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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Missy & Willa


My friend Missy is visiting Kansas City this week and sent me this pic of her with Willa Cather.

Click here to learn about the Community Bookshelf in Kansas City, MO.
Click here for more Wordless Wednesday images.

Have you seen the Community Bookshelf in real life? How cool is it?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Salon: What's Been Going On

Paddling through Lilly Pads in Guilford, CT

New Job:
Last month I landed a new job, one that falls perfectly inline with my plan of taking over the world...um...I mean living a healthier lifestyle. I'm doing events and marketing for a family owned organic & natural supermarket chain here in CT. I was hired on Earth Day, which was rather auspicious. My first task was the grand opening of a new store--it was last Saturday and went very well--which didn't leave me with much time or energy for blogging so I've been a bit out of the book blogging loop, but I'm loving the job and learning so much about organic and natural food/products. Laura and I have been striving to eat healthier and cook more, so this is a perfect fit.


Currently Reading: Blossoms and Bayonets: A Story of Love, Faith, and Courage under Japanese Occupation by Jana McBurney-Lin and Hi-Dong Chai.

This is the story of a Korean family during WWII told from the perspective of an eight year old boy, his fifteen year old brother, and their mother. Its a fascinating look into what one Korean family goes through during Japanese occupation. I know so little about Korea and its history. I'm just about halfway through it and look forward to getting back to it whenever I have reading time. Its books like this that make me love online book tours, because its highly improbable that I would have come across this book on my own. I'm reading it for TLC Book Tours.  



Recently Read:
If you're looking for a novella to read, something on the creepy side with a dysfunctional family theme, I recommend Disquiet by Australian writer Julia Leigh. It's set on an old family estate in contemporary rural France. Its one of those hard little gems that you want to re-read as soon as you finish it in order to admire the writing even more.
 


Coming Up:

1. Due to the new job, I'm not going to be a participant in ArmchairBEA this year, but I did sign up to be a cheerleader. Can't wait to read tons of great posts this coming week!
2. I'm participating in my first Literary Giveaway Blog Hop (June 21-25) hosted by Judith (@leeswammes on Twitter). In the past I've always come upon these hops when they're over. I happened to be on Twitter at the right time to catch this one well in advance of the start date. I've been browsing my shelves contemplating which books to giveaway.

What's been going on in your reading life these days?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Disquiet by Australian Writer Julia Leigh (set in France)


Disquiet by Julia Leigh is a creepy novella. It’s a disjointed, disconnected story about people who are disconnect from one another as well as themselves. It’s a story full of symbolism and foreshadowing (of a sort).

It’s one of those books that cause people to say Leigh is a “writer’s writer.” Toni Morrison, J.M. Coetzee, and Don DeLillo have blurbs on the book, so there you have it.

I came across Disquiet on my local library shelves while browsing for thin books to consider for Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-A-Thon. When I saw that Leigh is Australian it was a definite book to check out to read for the Australian Woman Writers Challenge (see #AAWW2014 if you’re on Twitter).

***spoilers ahead***

The story begins with Olivia returning to her mother’s house in rural France with her two children in tow, a boy and a girl, Andrew and Lucy. The boy bloodies himself following his mother’s instruction to kick down an old secret garden door to get onto the estate. Andrew repeatedly throws his body against the door, "he made himself brutal" for his mother.

Mother is obviously wealthy. She is not a warm French mother, but cold and distant. Olivia is fleeing from her abusive Australian husband whom she still loves, but he obviously crossed a line in her mind because after the last beating not only did he bruise her body, he broke her arm.

The estate has three house servants who take care of the family, one who’s been with them forever,
two who are young twin sisters. There are also gardeners who maintain the grounds. The house itself is a huge structure complete with secret passageways that are no longer in use and taken over by spider webs. It’s like a Gothic version of Downton Abbey set in contemporary France.

The same afternoon of Olivia's homecoming, her brother and his wife, Marcus and Sophie, who live with Mother, are due home any minute with their first born. They’ve had a hard time conceiving and maintaining a pregnancy. Alas, they come home with a stillborn who they’ve named Alice. Sophie won’t let the infant go and resists burial for way too long claiming they want to get to know Alice. No one can convince her to bury the body—not her husband, not her mother-in-law, not the church, not the government. But she’s named after the traditional figure of Wisdom, Sophia, so there’s some rich, subtext to parse out here in the context of this uptight, dysfunctional family.

Meanwhile, Marcus is carrying on his affair with another woman over his cellphone and even has a bit of phone sex while Andrew watches from the boat house.

I kept expecting someone to die (in addition to Alice), someone to murder someone, someone to go off the deep end.

In the end, the character who resonated with me the most is the son, Andrew. He longs to get back to his father in Sydney and plots an escape, taking his sister along. It fails and he ends up saving his sister's and his mother's lives. His story seems a bit like Unhealthy Gender Stereotype Conditioning 101: rip a boy away from his abusive father, trap him in an atmosphere of smothering repression, don't give him any means of communication with his dad, but then have him do your dirty work. He thinks his mother is beautiful now, but you can feel the day coming when he'll turn on his mother in ways much bigger than average teenage independence. Perhaps he'll become an abusive husband or the guy who masturbates on the cell phone in his mom's backyard where he still lives with his emotionally disturbed wife. But maybe not. He doesn't know it yet, but he'll soon be off to boarding school, and perhaps that will save him from this loveless family.

It's not a pretty world that Leigh creates, but if feels real. Disquiet is some great writing that keeps you guessing and wondering and filling in the gaps.

Julia Leigh
Penguin 2008
Source: library
Recommend to literary fiction readers who like stories about dysfunctional families.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Street or Me by Judith Glynn

I rarely accept review copies directly from authors, but was intrigued enough by the premise of this book to give it a shot.

Judith Glynn connected with me on Facebook via Twitter after seeing there that I'd attended a panel at The Big Book Getaway that included Dr. Skip Sviokla who reviewed her book. I love social media and the connections it can create.
From the publisher: A sidewalk hello between two diverse women in a New York City neighborhood begins an inspiring story about redemption over evil. Michelle Browning is 33, drunk and a former beauty queen who nears death after six years of homelessness. Judith Glynn is divorced with grown children and struggles to support herself in her adopted city. After their first hello, neither woman is the same as they embark on a remarkable journey over the next two years.

The Street or Me: A New York Story graphically depicts the homeless subculture as Judith sets out all alone to rescue Michelle. It's about one woman determined to return dignity to another woman's life. But is Judith's fixation worth the sacrifice to involve her family with Michelle? This book exposes the personal destruction caused by alcoholism and demolished dreams. It's a raw and enlightening read where, at times, Judith despises Michelle and her obsession to save her. At stake is whether Michelle will choose street life and possible death in a gutter over Judith's guiding light back into society.
It sounds like a do-gooder, co-dependent story, right? But it's not. Its part mystery really, a mystery of the heart. Why do we instantly connect with some people and not with others, ever, even when we want to have a connection with a particular person?

It's also part horror story, the horror of a hopeless case of alcoholism and the resulting homelessness. Glynn shares just enough of Michelle's life experience and what her daily existence was like on the streets (the beatings, the rapes, the stench, the body lice, the freezing cold, the zombie-like state of late-stage alcoholism) to get the horrors of this life across while still showing the spark of a vibrant human still alive within the shell of the person the young woman had become.

And if you're an alcoholic, it's a whammy of a horror story. If you're in recovery, this book will scare you and remind you why it's so important to keep working your program, whatever your program may be. If you suspect you're an alcoholic and this book doesn't scare you, guess what? You're probably in denial if you think, "that will never happen to me." No one ever thinks it'll happen to them. But I digress.

Glynn gets wrapped up in Michelle's life to the point of endangering her own life, yet she does maintain the boundary of not letting Michelle into her home. Surprisingly, even when Michelle eventually has Glynn's phone number, she doesn't abuse it. Also surprising is the amount of money Michelle had, money that came in monthly, which is ironic because at the time Glynn was a recently divorced mother of four from Rhode Island trying to make it on her own in New York as a writer, paying the bills through temp work.

Michelle was a former Italian beauty queen who came to the states to be a model. She ended up marrying another alcoholic and together they went downhill from middle class respectability in Texas to years living on the street in New York City (Hell's Kitchen, to be precise, in the late 1980s). Glynn's quest becomes not just about convincing Michelle to get off the streets, but to get her back home to her family in Italy.

This is a quick read, but not an easy one. Is there a happy ending? Yes and no. But its real, that's for sure, not sugar coated, but also not gratuitous in its grittiness. I highly recommend this book to memoir readers and those interested in issues of alcoholism and homelessness.

The Street or Me: A New York Story
Judith Glynn
Fox Point Press, 2014
Source: review copy provided by author.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Reading Gnome


Garden gnome reading a book on top of a solar light disguised as a mushroom. 

I wonder what book he's reading?

Check out more Wordless Wednesday images HERE.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

That's a Wrap: So Long April!

Check out more Sunday Salon posts on Facebook.

Was I delusional about April or what? I was just saying the other day that April was a bit of a light book month for me. Perhaps I was thinking that way because I didn't read a ton, but when I started looking back at April it was certainly a book-packed month.

April 6th: Met one of my literary heroes, Nathaniel Philbrick. His book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex is one of my all-time favorites.

Kent and Donoghue
April 8th: Went to a reading by Emma Donoghue (Frog Music) and Hannah Kent (Burial Rites) at R.J. Julia. For some reason I didn't blog about this event. I've no idea why. Both authors talked about the genesis of their new novels, did a brief reading, and then took some questions. This was the second time I've seen Donoghue. She did a signing at the bookstore where I worked back in September 2010 when the buzz was first building about ROOM. I did blog about that event here.

April 11, 12, 13: Booktopia, Vermont. What a surprise to be able to go! And one thing I didn't blog about was seeing a moose when I was driving around Vermont.

April 15th: Was psyched to be a featured blogger over at Book Bloggers International!

April 23rd: Proud to be a book giver for the third year in a row for World Book Night. I handed out copies of Code Name Verity.

April 26th 1st post: 2nd post, wrap-up post: Participated in Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon for the first time. There's going to be another one in October and if I can swing it I'm going to do it again. If you've never done it, give it a shot!

April was also National Poetry Month. However, I did not read much poetry. I tried. I started reading Willa Cather's poems, but, as usual, my eyes glazed quickly over. I can enjoy a poem here or there when I stumble across one, but to focus on reading poetry? Well, that just doesn't seem to be my cup of tea. And if I have a collection of poetry and try to read a poem a day or something along those lines, I conveniently "forgot" about the plan.

Is it any wonder I went through a bit of a reading slump after all that? My brain needed a rest!

***

Books I read in April:


The Things We Carried by Tim O'Brien: When I'm in a reading slump, the best way for me to get through it is taking some time off of reading, doing outdoorsy stuff, and re-reading an old favorite. I re-read the lead story of this book and was recharged by the power of words. If you haven't yet read this collection of short stories, I highly recommend it. If you've never read any war literature, its an excellent place to begin.


We Have Always Lived in a Castle by Shirley Jackson: Typical, outstanding Jackson in that your don't really know what's going on which creates a tension and compulsion to read on. This story is about two sisters and how they survive in the aftermath of family tragedy. Details slowly emerge and along the way are heartbreaking bits about love, what it means to take care of someone, and how destructive help can be.


A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean: A complex story masquerading as a simple story about two brothers. The story is told by the older brother who isn't sure how to help his younger brother whose problems are escalating. Fly fishing, thinking like a fish, and knowing how to read a river help the narrator figure things out. This is one of those stories to be savored and there are some interesting comparisons that could be made between this story and James Dickey's Deliverance, particularly about  American manhood, wilderness vs. civilization, and male friendships.


The Murder Farm by Andrea Maria Schenkel: A best-seller in Germany when it came out in 2006. Schenkel is a popular crime novelist in Germany and this is her first book to be translated for the English market [release date set for June 3, 2014] The Murder Farm is based on a true case where a family is murdered on their isolated farm in southern Germany. You can't help but make comparisons to Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. I'll post a proper review around the release date, but if you like mystery/thriller/crime fiction, I recommend you put this one on your list. (Review copy from Edelweiss.)

This month I DNF'd (did not finish) two books:


Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr: I've always enjoyed Barr's Anna Pigeon series and have been reading it since the first book came out in the early 90s. It was an unpleasant surprise that I couldn't get into this one. I was about 1/3 of the way in after three days and realized I was making myself read it. Perhaps I'll try it again later this summer.


Inferno by Dan Brown: I was in a reading slump and thought for sure I'd whiz through some Dan Brown, but, no, after the half-way point I realized I just didn't care about anything in this book, nor did I despise it enough to keep reading.

***

Currently Reading:

The Street or Me: A New York Story by Judith Glynn: I received a review copy directly from the author. Just started this last night and its sucked me in. Its the story of how Glynn's life became entangled with that of a homeless woman named Michelle. More on this one next week.


 Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone is Connected. Connect Your Business to Everyone by Mitch Joel: I read this one a few years ago and was jazzed by many of Joel's ideas. I'm re-reading it for my new job as a PR/Marketing/Social media person (I don't really have an official title...perhaps Media Goddess? I suppose I'd have to earn that first).

***

May plans:

Coming up May 26-29 is Armchair BEA. I won't be a participant this year due to the new job and house guests, but I did sign up to be a cheerleader.

***

Did you read any amazing books in April? Have any special reading/bookish plans for May?

Thanks for reading! Have a great week!
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