Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Teaser Tuesdays

Miz B and Teaser Tuesdays asks you to: Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two sentences from somewhere on that page. Be careful not to include spoilers. You also need to include the title and author of the book that you're getting the "teaser" from... that way people can add it to their TBR lists if they like the teaser you've given.

This week's teaser is from The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

"Lore has it my father once wrestled a black bear in Baluchistan with his bare hands. If the story had been about anyone else, it would have been dismissed as laaf, that Afghan tendency to exaggerate -- sadly, almost a national affliction: if someone bragged that his son was a doctor, chances were the kid had once passed a biology test in school. But no one ever doubted the veracity of any story about Baba. And if they did, well, Baba did have those three parallel scars coursing a jagged path down his back. I have imaginged Baba's wrestling match countless times, even dreamed about it. And in those dreams, I can never tell Baba from the bear." (chapter 3)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Distant Hours: A New Kate Morton Coming This Year!

I was reading my favourite book blogs this morning and thanks to Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea I discovered that Kate Morton's third novel, The Distant Hours, is due to be released later this year. Not too long ago I blogged about my love for The Forgotten Garden. I have yet to read The Shifting Fog (The House at Riverton) but fortunately I have it listed as one of my To Be Read 2010 Challenge books. I was "saving" this book for a later read. I suppose my rationale was that Morton has only published two novels and if I raced through the second there would be nothing left to anticipate. But in her blog post, Diane discussed reading the best books first, and the quote under her blog heading explains:

Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them all” --Henry David Thoreau

My birthday is coming soon and with it my first trip to the cottage. The grounds will be green and the lake the stormy blue of springtime. Loons will proudly parade their new babies up and down the north and south shores and the temperature will be cool enough that I can wrap myself up in a quilt as I watch them glide majestically by. I may not be able to read on the dock as I generally love to, because the spring also is host to the birth of an endless variety of small biting, stinging insects (Always keep mouth closed in boat). For my birthday, it's usually the black flies, so I will wrap myself up in the screened room where I can read and watch the lake in all its splendor. My birthday present to me will be The Shifting Fog.*

*Note to Wayne: I know you sometimes read my blog. This is not to be taken literally. This is my "reading gift to me" and this statement is under poetic license and cannot be used against me to excuse gifts (like perhaps an ipad, flowers, chocolates..).

Here is a book blurb that I found on http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/:

"Edie Burchill and her mother have never been close, but when a long lost letter arrives one Sunday afternoon with the return address of Millderhurst Castle, Kent, printed on its envelope, Edie begins to suspect that her mother's emotional distance masks an old secret. Evacuated from London as a thirteen year old girl, Edie's mother is chosen by the mysterious Juniper Blythe, and taken to live at Millderhurst Castle with the Blythe family: Juniper, her twin sisters and their father, Raymond. In the grand and glorious Millderhurst Castle, a new world opens up for Edie's mother. She discovers the joys of books and fantasy and writing, but also, ultimately, the dangers. Fifty years later, as Edie chases the answers to her mother's riddle, she, too, is drawn to Millderhurst Castle and the eccentric Sisters Blythe. Old ladies now, the three still live together, the twins nursing Juniper, whose abandonment by her fiance in 1941 plunged her into madness. Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother's past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Millderhurst Castle, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in the distant hours has been waiting a long time for someone to find it... "

Kate Morton's journal page reveals that The Distant Hours will be available in the US, Australia and the UK in November of 2010. Merry Christmas to me! Merry Christmas to me! *

*Note to Wayne: I know you sometimes read my blog. This is not to be taken literally. This is my "reading gift to me" and this statement is under poetic license and cannot be used against me to excuse gifts (like perhaps an ipad, flowers, chocolates..).

Here is a cool little book trailer that really sets the stage beautifully for the feel of Kate Morton's writing.

The Distant Hours from Kate Morton on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Angela's Ashes

Frank McCourt died last summer and I remember thinking, "I really need to read Angela's Ashes." I'm not one to venture out of my fictional comfort zone and I think that I kept this memoir shelved for years for fear of it's despair. I had watched Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot and that was about as much of "Ireland impoverished" as I could take. Even the cover photo was haunting, a little black and white boy in pantaloons staring at me with eyes that screamed, "I've lived through worse than you will ever know." So, a decade had passed and I kept finding reasons not to read this Pulitzer prize winner.
I want Ireland to be emerald green and steely blue, a place where sheep are herded over cobblestone lanes just home from the fields, where fairy circles abound and smiling men drink Guinness in authentic Aran sweaters while their women named Brigid, and Maeve, and Kathleen, dust the Waterford crystal and starch the doilies they sit upon. Basically, the Ireland of the "Irish Spring" soap commercials -"Manly, yes, but I like it too!"

(With Grandpa at the cottage, 1968)
My grandpa came from Ireland to Canada in 1913. Our family lore recalls that his family originally had booked passage on the Titanic and according to differing recollections (someone was sick and unable to travel, a sister was not finished her job) all agreed that my great grandmother stood firm and said, "We either go to Canada as a family, or we don't go at all." Needless to say, they remained in Tullamore and booked passage on a ship shortly after the sinking of the Titanic. My grandpa never returned to his homeland and I often wonder if he would have liked to. He died when I was only five and there are so many questions I would have liked to ask him. I do know that a sign still hangs over the family cottage that reads, "Erin Go Bragh." My sister traveled to Ireland on business a few years back and was able to visit my grandpa's home. It had passed into only one family since the Molloy's left in 1913 and was virtually unchanged with the passing of nearly a century. She brought mom back some pebbles from the property and several "priceless" photos.

Frank McCourt's Ireland of the 1930's -40's was much different than my colouring book imagination. It was sparse and grey and damp and starving. There were no rainbows or Leprechauns in sight. It was poverty and religious tension and disease and death and abuse and alcoholism and war and dreams and hope. And it was a tremendous read. I am amazed with the amount of recall and detail that McCourt enlisted to breathe life once again into his boyhood in both Brooklyn and Limerick. Especially once discovering that he wrote the memoir after his retirement from teaching. I grew up being guilted into finishing my vegetables out of respect for the starving children in Africa and China who would have happily ate creamed corn courtesy of the Jolly Green Giant. I had not really experienced poverty until McCourt took me into his childhood home with it's one bed infested with fleas and the community latrine and the boiled pig's head for Christmas. His story helped me understand the true differences between warmth and cold, damp and dry, health and sickness, and love and neglect.

I've heard that McCourt has his critics in Limerick city. Likely, they are unhappy with the portrayal. This book though is about Limerick as seen and remembered through the eyes of young Francis McCourt. A memoir is one's own point of view as influenced by their experience and memory. So, it may not necessarily be everyone's truth; the truth as known to those closest to him. It would be a different story I am certain if told by Angela or Malachy. A favourite professor of mine is fond of quoting, "We all have our own mother" and I'm sorry that I can't remember who owns that quote, but I think it really sums it up. We see people and events and history through our own eyes and our versions are therefore unique.

The book is rolling full steam ahead as McCourt returns to America as a young man and then abruptly ends. Just ends, with the word, "tis." I thought I had a misprint. I checked to see if pages were missing. Boom, like hitting a brick wall, it stopped. But, there is another book. And it is called, Tis. I can't wait to read it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry

Audrey Niffenegger's second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry took me by surprise. I wasn't expecting to really like it. In fact, I wasn't expecting that I would even read it.
I was definitely one of those readers in the minority with The Time Traveler's Wife -- just not that into it. Couldn't get past the whole bit of the naked grown man popping in on his future wife at six years old part. I found Henry to be moody, depressing and completely self-absorbed. I wanted to shake Clare and tell her, "You could do so much better than that old Dougie Downer!" "Dear God, woman, they've chopped his feet off now!" Truth be told I was relieved when he died, until I realized that their daughter had inherited Henry's "affliction." Poor Clare the martyr, poor weird daughter. To me, not so much a dreamy romance.

What made me pick this story up? First, the title.
A line borrowed from William Blake's The Tyger. From Songs of Innocence and Experience: Songs of Contrary States of the Human Soul (Songs of Experience)
Tyger, tyger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
The Tyger has a companion poem, The Lamb (Songs of Innocence)
Symmetry was an interesting concept for Blake who used opposites as "sames." Day cannot exist without night as good cannot exist without bad for example. They are two sides of a same so to speak for they serve to define the other. (Yes, I am aware that Blake laid it out more eloquently.) So what does the title allude to? Why "her" fearful symmetry?

I would discover that this story begins with a death and a mysterious inheritance. Two young American twins (not quite identical in the sense we understand it, but symmetrical, their bodies mirror each other's - Valentina's heart is on the opposite side of her sister Julia's, etc) are lured to England to inherit the estate of the aunt they never met, their mother's twin sister.
The inheritance comes with a stipulation. The twins must live in their aunt's apartment for a year before they can sell it. The apartment backs onto Highgate Cemetry, final resting place of their aunt, Karl Marx, George Eliot and Christina Rossetti.

During their year in the apartment, the sisters are introduced to the other tenants, obsessive compulsive Martin, the grieving (and also obsessive) Robert- the cemetery's tour guide, and a ghost who cannot let go of the past.

I really enjoyed this novel. Most likely because it contained all the elements of a contemporary gothic story; wealthy family with lots of skeletons rattling in their closets, mausoleums and a famous cemetery, inheritances, twins and identity confusion, obsessive love, and ghosts. The creepiness, which became creepy-exteme as the novel raced to it's conclusion, worked for me with this novel where it did not with the author's first. It was not the ending that I would have expected and honestly, not what I was hoping for, but, it really worked for the story. A good, and fairly quick, read.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wolf Hall Wore Me Out!

Well, my course work is done for awhile and I can concentrate again on my blog posts. I have been reading, but found that I just couldn't settle in with a novel. It feels like I have been reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall forever, and in truth, I've probably abandoned it. I became impatient with it and vowed that I would see my next selection through to the end.
I read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I'm not sure what led me to this book because it is not listed on my Tudor Challenge list and I felt quite guilty for reading this before the others. I had read many positive reviews about the novel and saw that it won the Man Booker prize. It was an impulsive choice. I was influenced by the award thing. (I am also the lady in the grocery store who buys any magazine that announces on the cover "Lose 10 lbs in two days with no exercise!" I then find out on p. 43 that I have to live on water, cayenne pepper and lemons for 48 hours.)
The novel is roughly 76 892 pages long. It painstakingly chronicles the influential role of Thomas Cromwell as King Henry VIII's right hand man through the years of his divorce from Catherine of Aragon (and ultimately the Vatican) and marriage to Anne Boleyn. I finished the novel because I vowed not to be impatient again. It exhausted me. I also now for the first time in my forty-three years wear glasses for reading. Of course, this may be purely coincidental.
For me, the first part of the novel where we learn about Cromwell's life as a child with an abusive father, was the best because it was told as a story. The scenes were vivid and the plot and transitions were clear. I was transported to England in the 1500's. I flew through these pages of his childhood and began to feel secure that the entire novel would read this way. In the following section Thomas Cromwell is reintroduced to the reader as an adult and this is where I started to get tired. The detail crept in and the scene and character transitions were more difficult to follow. I had to constantly flip back and forth to the list of characters to help me figure out who was speaking. I had to google. I used wikipedia. Yes, this novel was way too smart for me. It is for very serious people. Very serious readers. Uber smarty panters. It became more of a history text for me and less of a story. Important events in history strung together on Thomas Cromwell's clothesline.
I felt weighed down by the extraordinary attention to detail, facts, dates and people. Like swimming in a sea of thick vanilla pudding, plenty of substance, but all of it bland.
I like chocolate pudding. I like Ken Follett. I wanted this to be like a new Pillars of the Earth. Give me Tom Builder's story anyday. I'm going to read Philippa Gregory but need to take a break from Tudor England for just a little while. I've spent too much time in the Tower of London lately.