to flip through them for an update.  Anyhow, at 768 pages, this one will keep me busy for the rest of the year.  If you have never read any of the series, this is a great time to jump in and find yourself enthralled by the adventures of Ayla and Jondalar.  You can download the first three chapters from the publisher's web page.

Cleopatra, a Life
by Stacy Schiff

I've been wanting this one since the first mention came out several months ago, so I was thrilled to win it and in audio to add to my delight.  I can't wait to get back to the pool to listen to this one.  Stacy Schiff's biography of Cleopatra almost does not need any more raves, but this audio set included a wonderful PDF download which I printed out--it includes the full color cover art, maps, and illustrations, and certainly will add to the audio experience.

I love biographies, and find myself constantly looking for good ones.  Stacy Schiff is the Pulitzer Prize winning biographer of Vera Nabokov, and also wrote biographies of Saint-Exupery and Benjamin Franklin.  This one then is high on my read it soon list:
Famous long before she was notorious, Cleopatra has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. Shakespeare and Shaw put words in her mouth. Michelangelo, Tiepolo, and Elizabeth Taylor put a face to her name. Along the way, Cleopatra's supple personality and the drama of her circumstances have been lost. In a masterly return to the classical sources, Stacy Schiff here boldly separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose death ushered in a new world order. Rich in detail, epic in scope, Schiff 's is a luminous, deeply original reconstruction of a dazzling life.
Radio Shangri-La
by Lisa Napoli

After reading this biographical info about the author, I was quite intrigued and thrilled to win an ARC from Crown.  This is an area of the world that fascinates me, and Lisa Napoli's book looks like it will provide a great armchair visit.

When Lisa Napoli found herself unhappy with her work in the fast-paced U.S. media world, she volunteered to help start Bhutan's first youth-oriented radio station. Bhutan is a small kingdom in the Himalayas, home to 650,000 residents, most of whom make their living as subsistence farmers. The nation has experienced rapid change in the past forty years, becoming a democracy in 2008 after a century of monarchy.
In her time in Bhutan, Napoli learned more about the people, history and culture of the "last Buddhist kingdom" and the "happiest kingdom on Earth," and she also learned quite a bit about herself. She's sharing those lessons in her new book, Radio Shangri-la: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth.
Earlier in her career, Lisa was the Internet correspondent for MSNBC, a columnist for, and the first staff reporter/columnist at the NY Times Cybertimes, now defunct. She's also worked at a division of the home shopping channel QVC, in craft services for the horror film Hellraiser 3, and in public relations for Summit House, an alternative to prison for women and their kids in Greensboro, North Carolina. She began her career at CNN in 1984.

Looks like the vacation is over.....there's some wonderful serious reading ahead!  What did your mailbox hold this week?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Salon - watching the snow fall

Just another lazy Sunday in Maine. More snow flakes are scheduled, there are logs in the fire, blueberry muffins in the oven, and lots more books to read. I have two to finish up, and several more waiting in the queue for reviews.

One thing I'm disappointed about is that one of my library downloads has expired, and I had to go back in line to get it again. I was about 1/2 finished, and was really enjoying Orange is the New Black: My year in a women's Prison, by Piper Kerman. This is a fascinating memoir and I hope the waiting list moves fast.

I'm about 2/3 through another ARC from NetGalley, and hope to finish it today: The Sins of Brother Curtis by Lisa Davis. It's the story of a law suit filed against the Mormon Church on behalf of boys who claimed they suffered sexual abuse by one of the church members. I'm finding this one fascinating and well written.

Then I've got book club books: Olive Kitteridge and Half-Broke Horses, and a few more ARCs, not to mention the two I just had giveaways for earlier this week. So, I'm going to enjoy my lazy snow day. There's nothing I'd rather be doing.  February is quickly winding down, and many of you are already planning for spring.  I'm glad we have some more winter to go, because that gives me a great excuse (like I need one?) to kick back and dive into all those wonderful books.

Edited late afternoon 2/27/11 to add:

I've actually now (late afternoon) ended up flipping through the cooking mags that come while I was gone trying to get inspired for dinner.  Last night's snow covered everything beautifully, but now it's starting to 'fluff' again.

Hope I'll be able to get out to go to my water aerobics class tomorrow AM.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

And Still More Winners - Death of a Chimney Sweep

Death of a Chimney Sweep

I'm thrilled that all three winners of this giveaway are loyal followers who have previously visited the blog and entered many times.  So you can see that being persistent pays off!  I have to confess that I haven't yet had time to snuggle down with this one, but it's getting near the top of the list.  I just know I'm going to enjoy it, because Hamish Macbeth is one of my favorite characters, and this series by M.C. Beaton has never disappointed me.   Just to whet your whistle here's the publisher's blurb:
In the south of Scotland, residents get their chimneys vacuum-cleaned. But in the isolated villages in the very north of Scotland, the villagers rely on the services of the itinerant sweep, Pete Ray, and his old-fashioned brushes. Pete is always able to find work in the Scottish highlands, until one day when Police Constable Hamish Macbeth notices blood dripping onto the floor of a villager's fireplace, and a dead body stuffed inside the chimney. The entire town of Lochdubh is certain Pete is the culprit, but Hamish doesn't believe that the affable chimney sweep is capable of committing murder. Then Pete's body is found on the Scottish moors, and the mystery deepens. Once again, it's up to Hamish to discover who's responsible for the dirty deed--and this time, the murderer may be closer than he realizes.
Besides....aren't we all curious to see if Hamish will EVER get married?

Anyway, the lucky winners have been notified by email and have until Wednesday to get me their mailing addresses.  They are


Congratulations to the Winners

Edited to add - if you didn't win, there's still a chance- see the note on the giveaway sidebar about another contest for this one.

Review: A Question of Belief

Author: Donna Leon
Publisher/Format: BBC Audiobooks America, 9 hrs, 12 min, 320 pg equivalent
Narrator: David Colacci
Characters: Commissario Guido Brunetti, Signorina Eletra; Paola Brunetti,  Inspectore Vionella
Subject: corruption in the courts, murder
Setting: Venice in the summer
Series: Commissario Brunetti mysteries
Genre: police procedural
Source: public library audiobook download

Commissario Brunetti's loyal assistant,  Lorenzo Vianello, has come to Guido for help in dis-entangling his elderly Aunt who has fallen under the grips of a charasmatic faith healer, who is operating just on the edge of the law.  Brunetti ruminates how to handle this unofficial problem, but cannot find an answer.  In the meantime, summer has descended on Venice with a vengeance, and Guido and Paola are actually getting away for a vacation.  The merciless heat in Venice has sent them fleeing, along with thousands of others, to the mountains in the north, where they have visions of taking long walks wearing sweaters, sitting before a fire in the evening,  and sleeping under eiderdowns.

Unfortunately, Brunetti does not even make it to his ultimate mountain retreat before his telefonino rings calling him back to solve a murder.  Vianello also is recalled, and together they slog through the heat, trying to find out why a mid-level civil servant working in the courts and living with him mother, has been found murdered in the piazza of his residence. While solving that, they are led to more clues about how to solve Auntie's problem.

The book is vintage Leon....good characters, lots of twists, suspects, and Venetian logic (or lack thereof) leading the reader to the conclusion.  As with many of her books, the ending will not please all the readers, but it is one that is realistic and very much in keeping with the characters in her series..

I think there are only 3 in this series I haven't read (or listened to), and her newest one is coming out in March or April.  This never disappoint.  The characters, the sense of place, the descriptions of foods, church bells, vaparettos, and sunsets all serve up a 5 star reading experience.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Review: The Tenderness of Wolves: A Novel

Author: Stef Penney
Publisher/Format: Simon & Schuster (2008), 371 pages;
                               ISIS audiobooks: 14 discs- approx 14 hr, 45 min
Narrators: Sally Armstrong, Adam Sims
Characters: Francis Ross, Laurent Jammet, Donald Moody, William Parker
Subject: Murder, trade, wildlife, winter survival; Hudson Bay Trading Company
Setting: Canadian Wildnerness, mid 1800's
Genre: historical fiction; mystery
Source: public library

Stef Penny's debut work is a layered, multi-faceted, intricately woven story of love, betrayal, greed, murder, and survival.  Set in the frigid lands of northern Canada, the story revolves around the murder of a French trader, Laurent Jammet, and the search for his missing friend Francis Ross.  Did Francis kill him?  Is that why he hasn't been seen since Jammet's body was found?  Since both the victim and the missing boy are at least loosely connected to the Hudson Bay trading company, and since the company seems to have territorial jurisdiction over the area, the company's factors and magistrates undertake to determine what happened and why.

Central to the story is Francis' mother, Mrs. Ross (we never learn her first name), and she is a major narrator.  The other point of view comes in the third person from Donald Moody (the company's accountant), Francis himself, and from various Norwegian settlers who appear in about the middle of the book.

This one is a slow starter, but that pace allows the reader to absorb the many intertwined lives and facts needed to carry the story forward.  It is incredibly well-written.  In spite of the numerous story lines, and a large number of characters, all the characters are well defined, and the back stories fill out the plot as it marches inexorably to its climax. All along the reader experiences the bitter, numbing, killing cold, the blinding sun on snow, the howling wind, the soul squelching weather elements making life as barren as it was for both humans and animals.  Bleak landscapes are blended with human kindness, as well as greed and deceit to build the tension as the search moves further and further into the wilderness.  The ending is stunning, not unexpected but well portrayed and believable.

This is a masterful piece of storytelling, sure to please the outdoorsman, the romantic, and those who love a good mystery.  It came to my attention from the readers in the 75 book challenge on LibraryThing.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Winners - we have Winners!!!

I've not finished this one yet, but I'm not going to hold you captive to my slow reading progress this month.  Without further ado, (to-do?) here are the three winners chosen by to receive this heartwarming and so far heartbreaking, "Memoir of Marriage, Dementia and Poetry"


They have all been notified by email and have until February 28th to get back to me with their snail mail addresses.  For those of you who didn't win, please come back often.  There are several new contest planned next month here at Tutu's Two Cents.  Thanks for stopping by, and enjoy whatever you are currently reading.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Salon - winding up the vacation

I haven't done a Sunday Salon post in quite awhile, but today, as I finally relax at the almost end of my three weeks on the road, I have time to reflect on vacations, leisure time, family time, and of course, a little reading.

As you know, I left Maine on January 31st to drive to Baltimore to pick up my 86 year old Mom so we could drive her car to her condo on Hilton Head Island SC where she has had a timeshare for over 20 years.  Since the condo has 3 bedrooms it means there is plenty of room for various children and in-laws to come and help mom enjoy a respite from the cold winters.  When Dad was alive, it was golf, shopping and day trip time.  This year, two of my sisters joined us for various parts of the two weeks, along with their golfing husbands. 

The girls all spent a lot of time just lounging...we did 'exercise' on the Wii (mom loved it), and I got in several nice long alone walks on the beautiful beach, a luxury I don't get in Maine until much further into the summer season.  We did some power shopping, ate at some excellent restaurants, heard a great sermon at the local church, and did a lot of needlepoint (sister Cheli), embroidery (mom) and counted cross-stitch (Tutu).

We also spent a LOT of time indulging in another family passion--competitive card and board games.  We played HONG KONG Charlie and/or Trivial Pursuit almost every nite.  All of this meant I didn't get a lot of extra time for reading, but I did finish two complete print books, and another 1/2 book on the Nook.  I listened to The Tenderness of Wolves as an audio while I was walking and sewing, and hope to finish it on my drive home in the next two days.  It's an  awesome story, and I'll give you a review when it's finished.

Tonite I'm relaxing at the home of sister #3, after having spent the afternoon with my kids and beautiful grand-daughter.  Tomorrow AM, I have a brunch meeting with old friends from my old job, then I'm on the road back to the land of the snowmen.  Hubbie assures me that the mailman has been generous while I've been gone, so next week's Monday Mailbox post will be full.

The chance to spend quality time with family is (as they say in the Mastercard commercials) priceless.  The books will still be there when the family can't be, so I'm glad I spent this time with all my favorite people.  I may talk to them every day on the phone, and chat online, but there's nothing that beats sitting across the table trumping their HK Charlie pile.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Review: When the Emperor was Divine

Author: Julie Otsuka
Publisher/Format: Anchor (2003), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 160 pages
Subject: life as a Japanese national during WWII
Setting: Internment camp during WW II, California, Utah
Genre: historical fiction
Source: My shelves- a Christmas gift

Julie Otsuka writes with a simple, heartbreaking prose to give us a picture of one of the less glorious moments in America's history. It shows a typical Japanese American family (mother, father, daughter, son) living in California at the outbreak of hostilities in December 1941. These are adults who have been in the country as citizens for more than 20 years, children who were born in the US. The children do not speak or understand Japanese. They have piano lessons, they have pets, they have wedding china and silver, and lace curtains.  The father works so his wife doesn't have to.

Just as the world is shattered by the attack on Pearl Harbor, so this nameless family finds its world splintered into pieces. The father is taken into custody by the FBI in the middle of the night. Shortly after that, the others are given very short notice to pack up whatever they can in one suitcase each, and report to a staging area, where they are eventually shipped to Utah to spend the war in an internment camp of tar paper shacks. The effects of this relocation of over 100,000 persons of Japanese descent are related through the eyes of the young boy (about 8-9 years old).

Using characters who remain nameless, the author enhances the depersonalizing impact this action had on those who were forced to give up their lives, possessions, and livelihoods.  The powerful storytelling enables the reader to feel the emotional, physical, and psychological results of this infamous episode in our country's history.  The significance and consequences of actions on all sides are beautifully portrayed without political comment, without assessing blame or pointing fingers.  It is a quiet, quintessentially elegant depiction of a bleak and regrettable story.

Let's hope this is not the last we hear from Ms. Otsuka.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Winner ! A Heartbeat Away

Congratulations to Susan.
Her comment #13 in the recent giveaway for Michael Palmer's newest thriller was the winner chosen by  As soon as she sends me her mailing address, Dr. Palmer will mail her a signed copy.

Don't forget to enter the other giveaways running on the sidebar, and thanks to everyone who entered.

Memoir of the Month - The Widow's Story

Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher/Format: Ecco, galley proof 417 pages
Subject: Grieving
Setting: Princeton, NJ 
Genre: Memoir
Source: ARC from the publisher

A stunning tell-all from a very private person.  In this brutally honest memoir of grief, Joyce Carol Oates the author gives us the reactions and emotions of the months of anguish endured by Joyce Smith the wife of Raymond Smith, a renowned editor when he unexpectedly died of complications of pneumonia after a short stay in Princeton hospital in February 2008.

Stunned into almost complete catatonia, she is unable to function as Joyce Smith.  She cannot believe Ray has left her.  She neglects her person, her house, her mail, her expected duties, and often almost forgets the cats. She becomes particularly distraught at the continual appearance of the "Harry and David condolence baskets" which she does not want, and has no idea how to dispose of.  Nights, which are the hardest for her to endure,  bring thoughts of suicide, but her mind is too numbed even to bring her to action to complete the act.  She gathers all the medications previously dispensed to her husband and herself, counting up and listing different anti-depressants, sleeping pills, muscle relaxers, antihistamines, and other pain killers, trying to decide if she has enough to accomplish the task of putting herself out of her misery.

Daytimes bring a trance like state that can still find fault and hurt in every well-meaninged remark by friends and strangers alike.  She is unable to accept that people want to help.    By day Joyce Carol Oates continues teaching at Princeton, refusing to believe that Ray is gone.  By night, returning to an empty house, Joyce Smith cannot function, unable to open condolence notes, email, or answer the phone.  Friends gently guide her through the funeral process.  Gradually, she allows herself to consider continuing with life. By April, when Ray's garden begins to sprout with the bulbs he had planted the previous fall, she experiences the stirring of life, and to the accompaniment of her memories, begins to mend.

The writing in this work is exquisite.  The reader feels the pain, the desolation and the total emptiness Oates experienced during this traumatic period.  By speaking in the first person, she allows us to enter her isolation so we can experience the enervating emptiness she feels.  She is constantly working at simply getting through each day, each chore, each next step. She intersperses her recollections with copies of notes, emails, and letters from and to  friends and acquaintances.   Periodically she will shift to a recap in the third person, almost as if she wants to look over the widow's shoulder to produce a how-to (or how not to?) guide for widows.  At one point, (pgs 40-41) she gives us a sentence almost two pages long....very similar to a Saramago train of thought.  It was enormously effective to show us the complete disintegration of her thought processes as she tries and fails to come to terms with her husband's death.

As she works her way through the grieving process she is able to look outside herself :
"For the widow is a posthumous person passing among the living.  When the widow smiles, when the widow laughs, you see the glisten in the widow's eyes, utter madness, an actress desperate to play her role as others would wish her to play her role and only another widow, another woman who has recently lost her husband, can perceive the fraud." (pg. 332).
 I've been reading a lot of memoirs in the past two years.  This is not an uplifting book in the style of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, or Kate Braestrup's Here if You Need Me, but it is an affirming book, one that assures us that life can go on :
"Of the widow's countless death-duties there is really just one that matters: on the first anniversary of her husband's death the widow should think I kept myself alive." (pg. 416.)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Review: The Sherlockian

Author: Graham Moore
Publisher/Format: Twelve (2010), Hardcover, 368 pages  
Characters: Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Harold White, Alex Cale
Subject: Missing diaries of Arthur Conan Doyle
Setting: London, New York, Switzerland
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: ARC from the publisher

The author claims this is a book of historical fiction. It is certainly heavy on the fiction. I am nowhere close to being an expert on Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle so I'm unable to judge whether the history is accurately portrayed.  I didn't have to read the author's notes to decide that he probably took a lot of liberty with history, and  I had to suspend a lot of belief to get through this double layered story.

The reader is presented a mystery - ala Sherlock Holmes- with many quotes from the venerable clue solver, about events that took place between 1890 and the early 1900's in England, and events that took place in the US in 2010.  The 2010 story involves a young member of the Baker Street Irregulars--Harold  White --who sets out to solve the murder of one of the other members --Alex Kale.  Alex claimed to have been in possession of Arthur Conan Doyle's missing diaries covering a crucial period in his history.  In the meantime, the other story gives us the details of the events as they "actually happened" during the missing diary period.  How the two tie together is revealed at the end.  The stories galloped along, and were fun to long as you are not interested in total historic accuracy.  The device of the two stories running parallel was well done and held my interest.   I'd really be interested in reactions from Sherlock Holmes fans in that Sherlock himself played only a minor role in the story.

Many thanks to Hachette Book Group for providing a review copy.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mini Review: The Night Bookmobile

Author: Audrey Niffenberger
Publisher/Format: Abrams ComicArts (2010), 40 pages
Subject: reading and the role of libraries 
Setting: Chicago
Characters: Alexandra, Mr. Openshaw
Genre: Graphic novel
Source: I read this via a podcast from The Guardian 

The graphic novel is a format I'm becoming more comfortable with.  And having this available as a nightly serialized podcast from the UK Guardian made reading this one quite enjoyable.

The story is simple but deceptively deep.  And I'm not at all sure I agree with the ultimate message.  Essentially one evening, Alexandra, a young woman who enjoys reading, stumbles upon a rundown Winnebago masquerading as a bookmobile, driven by Mr. Openshaw; Inside, she finds copies of every book she's ever read, but there are no new (or new to her) books on the shelves.  She is fascinated by the collection, and asks the elderly gentleman if she can work there. He declines her offer, and when dawn comes, he rides off into the sunrise.

Alexandra spends long years roaming the streets looking for the bookmobile, and in the meantime decides to attend library school. She graduates, get a job in a library, and says that she likes working with people, but still she keeps looking for the bookmobile and Mr. Openshaw.

When at last she is faced with deciding whether to be Director of the County Library branch, or librarian of the Night Bookmobile, she finds her choice will be costly either way.  Here Niffenberger's view of books, and the importance of libraries, librarians and reading is one that disturbs me.  I don't want to spoil this thought-provoking missive.  It is a quick read, and very well written.  It should be read by everyone who thinks reading is important.

I'd love to hear from other readers about their reactions.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Vacation Time.....lots of reading?

Sometimes the best laid plans go completely out the window.  As I mentioned earlier, I'm currently enjoying a relaxing two week stay with my mother at her timeshare on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.  I had stocked up my Nook, and my MP3 with lots of ebooks and audio books, and packed up my needlepoint intending to make good progress with my reading and my sewing.

I have managed to finish a few books, and now I'm about half-way through Joyce Carol Oates wonderful memoir "A Widow's Story" which is scheduled for publication next week.  I've also been listening to "Sherlockian", a delightful tale of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his love/hate relationship with his character Sherlock Holmes.  I have this book in print and audio, and have had to resort to listening because my sister who arrived on Monday brought with her an assortment of small jigsaw puzzles, so Mom, sis and I have been having a marathon session of working the little darlings.

I am currently stuck on one featuring some sort of frog --- and it's driving me nutso! But it is fun to share stories and spend family time together.  We've done a driving tour of the island, taking Mom back to some of her favorite haunts--we were both disappointed that the outlet mall where we'd hoped to 'help the economy' is currently closed for renovations and we could not find another kitchen store.  We've been trying out new recipes, and sleeping late.   The weather hasn't been terrific, but it has been warm enough to walk on the beach as long as we're well bundled against the wind.

Don't forget, there are three giveaways running right now, and I'll be picking winners from here.  The condo has WIFI, and obviously I brought my laptop, so I look forward to your entries.  My other sister Cheli (she of Cheli's Shelves)  arrives tomorrow night, and I'm sure we will get down to some serious reading after we exchange books we've brought to do our own paperback swap.

I hope all of you are able to find some relax time during these winter doldrums we all seem to be going through.  Spring (and spring baseball training) will be here before we know it!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Review: The Irresistible Henry House

Author: Lisa Grunwald
Publisher/Format: Random House (2010),e-book 354 pages
Characters: Henry Gaines, Martha Gaines, Barbara Gardner
Subject: home economics and child rearing theories
Setting: fictional college campus; Hollywood; London
Genre: historic fiction
Source: public library electronic download

 Henry (House) Gaines was a practice baby.  Born in 1946, given up for adoption by his unmarried teen-aged mother, he became a "House" baby in a university Home economics program where he was "raised" by a procession of young women majoring in home economics.

Today, our high school students often carry 10 pound sacks of flour, diapered and dressed in baby clothes which they must "care for" for a period of days/weeks/months--an assignment designed to impress on young people some of the limits and responsibilities parenthood imposes on parental time and freedom of movement.  Some of today's high schools even have robot or mechanical 'babies' programmed to cry, wet, burp, sleep, etc.  But in 1906, when Cornell University instituted the idea of a Practice House, and contracted with a local orphanage to care for practice babies, the concept was quite radical.  It subsequently spread to many colleges across the country and continued well into the 1960's.

Lisa Grunwald gives us a fictionalized account of one such experiment.  Henry was only 6 weeks old when he came to live in the House.  Martha Gaines, the house mother, is a stern widow who goes strictly by the book of no-nonsense child rearing.  Babies were fed on schedule, bathed, walked, and dressed on time, with no cuddling, picking up, soothing allowed.  After all, if a child learned he could cry and get picked up, then he would cry all the time!  Each class of 8 student mothers rotated living in the house for a week at a time for one or two semesters of 'child-rearing'.

So Henry was "Raised, as a consequence, not with a pack of orphans by a single matron but as a single orphan by a pack of mothers....(he) started life in a fragrant, dust-free, fractured world where love and disappointment were both excessive and intertwined." (pg. 7)

Martha did not allow emotional bonding with the babies, either for herself, or her students.  Somehow, Henry didn't get the message, and Martha found herself falling in love with this particular infant.  One of the other practice moms also exhibited a special attachment to Henry.

Without spoilers, this is the story of Henry's he came to stay in the practice house beyond the normal one year limit and be raised by Martha as her son.  How he came to use her last name.  How the lack of a male role model, and the constant need to please a number of women impacted his emotional life as he grew. How his search for, and subsequent relationship with, his birth mother colored his perceptions of parenting.  It is the story of Henry, from his birth to his ultimate assimilation as a young adult into the drug culture of the sixties, of his adult relationships with his mother(s) and with young women his own age, of his life as an graphic artist both in Hollywood and London, and his search for permanence in his family setting.

Ultimately, I saw this book as an indictment of an experiment, as the story not just of Henry, but a study of the need for permanent bonding relationships of infants and parents, of one human with another, and of the need for trust to be established and honored.  Grunwald has given us an extraordinary picture of human relationships, and of the universal need to belong to a family.

Henry's story is well told, and well worth reading.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Review: The Water is Wide

Author: Pat Conroy
Publisher/Format: Recorded Books 10.75 hours, 320 page equivalent
Narrator: Tom Stechschulte
Subject: Educational values/opportunities in rural South Carolina
Setting: small island off coastal south Carolina
Genre: fictionalized memoir
Source: public library

 I am a huge fan of Pat Conroy's stories of the south.  This poignant memoir tells of his early teaching career attempting to upgrade the educational experience of students in an all black school on poverty plagued Daufuskie Island (fictionalized in the book to Yamacraw Island).  After teaching high school for a year, and being turned down by the Peace Corps, "Mr. Conrack" as he called by the children, finds himself teaching 18 children in grades 4-8, several of whom cannot count the 5 fingers on their hands, or recite the alphabet, and who do not know what country they live in or any other elementary facts or skills expected of 4th graders in any other school in the state.

Conroy must throw away his playbook on how to teach, and devise new methods to inspire his children to learn and to love learning.  However, before he can do any of this, he must learn about them, and he must find a way to understand the local dialect known a gullah that the children speak. He discovers one young girl, Mary, is able to serve as the 'translator' for the class, so the adventure can begin.

Set in 1969, it is the story of a year of adventures, of triumphs, and of many failures and missteps.  It is the story of a small southern school district trying to come to grips with desegregation, and ignoring the needs of this heretofor 'out-of-sight, out-of-mind' school.  Now with Conroy butting heads with the black principal who "teaches" grades 1-3 (mostly by wielding a huge leather strap), devising numerous games, field trips, and non-traditional methods to inspire his class, the school board is faced with a devoted educator they see as a demanding renegade who refuses to abandon a town, his students, or his principles.  Although he was himself the product of segregated Beaufort High School, and a graduate of the Citadel, his world view has expanded, and his championing of this group of neglected but needy children is a story both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Conroy's way with words is, as always, able to paint scenes, dialogue, and emotions in a way that transports his reader exactly where he wants to take them.  Although this book was originally published in 1972, I became aware of it when I read Conroy's My Reading Life a few months ago.  And since I am currently relaxing here on Hilton Head Island, in the geographic environs of the story, it seemed a perfect time to indulge my Conroy addiction.  It certainly didn't disappoint.

Edited 2/24/2011:  I was also given a chance to read this as an e-book by the publisher. They provided this informative video (it's the icon underneath the primary video with a child raising her hand in a classroom) as well as an updated cover for the ebook.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Two days of Driving - three books!!

Sunday and Monday I was on the road trying to get ahead of the monster storm scheduled to roll through the mid-Atlantic today and tomorrow.  I had plenty of books loaded on my Nook, several in my tote bag, and another 2 dozen loaded on my MP3.  Since I was driving alone, the Nook was not an option while on the road.  Instead I was able to finish two of the audios I'd been listening to, and then finish a book on my Nook last night in the motel.

The audios were

Author: Carl Bernstein
Publisher/Format: Books on tape, audio 24 + hours; 656 page equivalent
Narrator: Robertson Dean
Subject: Hilary Rodham Clinton
Genre: Biography

It took me over a week of sporadic listening to this one (No way could I have held onto a 656 page chunkster long enough to finish this.) I guess the best that can be said is that it is very fact it's way TOO thorough. Could have left out at least 1/3 and still given us all we ever wanted to know. I suppose that true biography calls for all the details, but wow did it ever get bogged down with detail after detail about every single meeting, phone call, and who struck john.....and in the end, I'm still not sure how I feel about Hilary as a person. Perhaps that's the job of a give us facts and let us draw our own conclusions.

Author: Mary Roach
Publisher/Format: Tanto media audio 8 hours,  304 page equivalent
Narrator: Shelly Frasier
Subject: Research options involving human cadavers
Genre: Science non-fiction

A raucous but well-researched romp through various iterations of 'life after death,' including medical and military scenarios, as well as various options for final disposition. Definitely not for the squeamish, but full of little known, and often not thought about, facts. I learned a lot, and found myself laughing out loud. In spite of her somewhat macabre sense of humor, the book is respectful and actually reverent.
Then I finished another one on my Nook:
Author: Ivan Doig
Publisher/Format: Riverhead Books, 2010, ebook, 215 pages
Characters: Morris Morgan, Rabrab Rellis, Sandy Sandison, Grace Faraday
Subject: copper mining, unions, gambling, and libraries
Setting: Butte Montana  
Genre: fiction, western

I don't read many westerns, but this author was highly recommended by several people in my book club.  Doig has a clear, concise prose that is almost poetic.  His ability to paint pictures, draw characters, and weave a story is quite amazing.  He tells the tale of Morris Morgan who arrives in Butte with only the clothes on his back, who manages to secure a room in the boardinghouse of one Grace Faraday, and who, after working for several weeks as the 'cryer' for a funeral director, finds himself hired as the gopher in the public library.  It seems our hero is classically educated and manages to impress the librarian with his knowledge and love of books. 

In the meantime, the owners of the copper mine--the major employer in the town-- are trying to bust the union, the miners are anxious about job security, and it appears there may be a past that our hero is dodging.  A great story, beautifully written.  It certainly whet my appetite for more by this writer.