Thursday, April 30, 2009

My First Ruth Rendell as Ruth Rendell

Hi. What's up? We've had a little bit of drama here this week, involving an evening-turned-into-night trip to the ER for my husband. He's fine now, but had food stuck in his esophagus. Yes, ick. Yes, I tell him to take smaller bites. Situations like this make it difficult to not have any family nearby, I mean, I don't have anyone to watch my child at 11 pm. Or 1 am. So the evening involved me bringing her home to sleep for a bit, then waking her up and dragging her 50+ pound body back out to the car to pick up Daddy. Who was supposed to be ready. But it took another hour to discharge him by which time the poor child was begging me to take her home. I finally got them into bed around 2 am and all that adrenalin resulted in around 3 hours of sleep for me Tuesday night from which I am still recovering. Ugh. What else? Did you see Lost last night? How great was that? I'm still pondering what it all means. And I'm getting ready to go to an out-of-town wedding for the weekend. So, lots going on around here.


I finished my first Ruth Rendell book during the read-a-thon. I've been reading her books written as Barabara Vine for some time now but this is my first dip into the Ruth Rendell waters. I purposefully chose something that sounded similar to her Vine books, and it definitely was. Similar, that is. Like the Vine books, this focused on the why rather than the who, but unlike the Vine books I've read, this incorporated into the novel the police procedural piece of solving the crime.

The book I'm talking about is A Judgement in Stone and is satisfyingly creepy and suspenseful. Amazing, in a sense that it could be suspenseful since the book begins with this sentence:

Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.

I, mean, this is not a spoiler, this is it. This is the who-done-it, the who-was-it-done-to and the why-done-it right there, line one. So why keep reading? Because Ruth Rendell is writing, that's why. The Coverdales are a well-do-family living in a small English Village. I'm not certain of the time period, but since this was written in 1977 and there's talk of an expensive cassette tape recorder, the 70s sounds about right. Jacqueling Coverdale is having a difficult time caring for her large home and is thrilled when she employs Eunich Parchman as a maid. Eunice is pretty thrilled too, since there is a TV in her new accommodations and she loves those murder shows. But, aside from being illiterate, Eunice is a damaged soul, she is almost inhuman. Things don't go quite as Eunice plans, and the relationship between herself and another villager seals everyone's fate when the entire Coverdale family is killed in the course of 15 minutes on the evening of Valentine's day.

I can tell you that much, but little else. It's much too good to discover it yourself. I can tell you Rendell is brilliant here. Rendell's voice is that of the omniscient narrator who knows what pushes Eunice's buttons, who knows that this is the last day for the Coverdales. A Judgement in Stone is creepy, darkly comedic at times, bone chilling, utterly divine. I loved it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Secrets to Happiness

Author Holly is divorced from a man she's still in love with. She's currently seeing Lucas who she considers too young to be an actual contender for a relationship and she used to date Spence. Spence is dating out-of-town Cathleen (who calls Holly for advice thanks to Holly's novel) and sleeps occasionally with Crazy Molly. Holly works with Leonard whose career has seen better days and tries to meet men online. Holly's friend Amanda is married to lovely Mark but finds motherhood unsatisfying and is emotionally cheating with Jack. Don't forget about Betsy who is the older sister of Lucas and has been shall we say unlucky in love.

Whew. Yes, it's a confusing story, and yes, I did have to make a diagram of the characters. Secrets to Happiness reminded me of a sitcom, or one of those movies where the action flits from one character to another. A book in this format, in my mind, makes it difficult to feel you're really getting to know any of the characters more than superficially and left me wondering why. Why are there so many people in this book?

Undeniably, the person we get to know best is Holly. I thought Holly was terrific, I empathized with her and loved her sometimes snarky sense of humor. We know Holly has a good heart since she takes a sick dog into her home with hopes to heal him or as least make his life more comfortable. I wanted more of Holly though, I wanted more than what she said, I wanted what was inside her head. Another character I connected with was Betsy. One of her scenes was my most favorite in the book, it was tender and sweet and beautifully written and made the whole book worth reading. (For those who have read this, I'm referring to pages 230-231.)

Secrets to Happiness is like a snapshot in the lives of these people. I was entertained but in the end I wanted more substance.

Many thanks to Hachette Books for providing this review copy.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Penny Vincenzi = Deliciously Trashy

I've been reading Penny Vincenzi's book Windfall for weeks and have finally finished - no surprise considering it's 838 pages long and I like to take my time with Vincenzi's books. You see, they're like an ice cream treat that you don't have every day but when you do, you want to make it last. My husband is always surprised when I'm reading a Vincenzi book 'What is it with her?', 'That doesn't look like the sort of book you normally read.' he says. I don't know what it is, I cannot put my finger on what exactly attracts me to these long, trashy, romantic, devastating and melodramatic stories of (usually) wealthy people in extreme and unlikely circumstances living in Britain.

Windfall takes place in mid 1930's Britain, London mostly, during the time that Edward was King and pining after Mrs. Wallis Simpson. Cassia Fallon is the mother of three young children and wife of the town's doctor. As we come to know her, we see that see has indeed given up a lot of herself to wind up in her current role, and there seems no more worthy person to receive a large sum of money upon the death of her beloved godmother. After she receives this legacy, Cassia's behavior becomes really quite horrid and if it weren't Vincenzi writing this book we would loathe her. However, in this case somehow the reader does not mind (so much) Cassia's selfishness and neglect of her home and family but instead wonders where life will take her. Along the way, Cassia realizes that something seems not quite right about the money left to her and she seeks answers, both about the money and the rest of her life.

I have read quite a few of Vincenzi's books, and I would count this among my favorites. I love being completely immersed in the worlds she creates and as I get towards the end (say, around 200 pages from the end) I always start to feel a bit sad that the story is coming to a close.

If you like this sort of thing - I highly recommend Penny Vincenzi. I couldn't read books like this all the time, but I consider her a treat.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Life Sentences

I've had writer's block since late last week. I'm not sure why, but I'm having trouble sitting down and composing what is on my mind into coherent sentences. It could be because I have an extra busy week and a traveling husband. It could be stress from worrying about my job where there were more layoffs yesterday and more 'cost saving measures' implemented. In any case, I am today, forcing myself to sit down and properly write about something and that something is Laura Lippman's latest novel, Life Sentences.

Cassandra Fallows has written two successful books - memoirs - and one not-so-successful novel. Life has brought her back to her hometown of Baltimore where she hopes to research a more personal story to write about. Cassandra is reminded of the life story of a school acquaintance from years past. Calliope was always a quiet girl but her life became news after her infant son disappeared and she refused to discuss his whereabouts. Cassandra contacts old friends, some of whom are happier to see her than others. You see, Cassandra's books are a touchy subject for some of them, who feel her version of events are not exactly or in same cases, even close to the truth. As Cassandra find herself getting closer to the truth, she discovers things about her friends she wasn't expecting, but more surprising, she discovers things about herself.

This is the first time I've read Lippman's work and apparently she is best known as a writer of mysteries. This is much more of a standard literary novel, despite Cassandra's search for answers. In fact, by the time we discover what really happened with Calliope it's rather anti-climactic. What is more interesting in this book are the themes of self-discovery and of realizing that how one person perceives an event can be completely different that another persons. One point I need to make and am finding it hard to, is that Cassandra's friends from school are all black and she is white. Cassandra doesn't see this as being a big difference, but her friends in some cases do, and they resent that Cassandra has seemed to never quite comprehend their point of view.

The novel was at times difficult to follow, written in third person the reader gets the perspective of many different characters. I found it hard to keep track of who was who at times and had to look back. Interspersed in the book are chapters from Cassandra's memoir, which explained a lot of the back story. I thought this was a good addition to the narrative, though I did wonder why the book (the memoir) would have been such a best seller! Overall, I enjoyed this book and would consider reading Lippman's work again in the future.

Many thanks to Harper Collins/William Morrow for providing this book for review.

Again, I want to thank everyone who stopped by during the read-a-thon! In the coming days or weeks I plan to properly visit all of you and check out all the new-to-me blogs out there.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Update 5 - And to Bed

Pages Read This Update: 35
Books Read This Update: Windfall by Penny Vincenzi, Newsweek, A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell
Total Pages Read: 314
Books Completed: 2
Mini-Challenges Participated In: 0
Time Spent Reading This Update: 35 minutes
Total Time Spent Reading: 254 minutes
Total Time Spent Blogging: 110 minutes

I've got to turn in. I'm happy to say I finished the Vincenzi book - yeah! And read a bit of the third book I've had on my nightstand. I've been reading A Judgement in Stone over the past week. It's my first official Ruth Rendell book - as opposed to Barbara Vine - and it's magnificent. Really.

This read-a-thon has been an amazing amount of fun. Many thanks to the organizers and especially to the cheerleaders. Your comments and enthusiasm have been wonderful and I thank you all.

Good Night.

Update 4 - I'm Ba-ack!

Pages Read This Update: 38
Books Read This Update: Windfall by Penny Vincenzi
Total Pages Read: 279
Books Completed: 1
Mini-Challenges Participated In: 0
Time Spent Reading This Update: 32 minutes
Total Time Spent Reading: 219 minutes
Total Time Spent Blogging: 80 minutes

I had a very nice dinner with some lovely people. I had: 2 cocktails, walleye with almonds, cheesy potatoes, and green beans. Yum!

The girl is now asleep and I'm going to get a bit more reading in. I am almost finished with Windfall - which is great since I've been reading it for weeks, but sad because I've grown attached to all the characters.

Okay - I'm off to cheer and then read some more!

Update - 3

Pages Read This Update: 83
Books Read This Update: Secrets of Happiness by Sarah Dunn and Windfall by Penny Vincenzi
Total Pages Read: 241
Books Completed: 1
Mini-Challenges Participated In: 0
Time Spent Reading This Update: 81 minutes
Total Time Spent Reading: 187 minutes
Total Time Spent Blogging: 60 minutes

Why is my pace slowing down? Hmmm. Perhaps because I was interrupted so many times. I paid the girl one dollar to clean her room to buy me less interruptions!

Well, I've reached my fairly lackluster goal of 3 hours of reading. It seems like not enough. I think I won't be updating until later; our church is having a babysitting fundraiser for the high schoolers and naturally we want to take advantage of, I mean support their efforts and go out for dinner! I'll do some cheerleading now!

Update - 2

Books Read: 0
Pages Read This Update: 89
Books Read This Update: Secrets of Happiness by Sarah Dunn
Total Pages Read: 158
Books Completed: 0
Mini-Challenges Participated In: 0
Time Spent Reading This Update: 59 minutes
Total Time Spent Reading: 106 minutes
Time Spent Blogging: 30 minutes

Okay, this is Really Fun! Now I'm wishing I'd arranged to have the house to myself and the capability to read all day long! Since my last update, besides reading I've showered and dried my hair and had lunch.

Thank you for all the great comments! I promise to visit everyone who comments properly in the coming days.

Bybee Asks : What's the food situation???????????

Sadly, it's not very interesting since I didn't plan this! I just had Thai Kitchen rice noodle soup with peas for lunch, and some fruit. Talk about unexciting! I am going out for dinner tonight so I'm sure that will be tastier.

And I've met a fellow Minnesota-dweller, Kim, from Bold.Blue.Adventure.

Cool! I'm off to make the rounds! I'm not visiting in any order, just randomly off the master list.

Update - 1

Books Read:
Pages Read This Hour: 69
Books Read This Hour: Secrets of Happiness by Sarah Dunn
Total Pages Read: 69
Books Completed: 0
Mini-Challenges Participated In: 0
Time Spent Reading: 47 minutes
Time Spent Blogging: not sure yet

I also ate a few Cadbury Easter mini-eggs from my stash.

I'm going to check in with others now!

Better Late than Never?

I'm bravely jumping into Dewey's Readathon - I don't have tons of reading time today, but am inspired to jump in for the little time I have.

An introduction:

Where are you reading from today? Home - where I have a girl with a muscle sprain/strain/pull who needs to be babied.

3 facts about me …
1. My 20th high school reunion is coming up.
2. I don't know how to send a text message.
3. I love chocolate.

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? Um, don't really have a stack but have hundreds to choose from.

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? How about 3 hours of reading?

If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, Any advice for people doing this for the first time? This is my first time!

And she's off....

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Should reading be work?

The latest issue of Newsweek has in it an interesting article about reading and about Jodi Picoult, in particular.

Titled 'Why is it a Sin to Read for Fun?' the article considers the "'gateway drug' theory of literature":

"that once introduced to the pleasures of reading, a child will work her way through increasingly difficult and, presumably, increasingly more edifying texts.....Implicit in this theory is the idea that at some point reading should stop being a pleasurable diversion, and start being work."

I find this an interesting notion, correct in some ways, but flawed in the idea that reading should necessarily be work. Indeed, I think ones idea of 'pleasurable reading' changes as one matures, gains more experience in life and with books. My idea of a fun read is probably someone else' idea of drudgery.

In regards to Jodi Picoult, the article asks 'has she become too successful to be taken seriously?' Interesting question. I have enjoyed some of Picoult's books, others not as much. She has a distinctive writing style that obviously appeals to many people. In all honesty, I have to say that in my own mind I do sort of 'grade' books in level of difficultly, so while Picoult may write about heavy topics, I still generally consider her books lighter and easy reads.

It's an interesting article if you get a chance to read it, and if you happen to come across the print version, there is a great photo of Picoult from behind as she looks out over her many fans at a reading.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Lucky Child

Thomas Buergenthal has indeed had luck play a role in his life, as he writes in A Lucky Child. Born in Czechoslovakia to German and Polish parents, Buergenthal had a few idyllic years growing up in the hotel his family owned. Hitler and the Nazi regime changed all that when he was still a small boy, turning his family out of their home. They journeyed to Poland where after a time they were placed in a Ghetto and eventually were transferred to Auschwitz. Buergenthal arrived in Auschwitz a ten year old boy, miraculously escaped the selection process and found himself a prisoner in a place where children did not fare well. Burgenthal survived the death march and another concentration camp before he was set free.

The story of Thomas Buergenthal is extraordinary in many ways. I cannot say I've ever read about a child surviving Auschwitz. Time and time again, the quick-thinking and creativity of his parents, and the luck of being in the right place and meeting the right people (or perhaps not being in the wrong place or meeting the wrong people) contributed to Buergenthal's capability to survive another day, to escape another close call.

Buergenthal goes on to travel with the Polish army after the war and is eventually and happily reunited with his mother after living in a Jewish orphanage. The portrait he paints of his life in Germany after the war is fascinating as well, being one of only a few Jewish people in his town. Buergenthal eventually emigrated to the US where he became a lawyer devoted to upholding international human rights, a job he is uniquely qualified for.

Buergenthal's story is simply told. He is honest about what events he remembers and which are not as clear. Buergenthal is an articulate and self-aware human being, who has shaped his life around avoiding hatred and upholding the rights of all. We are lucky indeed, to have this memoir, a unique document of a child who survived the Nazi concentration camps.

Many thanks to Hachette Book Group for this review copy. A Lucky Child will be published on April 20.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mary Russell, Part 2... and more

I am happy, happy, happy, to tell you that I found Laurie R. King's second book in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women a pure delight.

This novel begins a few years after The Beekeeper's Apprentice ends and Mary is currently on a break from Oxford. She runs into an old friend Veronica/Ronnie who introduces Mary to Margery Childe and the New Temple of God. Margery Childe is the public face of the Temple, a difficult to describe organization made up of religion, feminism, and service to society. It has a somewhat cult-like following. Ever watchful Mary finds some idiosyncrasies within the Temple, and when her friend Ronnie is injured and it doesn't seem accidental, Mary investigates. It seems that several wealthy women leaving money to the Temple in their wills have been murdered and seeing as Mary has just come into her fortune....well you can imagine the rest.

This is very much Mary's story, the first case she takes on herself and Holmes leaves her to it. For the most part. Holmes is very much a secondary character in this book. He of course turns up at all the right times in all sorts of disguises. In addition, there is a romantic element to this story which perhaps bothers some readers. It's just a story, I say, and look forward to Russel and Holmes' future.

There is an interesting Q&A with the author at the end of the book. One thing of particular interest, is that King actually wrote this book after A Letter of Mary, the third in the series. She says she 'needed to see where she (Mary) was going before I could describe how she got there.'

In a final note about this book, I really love these Picador Crime trade paperback editions. I only see this series published in these nice editions through The am hoping for more. Please?

I have also had the pleasure of reading Madhur Jaffrey's memoir of growing up in India, Climbing the Mango Trees. This memoir is vastly different from all the other books I've read about India, in that Jaffrey grows up in what seems to be a relatively wealthy family. This is of course not without its own problems, as there is much familial responsibility involved. Jaffrey describes her young years spent away from the extended family as the best years in her parent's lives. For a time there were able to be autonomous, until family duty called them back. Back to the compound where Jaffrey grew up, where each family has its own home but all take their meals together, the women spending much of their day in the communal kitchen preparing what sound like delicious and time consuming meals. This is a very personal story for Jaffrey as she describes the ins and outs of living withing a large group of people, and also historically interesting as she remembers living through WW2 and partition and the changes it brought. It is humorous to read this renowned cookbook author write that as a girl, when asked about food or cooking she didn't know the first thing about it, and had never prepared any food. This is a delicious memoir of an unfamiliar place told by a truly fascinating woman. Oh, and there are recipes, too!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bookclub Update

My bookclub *finally* met for the first time in 2009 last night. Our February meeting was snowed out once, then cancelled the second time due to scheduling. Last night we discussed two books, The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich and Time of my Life by Allison Winn Scotch.

Our bookclub had a first last night - we all disliked (stronger words were used) The Plague of Doves. Out of seven members, four finished the book. I was one of three who did not - I mentioned a while ago that I felt completely befuddled by it. The member who suggested it will not be taking further book recommendations from her mother-in-law!

The second book discussed was Time of My Life. Here is my review. Four people really liked the book - the word love was even used! I said essentially what I wrote in my review and one member said "what Tara said", and another had similar feelings about it. The book elicited discussion about life choices and 'what if?' sorts of questions. One member became quite philosophical about the deeper meanings of the book and what the character went through to realize that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. While that didn't change my perception of the book, it's great to hear someone else's perspective.

We will be meeting in May in discuss Jane Austen's Emma - a few members are feeling daunted by its size. I think they will find the reading will go faster than they think.

In other book news, I am close to finishing the second book in Laurie King's Mary Russell series and I can tell you that the review will be Good. I am really enjoying this one.

Finally, I would like to thank Karen from Bookbath (how much do you love her header??) for the Zombie Chicken Award, and Melissa from Shh...I'm reading for the Proximidade Award. Thank you so much! It really moves me to be honored by both of you. I send it right back to both of you and to all the people who read and comment here - I am terrible at giving awards since I hate leaving anyone out.

Reviews soon!

Friday, April 3, 2009

I'm Back... and With More Books

The girl and I returned from the thrilling suburbs of Cincinnati yesterday afternoon. We had a great time visiting my sister and her family, and this year the kids played together better than ever. There was little time for reading and while I'm enjoying both books I brought very much, I only read a total of around 175 pages on the whole trip. I'm still dreaming of that reading vacation too, Nan! Thanks so much to everyone for your well wishes. I was peeking in to see what everyone was up to while I was gone, but I still have over 150 posts to read in my bloglines account. Since I cannot offer any reviews today, I thought I'd share the books that have made their way into my home lately.

Here are some ARCs and review copies that I've received lately. The Blue Notebook looks to be an important but devastating account of child prostitutes in India. Secrets to Happiness on the other hand looks like and easy, breezy read. I'm intrigued by The Lace Makers of Glenmara and it's Ireland-set, cozy-seeming storyline. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is probably the nicest looking ARC I've ever seen - they're not kidding about a major marketing campaign, and finally I was thrilled to open up the envelope containing Lisa See's newest book, Shanghai Girls. I adored Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and have recommended it often.

Here are a few used/swapped/new books. Judith Lennox is somewhat of a comfort author to me, so I was happy to obtain The Winter House. Consequences of Sin is one that I just keep reading about on various blogs (Iliana? Danielle?) so I picked up a used copy along with another Ruth Rendell mystery. Cocina de la Familia is a Mexican-American cookbook that came from Paperbackswap - nice!

I'm really intrigued by this book, The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart. It's part of the 'Barnes and Noble Library of Essential Reading' that I'd never noticed before. The Circular Staircase is described as a 'popular 1908 thriller' complete with a 'feisty spinster' and a 'disastrous summer house rental'. Has anyone heard of this author or read this?

I thought I was done. But UPS showed up today and delivered these.

Tessa Kiros' Falling Cloudberries is gorgeous. Gorgeous! Thanks to Librarything's Early Reviewer program for that one. And finally, The Walking People, described as an old fashioned novel (yeah!) that fans of Meave Binchy are sure to love (another plus) in the tradition of The Memory Keeper's Daughter (hmmm). This one looks great actually, like something I'd enjoy.

So, I have my reading cut out for me.

I have brown rice in the oven in my newly painted kitchen (thanks hubby) and am off to devour my new cookbooks. Have a great weekend - I'll be stopping by!