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Monday, September 16, 2013

Thanksgiving by Ellen Cooney


"Hester sees they need God to look in the direction of this house and set in motion a mighty splash of light, sweeping through this room like a broom." (Thanksgiving, Ellen Cooney)

About the Book: One family. One table. One meal. 350 years. This dramatic, highly inventive novel presents the story of one family through many generations, as Thanksgiving dinner is prepared. The narrative moves swiftly and richly through time and changes as we experience the lives of the Morleys against the background of historical events. This is history that comes fully alive, for we become part of the family ourselves, sharing their fortunes and tragedies, knowing their truths from their lies, watching their possessions handed down or lost forever. All along, in the same house, in the same room, Morley women are getting dinner ready, one part at a time, in a room that begins with a hearth of Colonial times and ends as a present-day kitchen. Thanksgiving serves up history in a lively, entertaining way that offers an original viewpoint of the everyday concerns of one family across the generations.

My Thoughts: It's September, which means that Halloween decorations are showcasing store shelves and television is filled with all sorts of ghosts, goblins, and zombies to scare us. October is right around the corner and by its end, red, green, and gold-glittered everything will be on display for a shopping experience comprised of things we don't need and never knew we wanted until the flashy advertising entranced us into thinking our lives would be improved if only we owned this or that. And somewhere in the middle, slightly less prominent with each passing year lies Thanksgiving in her quiet gratitude.
     Did you ever have a book find its way to you when you were in most need of what it had to offer? Today our lives revolve around "post-worthy" events and activities to share on social media with our "friends." Do you remember when you only "shared" with those that were present? When family dinners were about creating dishes from recipes that had been passed down for generations to enjoy with those around the table and not about capturing a program-enhanced photo of a store-bought dessert?
     Thanksgiving by Ellen Cooney begins in a quiet descriptive of the life and times of early settlers in 1662 Massachusetts. As the years quickly progress in this saga of the Morley family, the characters and the lives they lead become much louder. While the early Morleys long for tools to make life more simple such as the modern technology that fills our homes today but were unimaginable in their time, the later Morleys find themselves somewhat nostalgic about the simplicity and hand-crafted ways of the past.
     Thanksgiving explores the bonds of family over many generations and the roots that ultimately tie them together even as they venture outward on their own. Home is much more than a house. For the Morleys, the house and land they have inhabited for centuries is both their beginning and end. "Pearl says the worst things her own ears ever heard was the sound the door never made, opening to reveal the first Roger, home from the war. The house is still holding that silence, Pearl says." 
     It is the mystery of what really happened within the walls of the old Morley house that keeps each generation intrigued, so many secrets never told, dreams never shared. "And of all those things, done and not-done, when you come right down to it, what have you actually got? You actually only have the things that someone was willing to pass along. And of the things passed along, you have to wonder, how many of them are the truth?"
     Throughout the book, it is the care of the dinner and food preparation that unites each story told up to 2012. The traditional food that remains the holiday staples today- pumpkins, squash, cranberries, turkey, yams, potatoes, rolls- are in many ways additional characters. When the parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme are dried hanging in the kitchen eaves, something magical seems to have taken place. The reader follows the Morleys through their struggles and achievements, love and heartbreaks, births and deaths. And while each of the characters come to life on the page with their own unique personality, it is the house that is at the center of the realm, waiting to open its doors to a new Morley seeking refuse from storm.
     In our ever changing world where each new day seems to process faster, Thanksgiving is the perfect reminder that sometimes all we need to do is slow down, then stop...and celebrate the blessings of family, food, and home sweet home.

 About the Publisher: Publerati specializes in fine fiction for e-books, donating all of its e-books and a portion of its sales to the Worldreader Organization's efforts to provide e-readers and e-books to teachers and children in developing nations for free to promote literacy. To purchase this book for your specific e-reader, visit www.publerati.com.

** Learn more about Author Ellen Cooney on my Book Beginnings post here.

Book Club Suggestions: For the discussion meeting, have each member bring their favorite Thanksgiving dinner dish and share the recipe with the group; Take turns allowing each member to share what they are thankful for this year; Discuss family rituals that take place on Thanksgiving or heirlooms that are brought out of storage for the special day; Have members research an ancestor before the meeting and share their discoveries with the group.

Happy Reading!
Rebecca




Thursday, September 5, 2013

Book Beginnings: Thanksgiving by Ellen Cooney


 Today I am linking up to Book Beginnings hosted by Rose City Reader where readers share the first sentence of the current book they are reading.


1662
The Turkey
"The fire is nearly out. In her hurry to flame it, she rushes through the daydark and bumps herself hard on the cradle. She keeps forgetting it's there, planed smooth as skin, still tight in the rockers, still smelling new-woody."

I love the uncommon descriptive words Cooney creates to set the scene of this 1662 day and home- "daydark," "new-woody." The reader can instantly sense that the character's daily routines are very physical, from keeping a fire going to caring for a baby and all the other household chores that we know await her. I am looking forward to reading this novel as it seems to be the perfect book to digest before the start of the holiday season.

** You can read my review of Cooney's previous novel, Lambrusco, here.

About Thanksgiving:
One family. One table. One meal. 350 years. This dramatic, highly inventive novel presents the story of one family through many generations, as Thanksgiving dinner is prepared. The narrative moves swiftly and richly through time and changes as we experience the lives of the Morleys against the background of historical events. This is history that comes fully alive, for we become part of the family ourselves, sharing their fortunes and tragedies, knowing their truths from their lies, watching their possessions handed down or lost forever. All along, in the same house, in the same room, Morley women are getting dinner ready, one part at a time, in a room that begins with a hearth of Colonial times and ends as a present-day kitchen. Thanksgiving serves up history in a lively, entertaining way that offers an original viewpoint of the everyday concerns of one family across the generations.

** Thanksgiving is available on Sept. 15. Visit the author's website to order or learn more at www.ellencooney.com.

About the Author:
Ellen Cooney was born in 1952 in Clinton, Massachusetts. She is the author of eight novels and stories published in The New Yorker and many literary journals. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, and taught creative writing for over twenty-five years, most recently in the writing program at MIT. She now lives in mid-coast Maine. Her next novel, The Mountaintop School For Dogs And Other Second Chances, will be published in the spring of 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


Happy Reading,
Rebecca

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Woman of Rome: A Life of Elsa Morante by Lily Tuck


     Have you ever started reading a biography of someone that not only you did you know nothing about but you had not even heard the subject's name before?
     I found myself in this reading situation recently and was pleasantly surprised about how captivating it can be to discover a life unfolding.  
     Woman of Rome by Lily Tuck explores the life of Italian Writer Elsa Morante and the history of her time as she was writing during WWII. Tuck is the author of the National Book Award winning novel, The News from Paraguay. Having thoroughly researched Morante's personal and professional life, Tuck offers the reader an intimate glimpse into the writer's thought process and emotional state during heightened moments. I was initially drawn to this book merely from the book jacket which features a glamorous yet mysterious portrait of Morante. Best known for her novels History (1974), Arturo's Island (1957), and House of Liars (1948), Morante was a well-known literary figure in Italy and Tuck's characterization intrigued me to want to read each of Morante's novels as well as Tuck's literary works.
"All my thoughts, like flags beating against the wind, turned back to the burning season behind me which had cut short my childhood and transformed my destiny. Even today, in a sense, I live in that childhood summer around which my spirit wheels and beats carelessly, like an insect around a dazzling lamp." (House of Liars)
    Morante was a woman struggling to establish her own identity. A tumultuous marriage to Italian Writer Alberto Moravia created a continual competition to be recognized solely for her own work. She surrounded herself with artists, poets, writers, and creative contemporaries. Her work was often a product of her dreams which she documented regularly in journals. Tuck's vast knowledge of Italian language, culture and customs is translated into a beautiful telling of the behind-the-scenes life of Morante the writer as well as Morante the woman.

Happy Reading,
Rebecca

Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Beginnings: Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

 Today I am linking up to Book Beginnings hosted by Rose City Reader where readers share the first sentence of the current book they are reading.


 "Hot, thought the Parisians. The warm air of spring. It was night, they were at war and there was an air raid. But dawn was near and the war far away."

Suite Francaise has been on my To Read list for many years and I am excited to finally be delving into it. From the introduction, the reader can sense the heaviness not only of the subject matter but also the mental, physical and spiritual weight that will be placed upon the characters as they are staged within a war. I am still in the early pages of this novel but the writing is breathtaking. The scene is set with such elegance that one forgets the bleakness of the situation. I am looking forward to getting lost in this story.

About the Book: Beginning in Paris on the eve of the Nazi occupation in 1940, Suite Francaise tells the remarkable story of men and women thrown together in circumstances beyond their control. As Parisians flee the city, human folly surfaces in every imaginable way: a wealthy mother searches for sweets in a town without food; a couple is terrified at the thought of losing their jobs, even as their world begins to fall apart. Moving on to a provincial village now occupied by German soldiers, the locals must learn to coexist with the enemy- in their town, their homes, even in their hearts.
     When Irene Nemirovsky began working on Suite Francaise, she was already a highly successful writer living in Paris. But she was also a Jew, and in 1942 she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where she died. For sixty-four years, this novel remained hidden and unknown.

Happy Reading,
Rebecca 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery


"I'd like to add some beauty to life," said Anne dreamily. "I don't exactly want to make people know more...thought I know that is the noblest of ambition...but I'd love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me...to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn't been born." (page 54)

About the book (from wikipedia.com): The book's title is fitting, as Anne is no longer simply "of Green Gables" as she was in the previous book, but now takes her place among the "important" people (and the "grown up" people) of Avonlea society, as its only schoolteacher. She is also a founding member of the A.V.I.S. (the Avonlea Village Improvement Society), which tries to improve (with questionable results) the Avonlea landscape.

"After all, Anne had said to Marilla once, "I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string." (page 161)

My Thoughts: Anne of Avonlea is the second book in the Anne of Green Gables series. My book club is currently reading the entire series, which has been a wonderful treat to revisit this classic young adult set. Anne of Avonlea details a more grown-up Anne. She is teaching at the local school and enjoying her time back at Green Gables with Marilla, after Matthew's passing.
     There are many new characters introduced in this story, including Davy and Dora, twins which find their way into Marilla and Anne's care and also their hearts. Throughout Avonlea, mischief continues to inadvertently find Anne, but most endearing is that she maintains her optimism and gratitude for the small things in life that one can easily overlook in the hustle and bustle of daily routine- the beauty of nature and the blessing of a simple day spent with family and friends.
     Love is the major theme of Avonlea with several of the characters rekindling past relationships and Anne contemplating her true feelings for Gilbert Blythe. In a world where everything changes and evolves so rapidly, reading Anne of Avonlea was a chance to enjoy the slowness of Victorian times, leaving the reader to sigh deeply when reaching the final page.

**  To read my review of Anne of Green Gables, click here.

About the Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery (November 30, 1874 – April 24, 1942), called "Maud" by family and friends and publicly known as L. M. Montgomery, was a Canadian author best known for a series of novels beginning with Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908. Anne of Green Gables was an immediate success. The central character, Anne, an orphaned girl, made Montgomery famous in her lifetime and gave her an international following. The first novel was followed by a series of sequels with Anne as the central character. Montgomery went on to publish 20 novels as well as 500 short stories and poems. Many of the novels were set on Prince Edward Island, Canada and places in the Canadian province became literary landmarks. She was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1935. Montgomery's work, diaries and letters have been read and studied by scholars and readers worldwide.

 Book Club Idea: In Chapter 13 of Anne of Avonlea, Anne and her best girlfriends plan a picnic and spend the day exploring nature and sharing dreams. Take your book club meeting to the park for a picnic or stage a picnic in your back yard, complete with a Victorian themed menu of scones with jam and tea. Enjoy!

Happy Reading,
Rebecca


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Book Beginnings: Anne of Avonlea

 Today I am linking up to Book Beginnings hosted by Rose City Reader where readers share the first sentence of the current book they are reading.


"A tall, slim girl, "half-past sixteen," with serious gray eyes and hair which her friends called auburn, had sat down on the broad red sandstone doorstep of a Prince Edward Island farmhouse one ripe afternoon in August, firmly resolved to construe so many lines of Virgil."

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery (1909, Bantom Books) is the second book in the Anne of Green Gables series. From the introduction of Avonlea, the reader is informed that Anne is now sixteen, setting the stage for a coming-of-age story. Anne is an endearing character that has captured the attention of readers for over a century. My book group is currently reading the entire series together and I am excited that this novel begins in August, helping to instantly connect me to the storyline.

L.M. Montgomery
About the book (from wikipedia.com): The book's title is fitting, as Anne is no longer simply "of Green Gables" as she was in the previous book, but now takes her place among the "important" people (and the "grown up" people) of Avonlea society, as its only schoolteacher. She is also a founding member of the A.V.I.S. (the Avonlea Village Improvement Society), which tries to improve (with questionable results) the Avonlea landscape.

About the Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery (November 30, 1874 – April 24, 1942), called "Maud" by family and friends and publicly known as L. M. Montgomery, was a Canadian author best known for a series of novels beginning with Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908. Anne of Green Gables was an immediate success. The central character, Anne, an orphaned girl, made Montgomery famous in her lifetime and gave her an international following. The first novel was followed by a series of sequels with Anne as the central character. Montgomery went on to publish 20 novels as well as 500 short stories and poems. Many of the novels were set on Prince Edward Island, Canada and places in the Canadian province became literary landmarks. She was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1935. Montgomery's work, diaries and letters have been read and studied by scholars and readers worldwide.

Happy Reading!
Rebecca

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Country Girls Trilogy by Edna O'Brien


"Upstairs in a bedroom two greyhounds moaned. It was the moan of death. Suddenly I knew that I had to accept the fact that my mother was dead. And I cried as I have never cried at any other time in my life." (Kate, Page 43)

About the Book (from wikipedia.com): Penguin Books, 1960; Kate and Baba are two young Irish country girls who have spent their childhood together. As they leave the safety of their convent school in search of life and love in the big city, they struggle to maintain their somewhat tumultuous relationship. Kate, dreamy and romantic, yearns for true love, while Baba just wants to experience the life of a single girl. Although they set out to conquer the world together, as their lives take unexpected turns, Kate and Baba must ultimately learn to find their own way.


"Lighthouses blinked and signaled on all sides and I loved watching the rhythm of their flashes, blinking to ships in the lonely sea. They made me think of all the people in the world waiting for all the other people to come to them. For once I was not lonely, because I was with someone that I wanted to be with." (Kate, Page 200)

     My Thoughts: The Country Girls Trilogy by Edna O'Brien (Plume Publishing, 1960) is a difficult book that you will heartily devour. Difficult because of the always looming tragedy that the reader can instantly sense, as though the characters have no hope of escaping their bleak destinies. This is a tale of a tumultuous friendship between Caithleen "Kate" Brady and Bridget "Baba" Brennan, and the role of women in 1950s Ireland. The Country Girls was originally banned in Ireland when first published due to what was considered, having at the time been considered scandalous as it addressed female sexuality. It is a coming-of-age tale that is processed through into adulthood with no questioning what becomes of these enigmatic characters.
     The first two books are told with Kate as the narrator and detail their beginnings, school years, and then life in Dublin as young women searching for independence while attempting to maintain social acceptance. Kate's life is deeply impacted by the death of her mother while she is a child and her father's alcoholism. She struggles to escape the fate that was dealt to her mother and discovers that she embodies many of the same weaknesses. After she and Baba plan a scheme to be expelled from the convent in which they were studying, Kate's dreams of a higher education are finished, withering her chance at a life different than the women before her.
     The third book is told via Baba, and the reader has the opportunity to view Kate with a new perspective. It is a realistic look at the relationship between husband and wife and the gradual unraveling of a marriage with glimpses at domestic violence, adultery, and controlling behaviors. In The Country Girls, O'Brien presents a sociological portrait of the plight of women and their struggles to not only have their voice heard but to find the voice they wish to project.

nytimes.com
About the Author (from wikipedia.com): Edna O'Brien (born 15 December 1930) is an Irish novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer. She is considered the "doyenne" of Irish literature.O'Brien's works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole. Her first novel, The Country Girls, is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II. The book was banned, burned and denounced from the pulpit, and O'Brien left Ireland behind. O'Brien now lives in London. She received the Irish PEN Award in 2001. Saints and Sinners won the 2011 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, the world's richest prize for a short story collection. Faber and Faber published her memoir, Country Girl, in 2012.


Happy Reading!
Rebecca

Friday, July 19, 2013

Book Beginnings: The Country Girls Trilogy

 Today I am linking up to Book Beginnings hosted by Rose City Reader where readers share the first sentence of the current book they are reading.


"I wakened quickly and sat up in bed abruptly. It is only when I am anxious that I waken easily and for a minute I did not know that my heart was beating faster than usual. Then I remembered. The old reason. He had not come home."

From the introduction, the reader grasps that the narrator is worried over the absence of a particular individual. She states that her quick wakening was from "the old reason," providing the reader with the background that she finds herself in a situation familiar to her. Whom is she referencing and what is the underlying problem?

About the Book (from wikipedia.com): Penguin Books, 1960; Kate and Baba are two young Irish country girls who have spent their childhood together. As they leave the safety of their convent school in search of life and love in the big city, they struggle to maintain their somewhat tumultuous relationship. Kate, dreamy and romantic, yearns for true love, while Baba just wants to experience the life of a single girl. Although they set out to conquer the world together, as their lives take unexpected turns, Kate and Baba must ultimately learn to find their own way.

nytimes.com
About the Author (from wikipedia.com): Edna O'Brien (born 15 December 1930) is an Irish novelist, memoirist, playwright, poet and short story writer. She is considered the "doyenne" of Irish literature.O'Brien's works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole. Her first novel, The Country Girls, is often credited with breaking silence on sexual matters and social issues during a repressive period in Ireland following World War II. The book was banned, burned and denounced from the pulpit, and O'Brien left Ireland behind. O'Brien now lives in London. She received the Irish PEN Award in 2001. Saints and Sinners won the 2011 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, the world's richest prize for a short story collection. Faber and Faber published her memoir, Country Girl, in 2012.

Happy Reading!
Rebecca

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Summer....in poem


Summer

The sun defines the beacon of the seasons 
Southern breezes whistle dreams into one's path 
Notions once past return with strength and promise 
Summer whispers the ripening of future 

Cool grass beneath calloused soles speaks to spirit 
Spirit responds by soaking earth with her tears 
Those gone before seem nearer 
Days presented on extended fingers 

Mama wake me from sleep unslumbered 
Lest I linger in intoxicated bliss 
The fruits of a trifling journey 
Laid bare upon the robin's chest

Dreams once dreamt return vivid 
A spark reignited from a cold ember 
Hope emerging through the silent creeping 
The sweet, lingering scent of honeysuckle on the vine 

                                                       ~ R.L. Morgan

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sanctuary by William Faulkner


About the Book (from amazon.com): First published in 1931, this classic psychological melodrama has been viewed as more of a social document in his tragic legend of the South than mere story. From Popeye, a moonshining racketeer with no conscience and Temple Drake, beautiful, bored and vulnerable, to Harace Benbow, a lawyer of honor and decency wishing for more in his life, and Gowan Stevens, college student with a weakness for drink, Faulkner writes of changing social values and order. A sinister cast peppered with social outcasts and perverts perform abduction, murder, and mayhem in this harsh and brutal story of sensational and motiveless evil. Students of Faulkner have found an allegorical interpretation of "Sanctuary" as a comment on the degradation of old South's social order by progressive modernism and materialistic exploitation. Popeye and his co-horts represent this hurling change that is corrupting the historic traditions of the South.

"The house was a gutted ruin rising gaunt and stark out of a grove of unpruned cedar trees." Page 4

My Thoughts: Sanctuary by William Faulkner (Random House 1931) is described as Faulkner's breakout novel and its scandalous themes and seedy characters provide the reader with a quick moving plot that continues to surprise. Told as two storylines merging into one, Sanctuary introduces us to a slew of characters struggling to find their way in a changing culture and landscape of the South in the 30's.
     Temple Drake is a young, attractive socialite who finds herself in unfamiliar territory when a date with a "gentleman" goes sordidly wrong. Horace Benbow is an attorney searching hopelessly for purpose in his life. Together, these two characters direct the flow of the flow of the story although their interaction is brief and of little consequence to the outcome.
     Faulkner's writing is eloquent even when describing horrific events that alter Temple's future and wide variety of themes are tackled among the outcasts that pepper this story, including rape, murder, alcoholism, race, and society in a regressed environment. Faulkner addresses each with the ease of an author writing about what is familiar to him. For those who have never read Faulkner previously, Sanctuary is a great novel to start you on the path of discovering this classic American writer.

Have you read Sanctuary or other Faulkner novels? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Happy Reading,
Rebecca

Friday, July 5, 2013

Book Beginnings: Sanctuary by William Faulkner

 Today I am linking up to Book Beginnings hosted by Rose City Reader where readers share the first sentence of the current book they are reading.


Sanctuary by William Faulkner (Random House, 1931) begins with these words:

"From beyond the screen of bushes which surrounded the spring, Popeye watched the man drinking. A faint path led from the road to the spring. Popeye watched the man- a tall, thin man, hatless, in worn gray flannel trousers and carrying a tweed coat over his arm- emerge from the path and kneel to drink from the spring."

Faulkner exemplifies perfect summer reading to me. From the introduction in Sanctuary, the reader can instantly sense that this is going to be a character-driven novel. We become curious about not only Popeye but the man that he is observing and where their paths are going to lead them.

About the Book (from amazon.com): First published in 1931, this classic psychological melodrama has been viewed as more of a social document in his tragic legend of the South than mere story. From Popeye, a moonshining racketeer with no conscience and Temple Drake, beautiful, bored and vulnerable, to Harace Benbow, a lawyer of honor and decency wishing for more in his life, and Gowan Stevens, college student with a weakness for drink, Faulkner writes of changing social values and order. A sinister cast peppered with social outcasts and perverts perform abduction, murder, and mayhem in this harsh and brutal story of sensational and motiveless evil. Students of Faulkner have found an allegorical interpretation of "Sanctuary" as a comment on the degradation of old South's social order by progressive modernism and materialistic exploitation. Popeye and his co-horts represent this hurling change that is corrupting the historic traditions of the South.

About the Author: William Cuthbert Faulkner (born Falkner, September 25, 1897 – July 6, 1962), also known as Will Faulkner, was an American writer and Nobel Prize laureate from Oxford, Mississippi. Faulkner worked in a variety of written media, including novels, short stories, a play, poetry, essays and screenplays. He is primarily known and acclaimed for his novels and short stories, many of which are set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, a setting Faulkner created based on Lafayette County, where he spent most of his life, and Holly Springs/Marshall County. Faulkner is one of the most important writers in both American literature generally and Southern literature specifically. Though his work was published as early as 1919, and largely during the 1920s and 1930s, Faulkner was relatively unknown until receiving the 1949Nobel Prize in Literature. Two of his works, A Fable (1954) and his last novel The Reivers (1962), won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked his 1929 novel The Sound and the Fury sixth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century; also on the list were As I Lay Dying (1930) and Light in August (1932). Absalom, Absalom! (1936) is often included on similar lists.

Happy Reading!
Rebecca

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My Top 10 Intimidating Books

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Happy Tuesday Everyone!
Today I am participating in Top Ten Tuesday
hosted by The Broke and the Bookish with a list of 10 books I think of as intimidating. Click on the link above to head over and visit other submissions and to find great books to add to your To Read list.

I broke this set into two segments: Books that I initially thought would be intimidating but I finished reading and Books that I still find too intimidating to dive in but are still on my To Read someday list.

Read: Each of these I discovered were not as an intimidating as my perceptions allowed me to believe.

   


This next set is still on my To Read list. Most I started at one point or another but never broke through to the point where I was interested in the material.
 
  

I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I complete a novel that I considered a challenge. I am looking forward to discovering more "intimidating" literature from fellow book bloggers!

Happy Reading,
Rebecca

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thomspon


"There is no formula for finding yourself in Vegas with a white Cadillac full of drugs and nothing to mix with properly." (page 156)

About the Book: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the best chronicle of drug-soaked, addle-brained, rollicking good times ever committed to the printed page. It is also the tale of a long weekend road trip that has gone down in the annals of American pop culture as one of the strangest journeys ever undertaken.

"Old elephants limp off to the hills to die; old Americans go out to the highway and drive themselves to death with huge cars." (page 18)

My Thoughts: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson (Flamingo, 1971) is a representation of Thompson's "Gonzo Journalism," a blurring of lines between fiction and non-fiction, based on two trips to Las Vegas with attorney and Chicano activist Oscar Zeta Acosta. This is not a book for anyone who is easily offended by language or lewd behavior. The is told through the perspective of Raoul Duke, "Doctor of Journalism" and Thompson's alter-ego.
     The first trip to Vegas is centered around Duke's assignment from a motor sports magazine to cover the Fourth Annual Mint 400 in 1971. Thus begins the drug-induced journey with his "attorney," Dr. Gonzo, who makes the arrangements and accompanies him on the journey that is designed as an opportunity to experiment with a variety of recreational drugs. Following their survival of that trip, Dr. Gonzo quickly arranges another assignment to bring the duo back to Vegas. This time it is for Rolling Stone magazine to cover the National District Attorneys' Association's Third National Institute on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. While law enforcement officials are attending the conference to learn how to handle the drug epidemic and drug-related crimes, Duke and Dr. Gonzo continue their quest to discover the "American Dream," a concept that had radically shifted over the past decade.
     The book is illustrated by Ralph Steadman and the graphic art adds another element to the chaotic feel of the story. Throughout the book, Thompson is exploring the effects of the 60's counterculture and U.S. society in the early 70's, society's thirst for consumerism, and a changing political climate.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one if you have read it!
Happy Reading,
Rebecca

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson


"The fair had a powerful and lasting impact on the nation's psyche, in ways both large and small." (Page 373)

About the Book (from Publishers Weekly): Not long after Jack the Ripper haunted the ill-lit streets of 1888 London, H.H. Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett) dispatched somewhere between 27 and 200 people, mostly single young women, in the churning new metropolis of Chicago; many of the murders occurred during (and exploited) the city's finest moment, the World's Fair of 1893. Larson's breathtaking new history is a novelistic yet wholly factual account of the fair and the mass murderer who lurked within it.

"Despite its incomplete exhibits, rutted paths, and stretches of unplanted ground, the exposition revealed to its early visitors a vision of what a city could be and ought to be." (Page 247)

My Thoughts: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson (Vintage Books, 2003) is a historical crime novel that outlines the creation of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. The reader is offered two separate storylines that never fully converge: The monumental obstacles faced in constructing the buildings and landscape for the Fair and the violent acts of a serial killer who preyed upon those seeking adventure and fortune in this growing city.
     The writing is extremely detailed, at times reading like a history book with the effort to bring to life the obstacles that were faced in order to create the Fair. Architecture is the leading character of this novel with nature a close second. From the city's efforts to secure the commission to host the event, to soil composition, winds, climate, and fire, the architects were continually challenged to design their visions. In the end, they succeeded. With all of the buildings painted white, the White City enamored visitors and established that Chicago had created a fair capable of competing with Europe. In an effort to build something more grand than Paris had with the Eiffel Tower, the Ferris Wheel was created, becoming an instant success and still beloved today.
     While the city was preoccupied with the building of the fair, a serial killer is setting up a hotel to house visitors and lure victims into his realm. Later referenced as the "Castle of Horrors," the building contained an elaborate gas chamber that was used in several of the killings. Likened to Jack the Ripper, Herman Mudgett or his alias Dr. H.H. Holmes, charmed his victims into believing that he was a successful doctor and businessman whom they could easily trust. Holmes would sell the skeletons of his victims to universities and hospitals for scientific research. The exact number of murders committed by Holmes remained unknown but at least nine were confirmed and many more suspected. After the World's Fair, Holmes was finally arrested in Boston, initially over a case of insurance fraud. Following the gruesome discoveries uncovered during the investigations, he was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
     The story flows back and forth between the construction of the White City, centering around Chief Architect and Overseer Daniel Hudson Burnham, and the darkness of Holmes' acts of violence against women, men, and children. The novel addresses many themes that were arising as the country advanced into the twentieth century: increasing violence in cities; the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor; an unstable economy; and labor tensions. The novel defines a stark distinction between the city that Chicago's visionaries hoped to create and the city that existed for many.

Happy Reading!
Rebecca

Friday, May 17, 2013

Book Beginnings: The Devil in the White City

 Today I am linking up to Book Beginnings hosted by Rose City Reader where readers share the first sentence of the current book they are reading.





The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson begins with these words:  

"How easy it was to disappear: A thousand trains a day entered or left Chicago. Many of these trains brought single young women who had never even seen a city but now hope to make one of the biggest and toughest their home."


The reader can initially sense the mystery that is going to unravel with the use of the word "disappear" in the opening line. We sense that there was a sense of naivete at the time and that the city itself is going to be a main character.

About the Book (from Publishers Weekly): Not long after Jack the Ripper haunted the ill-lit streets of 1888 London, H.H. Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett) dispatched somewhere between 27 and 200 people, mostly single young women, in the churning new metropolis of Chicago; many of the murders occurred during (and exploited) the city's finest moment, the World's Fair of 1893. Larson's breathtaking new history is a novelistic yet wholly factual account of the fair and the mass murderer who lurked within it.

Happy Reading,
Rebecca

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Nashville Chrome by Rick Bass


     About the Book (from amazon.com): In 1959, the Brown siblings were the biggest thing in country music. Their inimitable harmony would give rise to the polished sound of the multi-billion dollar country-music industry we know today. But when the bonds of family began to fray, the flame of their celebrity proved as brilliant as it was fleeting. Masterfully jumping between the Browns' once-auspicious past and the heartbreaking present, Nashville Chrome is the richly imagined story of a forgotten family and an unflinching portrait of an era in American music. In his "breath-catching, mythic and profoundly American tale of creation, destruction and renewal" (Kansas City Star), Rick Bass mines quiet truths and draws poignant portraits of lives lived both in and out of the limelight.

"Was hers a real life masquerading as a fairy tale, or was it the other way around?" ~ Nashville Chrome

     My Thoughts: Nashville Chrome by Rick Bass is the story of the sibling singing sensation The Browns, popular during the late fifties and early sixties. With a primary focus on the eldest of the three, Maxine, the story details their childhood, rise to fame, and their slide down the music charts which led to the ending of their recording together.
     Nashville Chrome was the term coined in an effort to describe the sound of the Brown siblings from a small, mill town in Arkansas, a polished harmony that deeply resonated with country music fans. The book does more than introduce bygone music to new generations who have never heard of the group. It also serves as a warning about the cost of celebrity and the struggle to stay current in and ever-changing industry where one day you are loved and the next forgotten.
     The reader will experience a trip down memory lane as The Browns cross path with many famous musicians of the time and also establish a long friendship with Elvis, who is mentioned frequently in the book as a friend of the Brown family and referenced as romantically linked to Bonnie Brown.
     We meet Maxine in her late-seventies and in poor health. She has recently broken her hip and struggles with daily tasks yet she still dreams of a return to the stage and the chance to resurrect her career. What Maxine longs for most is a movie about The Browns, a motion picture on the silver screen that solidifies their impact on country music and ensures their legacy. After posting a request for a filmmaker on the bulletin board of her local Piggly Wiggly, Maxine receives a call from an interested young man. While she gets her wish, it isn't exactly like she imagined. For Maxine, having been blessed with an amazing talent was never enough, she needs the recognition and accolades that she thinks are deserving of her gift. Maxine Brown has published an autobiography, Looking Back to See: A Country Music Memoir, that I am interested to read and learn more about the fascinating rise of The Browns.
     Nashville Chrome chronicles a family and their journey through poverty, alcoholism, music, stardom, and loss. Along the way, the Browns experience extreme highs as well as extreme lows, and the reader has the opportunity to accompany them on the ride.

Book Club Ideas: Play the music of The Browns and others mentioned in the book at your meeting; Have members dress up in the apparel of the time such as the popular poodle skirts and saddle shoes of the '50s; Have members research a favorite musician and share the information with everyone at the meeting.

Happy Reading,
Rebecca

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Beyond the Book: The Music of Nashville Chrome



     The best way to take reading to the next level is to dive right into the culture. I am currently reading Nashville Chrome by Rick Bass, the story of the sibling singing sensation The Browns who rose to stardom during the 1950s and 60s. Having never listened to their music, a quick You Tube search provided me with videos to hear the sound described in the book and see them perform. A little online research into the time period represented in your book can enhance your reading experience by strengthening your understanding of past or unfamiliar cultures.
     Whether you try a new food item, explore a different country through photographs, listen to music or watch a movie involving the characters, embrace the opportunity to connect the senses (smell, touch, hear, see, taste) to the story and benefit from your new knowledge!

About Nashville Chrome from amazon.com): In 1959, the Brown siblings were the biggest thing in country music. Their inimitable harmony would give rise to the polished sound of the multibillion dollar country-music industry we know today. But when the bonds of family began to fray, the flame of their celebrity proved as brilliant as it was fleeting. Masterfully jumping between the Browns' once-auspicious past and the heartbreaking present, Nashville Chrome is the richly imagined story of a forgotten family and an unflinching portrait of an era in American music. In his "breath-catching, mythic and profoundly American tale of creation, destruction and renewal" (Kansas City Star), Rick Bass mines quiet truths and draws poignant portraits of lives lived both in and out of the limelight.

Happy Reading!
Rebecca

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson


About the Book (from amazon.com): Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life. Gilead is the winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

"But I've developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I ever had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from, except of course, that some very tedious gentlemen have written books." (Page 39)

     My Thoughts: Gilead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) is a powerful story of an ailing father attempting to say goodbye to the son he will never have the opportunity to see become a man. Written in letter form from the Reverend John Ames to his seven-year-old child, the story begins in an account of past experiences that are embedded in memory although they seem insignificant when put into words. "I'm writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you've done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God's grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle." (Page 52) The concept is simple: What would you want your child, family, friends, even strangers to know about your life when you are no longer here to represent yourself?
     Gilead is an emotional read but Robinson writes so eloquently that the sadness is soothing, even hopeful. Ames begins by telling his son about his own father and grandfather, both pastors also, and their significance in the way he has always approached religion. He writes of everyday life but more importantly of his struggles along the way, having lost a wife and child in his younger years and not finding love and family again until he thought it no longer possible. "When things are taking their ordinary course, it is hard to remember what matters. There are so many things you would never think to tell anyone. And I believe they may be the things that mean the most to you, and that even your own child would have to know in order to know you well at all." (Page 102)
     Ames begins to note the small things that one often takes for granted as the occurrences he will miss the most, his wife in her blue dress, dinner with his family, the changing of the seasons. As the letter develops, he begins to journal about situations in the present that leave him uneasy. He writes of his fears for his wife and son as he will no longer be living to shield and protect them from harm. The reader can sense that the writer has taken on a sense of panic as the days progress and his health declines. Finally, resolution comes but he finds that even though he can put his fears to rest, the ending is not how he would wish.
     Books and words had been a part of Ames' life from the beginning and it is through the words he puts down for his son that he finds the peace he needs to accept his mortality. Gilead is a beautiful story about defining oneself throughout life and departing with grace.

 Book Club Ideas: Write a letter to your child, mother, father, even friend letting them know how much they mean to you and present it to them when you are ready. Start a journal and write down your favorite childhood memories and the experiences that impacted you the most. Share an entry with your fellow book club members.

Happy Reading!
Rebecca

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Top 10: Key Words

Happy Tuesday Everyone!
Today I am participating in Top Ten Tuesday
hosted by The Broke and the Bookish with a list of 10 words or topics that instantly make me want to buy/pick up a book. Click on the link above to head over and visit other submissions and to find great books to add to your To Read list.

1. Paris
This one gets me almost every time. Check out my reviews in 2012 for The Paris Wife and Mission to Paris.
2. Love
The History of Love is one of my favorites.
3. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
The seasons easily inspire.
4. Land
Some spend their lives working it; It gives us roots; Wars are fought over it; Land is a powerful word for me.
5. Secret
The mystery and desire to know.
6. Life
It's complicated and I appreciate any assistance with my efforts to figure it out.
7. Home/House
Like Dorothy, there is no place I would rather be.
8. Song
Birdsong, Plainsong, The Song of the Lark. Song implies a very personal telling of one's story.
9. Book, Book Club, Reader
I love reading about others who love to read! If you have not read The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, add it to your list!
10. Passage
I like the idea of coming out stronger than I entered.

What words inspire you?

Happy Reading!
Rebecca

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An e-Reader benefit


My favorite thing about e-readers?
Reading Nicholas Sparks without judgement.

Happy Reading!
Rebecca

Monday, April 22, 2013

What I'm Reading- April 22, 2013

"It's Monday! What Are You Reading?" is a meme hosted by Sheila from Book Journey where readers share what they are currently reading, recently read, or plan to read next.

Currently Reading: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
About Gilead (from amazon.com): Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life. Gilead is the winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Recently Finished: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
Another great Kingsolver book! This was her first published novel. You can read my review here.

Up Next: Nashville Chrome by Rick Bass

I have been wanting to read this novel for several years after hearing the author, Rick Bass, promoting the book on NPR. For some reason that interview stuck with me and I am excited to finally be getting around to this read.

About Nashville Chrome (from amazon.com): In 1959, the Brown siblings were the biggest thing in country music. Their inimitable harmony would give rise to the polished sound of the multibillion dollar country-music industry we know today. But when the bonds of family began to fray, the flame of their celebrity proved as brilliant as it was fleeting. Masterfully jumping between the Browns' once-auspicious past and the heartbreaking present, Nashville Chrome is the richly imagined story of a forgotten family and an unflinching portrait of an era in American music. In his "breath-catching, mythic and profoundly American tale of creation, destruction and renewal" (Kansas City Star), Rick Bass mines quiet truths and draws poignant portraits of lives lived both in and out of the limelight.

Happy Reading!
Rebecca

Friday, April 19, 2013

Book Beginnings: Gilead

  Today I am linking up to Book Beginnings hosted by Rose City Reader where readers share the first sentence of the current book they are reading.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson begins with these words:

"I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I'm old, and you said, I don't think you're old. And you put your hand in my hand and you said, Your aren't very old, as if that settled it. I told you you might have a very different life from mine, and from the life you've had with me, and that would be a wonderful thing, there are many ways to live a good life."

Gilead is the story of a father in ailing health writing a letter to his young son, wanting to leave an account of his life and his regrets. From the opening sentences, the reader can sense that this is going to be an emotional journey, a soul-searching tale, and will likely cause reflection on one's own life and choices.

Have you read Gilead or any of Robinson's other works?

Happy Reading!
Rebecca

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver


“There were two things about Mama. One is she always expected the best out of me. And the other is that then no matter what I did, whatever I came home with, she acted like it was the moon I had just hung up in the sky and plugged in all the stars. Like I was that good.” ~ Taylor, The Bean Trees

About the Book (from Publishers Weekly): Feisty Marietta Greer changes her name to "Taylor" when her car runs out of gas in Taylorville, Ill. By the time she reaches Oklahoma, this strong-willed young Kentucky native with a quick tongue and an open mind is catapulted into a surprising new life. Taylor leaves home in a beat-up '55 Volkswagen bug, on her way to nowhere in particular, savoring her freedom. But when a forlorn Cherokee woman drops a baby in Taylor's passenger seat and asks her to take it, she does. A first novel, The Bean Trees is an overwhelming delight, as random and unexpected as real life. The unmistakable voice of its irresistible heroine is whimsical, yet deeply insightful. Taylor playfully names her little foundling "Turtle," because she clings with an unrelenting, reptilian grip; at the same time, Taylor aches at the thought of the silent, staring child's past suffering. With Turtle in tow, Taylor lands in Tucson, Ariz., with two flat tires and decides to stay. The desert climate, landscape and vegetation are completely foreign to Taylor, and in learning to love Arizona, she also comes face to face with its rattlesnakes and tarantulas. Similarly, Taylor finds that motherhood, responsibility and independence are thorny, if welcome, gifts. This funny, inspiring book is a marvelous affirmation of risk-taking, commitment and everyday miracles.

My Thoughts: The Bean Trees is Barbara Kingsolver's first published novel (1988). Having read The Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer and thoroughly loved both, I was excited to read another one of her titles. I think her style has evolved since this first book and her character development is stronger in the later novels but The Bean Trees still showcases her talent for simple storytelling.
Told as two separate narratives in the beginning, the story unites into one as the paths of the two main characters connect. It is a story about motherhood and community, inequality and strife, but also love and hope. Nature and landscape have top billing in Kingsolver's writing, and the reader experiences a cross-country trip from Kentucky to Arizona in The Bean Trees.
The heart of this novel is a lesson in humanity, the art of creating a level playing field for everyone and making a sacrifice to aid someone else in their journey. Taylor leaves Kentucky with the adventurous spirit of a girl but somewhere between home and the western skies, she discovers that she had the strength of a woman all along.
The Bean Trees leaves the reader feeling optimistic with its ending, however Kingsolver later wrote a sequel to this novel, Pigs in Heaven, which continues the story of Taylor and her adopted daughter, Turtle. It is hard to be disappointed in any Kingsolver book. She addresses serious topics through relatable characters that are a joy to follow.

 Book Club Ideas: In the novel, Taylor's friend and roommate, Lou Ann, takes a job in a salsa factory and experiments with a variety of dishes incorporating the condiment. At your meeting, have a salsa tasting that features different flavors available in your region or try creating your own recipe. Also, vegetables are a large theme in the storyline. Ask members to bring a pack of seeds to share and plant small pots for everyone to take home.

Happy Reading!
Rebecca

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