Between Books

I am between books, and finding it most delightful.

Oddly, I’m feeling no pressure to leap into another book lickity-split.

I dipped into several options last night, but mainly, just enjoying the pure pleasure of browsing for my next read…

 

 

In the meantime, as much as I love you all ~~ please go away ~~ take a walk, visit a friend, just go do something else for a bit…

Leave me alone, I’m browsing…

 

I borrowed this image from a favorite book blogger, Lynn at Fictionophile.

I especially enjoy her ‘Cover Love’ series, check it out for yourself.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Abandoned Books ~~ Part Two

I look forward to reading highly anticipated, well-reviewed books ~~ but every so often, they disappoint.

I abandon them.

Other’s rave while I scratch my head.

Here on Book Barmy, I try to limit the bad reviews, it just feels too mean. But, it’s been awhile since my LAST abandoned books post, so I guess it’s time.

With apologies to the authors, here’s some books I abandoned.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Ms. Donoghue is the bestselling author of Room.  A novel of a mother and child held captive and told from the view of the child (a young boy).  And while the narrative sometimes faltered and became unrealistic – I was glued to their story line, both fast paced and engaging.

Not so much with The Wonder, the story of a 19th century Irish community mesmerized by their own miracle — Anna O’Donnell, a girl said to have survived without food for months, and believed to be a saint living off blessings from God.

An English nurse,  Lib, is sent to the village to observe the fasting girl and she goes without fully knowing the circumstances of her assignment, other than she is to “observe” a young girl who is claiming not to have eaten for months.  Set just after the Irish potato famine, the book dwells in the dark days and mind sets of the Irish poor and their total embrace of the Catholic church.  The Wonder then navigates the reader through these Irish Catholic spiritual beliefs and the not-so-veiled English contempt of the same. While, supposedly based on a true event, I found the characters stereotypical and the portrayal of the rural Irish villagers condescending.  The story (and I got 3/4 of way through the book) lacked any compassion for Anna’s family or their religious beliefs.  

But mostly I found The Wonder to be deadly sl-o-o-ow.  Boring, actually, to read about a nurse, day-after-day watching a fasting girl, listening to her prayers, secretly checking for hidden food, and trying to stave off a visiting journalist.

I tried to absorb the author’s subtext and layered messages – the perils of fervent religious practice, the guileless of poor Irish villagers, the promise of a possible miracle or sainthood … but I could not care or carry on any further.

An digital advance readers copy was provided by Little, Brown and Company via Netgalley.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Celine by Peter Heller

I ‘d heard about this book from some other bloggers I follow, and was very intrigued.  Celine is a character:  an older, elegant woman living in Brooklyn, suffering from Emphysema, but a renowned PI who bests the FBI at finding missing persons.  She also speaks perfect French, is a superb marks-woman, and attended Sarah Lawrence.  Now there’s a character right?

And it’s true Mr. Heller has concocted a wonderfully absurd character who has a dark past filled with secrets — from an out of wedlock pregnancy (at 15!), divorces, alcoholism, and a painful childhood.

The novel opens with a flash back to a swimming accident that takes the life of the mother of a small family. Much later Celine is visited by the daughter looking for her missing father – a famous photographer who was supposedly killed by a bear in Yellowstone Park.  After the death of his wife, he distanced himself from his daughter and now she wants a full investigation into his disappearance. She is somehow convinced he’s still alive.

Celine takes on the case with the help of her partner Pete and they leave Brooklyn for Yellowstone.  And so the adventure begins…but it doesn’t…

The narrative jumps all over the place, sometimes we’re in Celine’s head as she examines her thoughts and then a narrative voice steps in with its own insights about humanity or, even art… Say what?…  Who was that?  It’s as if there’s an omnipresent character we’re never introduced to.

There are long (many-paged) flash backs to Celine’s dark past, with long (many-paged) ruminations on her mistakes, injustices and turmoils.

When we get back to the present and the road trip with Pete, the story line starts to pick up again, but never for long and Celine’s self actualization angst once again takes over.  

I kept having to ask myself, ‘where are we now?’ ‘what’s going on?’. 

Finally I set Celine aside for long I couldn’t remember —  and sadly didn’t care.

An digital advance readers copy was provided by Knopf via Netgalley.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Pretend we are Lovely by Noley Reid

This book comes out next week, but I can’t –absolutely can’t  — recommend Pretend We are Lovely.  This is a tragic story about a dysfunctional family, trying to come to grips with their broken lives, all while they are on a rapid descent to hell.

The narrative shifts between the various family members, as we learn about the tragic death of one of their children, family eating disorders (yes that’s plural), budding teen sexuality, and very inappropriate (icky) relationships.  Not only was Pretend We Are Lovely confusing, it was just too heartrendingly ugly for me to continue beyond mid-book.

An digital advance readers copy was provided by Tin House Books via Netgalley. 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Now, it’s that strange but lovely time – between books.

What next?

I need something to cleanse my palate after the bad reads above.

Perhaps this? 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Louise Penny again

It seems everyone loves Louise Penny’s series of mystery novels set in the fictional town of Three Pines, Canada.  I’ve been a fan since her first, Still Life, and have happily spent many lovely reading hours with the entire series.  I also push recommend her novels to anyone unenlightened who hasn’t read Louise Penny.

Glass Houses, her newest in the series will be released August 29th.  So dear readers, once again, mark you calendars to call in sick to work, cancel those appointments, and get thee to your local independent bookstore first thing.

I will be reviewing Glass Houses here very soon, thanks to a digital advanced readers copy from the publishers.

In the meantime, here’s a recent CBS Sunday Morning interview with Louise Penny  (hmmm the “Penny Posse”,  I don’t think so…)

 

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/the-world-of-mystery-author-louise-penny/

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn

After my last slow, careful reading of Crossriggs, I wanted my next book to be an easier read.   But my mind was reluctant to leave the 19th Century.  Then, lo and behold, my requested copy of The Jane Austen Project came through from the library.

I dashed over to my branch, and read the back cover blurb as I walked home — (What do you say, you don’t read and walk?  It can be done, albeit carefully in a city) — A Jane Austen time travel piece?  Why yes — yes please.  Book Barmy readers know I’m a sucker for time travel books.

Dr. Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucaneis come from a technically advanced future where food is 3-D generated, there’s been an ecological die off, and time travel has become successful.  As part of a scientifically sanctioned journey, Rachel and Liam are selected and rigorously trained to travel back to 1815.  Their assignment is to meet and befriend Jane Austen in order to bring back a trove of lost letters, as well as an unpublished manuscript.

The book opens with our couple waking up from their time travel in a damp Surrey field in 1815, and in forthcoming pages we quickly learn the backstory and the premise of their time travel assignment.

In order to meet Jane Austen, their first task is to integrate themselves with Henry Austen, her favorite brother.  They pose as brother and sister, William and Mary Ravenswood from Jamaica looking for investments with Henry who owns several banks in 1815 London. They find a flat in London, purchase clothing, hire servants and begin their adventure.

There much to enjoy in discovering The Jane Austen Project first hand, so I won’t tell you much more about the plot — at the risk of ruining it for you.  But I will tell you that Ms. Flynn, an Austen scholar, has created a most realistic time of Jane Austen.

Her descriptions are stellar, giving the reader a true feel of the London streets, the stark contrast of poverty versus the gentility, the food, the servants, the country estates, and the clothing — turns out, 19th century men were the true fashionistas.

I sighed in envy over a scene where William and Mary (Liam and Rachel) go book shopping for Jane Austen’s contemporaries at none-other than, London’s Hatchard’s Bookstore which is still in operation today, just as it has been since 1797.

 

 

The Jane Austen Project shines with vivid authenticity, the author weaves in colorful details of the Austens’ lives — how they looked, their family dynamics, their travels, and the state of their health.  Ms. Flynn also nails the time period details — manners, morals, habits, and gender roles.  Mary (Rachel) is a doctor, but can not publicly use her skills when first Henry, and then Jane, falls ill.  She must have William (Liam) pose as a doctor and she advises him from behind the scenes. 

The usual time travel rules (yes, there are time travel rules don’t ya know) insist travelers do not impact history.  But, right or wrong, Ms. Flynn allows her time travelers to be human, interact with the people of the time and indeed effect small changes. When Mary (Rachel) observes her first chimney boy crawling up her chimney to clean it, she is horrified and pays his boss to release the alarmingly young boy to her custody.  Then there’s the scene where Fanny (yes that Fanny) is choking and Mary (Dr. Rachel) automatically uses the Heimlich maneuver, unheard at that time.  When Henry Austen proposes marriage to Mary, she must put him off for as long as it takes to complete their assignment.  Also, there are changes (obviously fictional) to Jane Austen’s later novels, but I’ll let you discover those imaginative bits for yourself

For me, the pure joy of The Jane Austen Project were the scenes with Jane Austen, Henry, her sister Cassandra, and the various friends and family who are (or will become) characters in her novels.  If you’re like me, you’ll hold your breath when our intrepid travelers finally get to meet and share tea with Jane.

Jane, herself, is depicted with a quick intelligence, quiet intensity, and a keen ability to read others.  And in 1815, she has already published some of her works.  Just imagine being a fly on the wall during this scene where Mary (Rachel) and Jane Austen discuss Pride and Prejudice:

She (Jane) laughed.  “Life is full of such oddities is it not?  How did Mr. Darcy happen to fall in love with Elizabeth Bennet, when he could have had any lady in the kingdom?”

“Because you made her so lovable?”

“Oh, yes, perhaps that was why.”

 

While the premise of The Jane Austen Project may seem preposterous (and perhaps it is), this is a fascinating re-creation  — an escape into the world of Jane Austen — and I loved every moment of my imaginary and wonderful  journey.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Crossriggs by Jan & Mary Findlater

I often roam my favorite book blogs to see what others are reading and recommending.   (Just what I need, more to read, but nonetheless, I roam away.)

Both Eden Rock and Heavenali praised a somewhat obscure Scottish novel called Crossriggs.

My library didn’t have a copy, so I turned to our inter library system.  My little book had to travel almost 700 miles from the library at University of California, Long Beach — which cost me nothing.  (Most every library has an inter-library loan arrangement for its patrons, and may I just say bravo to our public libraries throughout the country, both big and small.)   The loan did come with some stringent rules — I could only renew it once, and late fees racked up at $1 per day.  So with that pressure, and after taking a moment to admire the beautiful illustration on the cover  –“Lady in Grey” by Daniel MacNee, I opened this book and fell in.

The novel opens with introductions to the principal characters in the small Scottish village of Crossriggs, then the first chapter enticingly sets up the plot:

These, then, were the principal characters in our little world of Crossriggs – a world that jogged along very quietly as a rule, and where “nothing ever happened”, as the children say.  Then quite suddenly, two things happened.  Matilda Chalmers husband died in Canada, and we hear that she was coming home with all her children to live at Orchard House.  That was the first event.  The next was that the Admiral’s good-for-nothing son died abroad, and young Van Cassilis, his grandson and heir, came to Foxe Hall.  Then and there happenings began.

Crossriggs was written in 1908 by by two sisters who together produced novels, poetry, short stories and non-fiction.  At the beginning of their writing career, the sisters were so impoverished, their first works were scribbled and submitted on discarded sheets of grocer’s paper.

This is an old fashioned read, reminiscent of Jane Austen but without all the characters.  (I always have trouble keeping Austen’s multitude of characters straight*.) Because Crossriggs takes place in a small village, the characters are limited in number and more manageable for the reader.

Alexandra Hope, our main character, practically sparkles off the pages — full of happiness, love and with ambitions and ideas passed down from her vegetarian, head-in-the-clouds, idealist father…called Old Hopeful.  Alex is described as rather plain, but brimming with dreams, imagination and mostly energy.  A male admirer in the village describes her best:

“‘Alex,’ he said, ‘you have a genius for living! You just know how to do it . . . You’re alive, and most of us, with our prudence and foresight and realisation of our duties, are as dead as stones!’”

When Alex’s widowed sister Matilda comes home with her five children, the household is not only strained for space, but also for money.  Alex adores her sister and children, and happily takes on running the now overflowing  household and more than her fair share of caring for Matilda’s children. Alex acquires two jobs to bring in the necessary funds to feed and care the now expanded family. Unlike Alex, Matilda is beautiful but meek, lacking the bravery of her sister.  She seemed to be always sewing something (thus the beautiful cover).

Their increased family size and the strain upon the household finances does not trouble Alex’s father , Old Hopeful — he leaves the worrying to Alex:

The ordinary limitations of poverty were nothing to a man of Old Hopeful’s temperament;  “A handful with quietness! A dinner of herbs where love is!  Who would want more? …What I spent I had: what I save I lost: What I gave I have.”

Old Hopeful is a loving father, and while Alex finds him frustrating, her love for him shines through:

Futile, Quixotic, absurd and unsuccessful, as she knew her father to be, she recognized that he had the right of the argument of life.

The reader can sense the authors took great pains to get everything just right – the characters, the village settings, the weather, the change of seasons — all lovingly crafted.  Many of the observations are pure delight:

But the house that had once been the Manse remained much the same always — no bow-windows or iron railings there.  A tall man (and the Maitlands were all tall men) had to stoop his head to enter the low doorway – an open door it had always been to rich and poor alike.  The square hall was half-dark and paved with black and white flags; the sitting rooms, low-roofed and sunny, wore always the same air of happy frugality with their sun burnt hangings and simple, straight-legged furniture.  There was no attempt at decoration for decoration’s sake, only an effect which was the outcome of austere refinement in the midst of plenty.

And this description of the beloved Miss Bessie’s eccentric wardrobe:

Miss Bessie’s taste was not coherent, and as time went on, this want of sequence increased.  It seemed as if she could not adhere to a scheme even in braid and buttons, for her bodice would be trimmed with one kind of lace, and her wrists (those bony wrists with their plaintive jingle of bangles) with cascades of another pattern.  In her headgear especially she was addicted to a little of everything – a bow of velvet, a silk ribbon, an ostrich tip, a buckle, a wing from some other fowl, and always, always, a glitter of beads.

Crossriggs is definitely a period piece and, like Trollope or Dickens, ones reading must slow to a careful pace. The sisters Findlater are excessive in their use of quotation marks.   This can get confusing, as not only are conversations in quotes, but the characters thoughts are also in quotes.  I found myself thinking “wait a minute did she actually say that?”  “Oh no, she was just thinking it…”  See how I use the quotations – confusing.  Also, there’s a great many exclamation points, which again, is part and parcel of the period.

But this slow reading pace will reward the reader with some priceless observations and tidbits.

…the faint jangle of the door-bell (the Hopes’ door-bell sounded as if it had lost its voice from talking too much).

and this

“Things are so different when looked at from the outside! Of course they are, that is whey we make most of our mistakes in life.”

For me, the best part of Crossriggs was Alex, I really liked her spirit and found myself cheering her at every insurmountable turn.  Towards the end, a great trip is planned…and Alex remains Alex as with this rebuttal about needing a new dress:

“Pooh!, Alex cried.  Clothes! Why Matilda, there’s the world – the great round, interesting world to see!”

And who could not relate to her ability to escape into books:

…Alex sat by the fire, snatching half an hour of reading before the children all came tumbling in again.  Her thoughts were very far away, for she had the happy power of forgetting the outer world altogether when she read anything that interested her.

The plot takes some twists – some expected and unexpected (there’s an accidental death that shook me for hours), but it’s the village life, the characters and the observations that truly shine in this book.

Crossriggs may not be for everyone, but I adored it.  It’s a slow, quiet read and spurred by my inter-library loan deadline, I stuck with it and am very happy to have made the effort. It was sad to send this copy of Crossriggs back home to Long Beach.  I’m going to find my own copy to add to my library.

 

*I have a little book called Who’s Who in Jane Austen and the Brontes.  I also have one for Dickens.  Immensely helpful for all three authors.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Paddington Bear

I found out from Reading Matters (a great book blog), that Vale Michael Bond, the author and creator of Paddington Bear has died at 91.

I didn’t discover the Paddington Bear books until later in life, well after childhood, but fell hard for the cute little guy who embodies all things British.  From being found at Paddington Station, to his love for marmalade, to his ever-present good manners.

Not one for stuffed animals, I do have to confess I own two Paddington Bears, both gifts from Husband – one with proper yellow galoshes and a small guy with cute red ones. Both with luggage tags saying “Please Look After This Bear.”

For a taste of the ever-charming Paddington Bear watch THIS animated short

And HERE’S the Guardian article about Vale Michael Bond.

I’m off to find my copy of this.  I’ve decided it will be tonight’s perfect bedtime reading…

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Hamilton

Hamilton is in town for a four-month tour.  When tickets went on sale, local television coverage showed a stampede of people willing to part with their hard-earned money for a ticket – any ticket.   One had to be very, very lucky or very, very rich to secure a coveted seat.

Husband and I tried a few times, but bulked at ticket prices that cost more than a month’s rent for our first apartment.

It will come back, we rationalized, and then we heard rumors they’ll be making a film.  So, we said, of course, we’ll see it on the big screen. We watched the PBS special Hamilton’s America (watch for it during pledging, well worth it) and, in the end, we were content.

Then, last Tuesday afternoon we were coming in from the garden and the phone rang.  It was our dear friends who suddenly, due to conflicts with children and schedules, couldn’t use their tickets for Hamilton that very night – did we want them?

Did we want them? Did we want them? We were scrubbing the garden dirt out from under our fingernails and downtown in record time.

In case you’ve been under a rock, Hamilton premiered at New York’s Public Theater in February 2015, before transferring to Broadway and winning 11 Tony Awards.  It blends musical theater, hip-hop, rap, R&B, jazz, pop, and American history to dramatize the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, based on the biography by Ron Chernow.

Bear with me as I heap further praise on Hamilton —  it’s everything you heard,  it is indeed extraordinary.  There’s wonderfully written and cleverly delivered lyrics, filled with sly political references, and laugh-out-loud double-entendres.  There’s amazing choreography, lighting and a set that transforms subtly for each number.  But it’s the characters that shine – every character was fully drawn, in period, and beautifully developed.  There’s a scene with Alexander and Eliza Hamilton that left me (and many others) drying our tears.

The politics of Hamilton, Jefferson, Washington, and Madison were not that different from today, which Lin-Manuel Miranda beautifully mirrors in his lyrics and script.  In the song The Room Where It Happens, Hamilton tells Burr that he is having a private dinner meeting with Jefferson and Madison.  Later they emerge from behind closed doors with a three way deal.  Burr is incredulous that no one else was in the room where it happened.  You can listen to the song and lyrics HERE.

Our San Francisco cast was exceptional — with Michael Luwoye playing Hamilton (left) and Joshua Henry as Burr (right).

I thought the show’s most complex character was not Hamilton, who stayed steadfast and unchanged in his beliefs, but Aaron Burr, who goes from being a petulant wannabe politician, to a wiser and more emphatic man – after being the “damn fool who shot him [Hamilton] “.

King George appears alone on stage several times, with messages from across the pond.  His three musical interludes are just delightful  “You’ll be Back” ,”What Comes Next”, “I Know Him”: Listen HERE

Both Husband and I were mesmerized, sitting forward in our seats to catch every phrase, every nuance.  We left the theater a few inches above ground and feeling like the luckiest couple in the world.

If you get a chance to see Hamilton, just do it.

As to our kind and generous friends – (who would not let us pay for the tickets) – we are now indentured lifetime babysitters.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save