Thursday, October 27, 2016

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

by Ian McEwan
Nan A. Talese, 1999
193 pages
source: my shelves

Publisher's summary:

On a chilly February day, two old friends meet in the throng outside a crematorium to pay their last respects to Molly Lane. Both Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday had been Molly's lovers in the days before they reached their current eminence. Clive is Britain's most successful modern composer; Vernon is editor of the quality broadsheet "The Judge." Gorgeous, feisty Molly had other lovers, too, notably Julian Garmony, Foreign Secretary, a notorious right-winger tipped to be the next prime minister. In the days that follow Molly's funeral, Clive and Vernon will make a pact with consequences neither has foreseen. Each will make a disastrous moral decision, their friendship will be tested to its limits, and Julian Garmony will be fighting for his political life.A contemporary morality tale that is as profound as it is witty, this short novel is perhaps the most purely enjoyable fiction Ian McEwan has ever written. And why Amsterdam? What happens there to Clive and Vernon is the most delicious shock in a novel brimming with surprises.

My thoughts:

Ian McEwan's novels, though relatively short, are not quick reads. Between his often controversial or uncomfortable subject matter, perfectly constructed sentences that beg to be reread, and the contemplative mood his stories tend to induce, it took me over a week to finish Amsterdam, a novel of under 200 pages.

Unfortunately, Amsterdam did not turn out to be a satisfying read. I didn't care for the story and positively hated the ending. I did not find it to be the "delicious shock" promised in the summary.

That's not to say there was nothing to enjoy in this novel. Clive's meditations on music and composition were fascinating, and I enjoyed reading about his ramble through Lake District. The description of the trail and the countryside made me long for a similar day of hiking.

McEwan's prose is beautiful, as always. In fact, it was the writing that kept me reading. Here are a couple of passages I highlighted:
We knew so little about each other. We lay mostly submerged, like ice floes, with our visible selves projecting only cool and white. Here was a rare sight below the waves...  
But Clive stared ahead at the empty seat opposite, lost to the self-punishing convolutions of his fervent social accounting, unknowingly bending and colouring the past through the prism of his unhappiness. 
(I smiled when I noticed the second quote appeared in Brona's post, too.)

I now understand why some readers describe McEwan's work as uneven. After enjoying Atonement, In the Company of Strangers, On Chesil Beach, and The Children Act, I was somewhat disappointed by Amsterdam. It is, by far, my least favorite McEwan novel. However, this experience will not deter me from reading the rest of the author's work.

My rating:

Thank you Care and Brona for reading with me.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

My Current Read: The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

Chapter One
Our Chef Is Very Famous in London 
"Darlings! Welcome! You must be Danielle?" Sleek and small, her wide eyes rendered enormous by kohl, Lucy Leverett, in spite of her resemblance to a baby seal, rasped impressively. Her dangling fan earrings clanked at her neck as she leaned to kiss each of them, Danielle too, and although she held her cigarette, in its mother-of-pearl holder, at arm's length, its smoke wafted between them and brought tears to Danielle's eyes.

The Emperor's Children
by Claire Messud

I'm experimenting with my Tuesday Intro post this week... expanding it by adding Brona's Salon, a new Sunday feature at Brona's Books. Please let me know what you think.

What are your currently reading?
I'm currently reading The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud.

How did you find out about this book?
I initially heard about it from other book bloggers. The premise sounded intriguing, but I was put off by mixed reviews. After loving The Woman Upstairs, Messud's later novel, I added The Emperor's Children  to my reading list.

Why are you reading it now?
Claire Messud is speaking at a nearby university early next month and my book club decided to plan a meeting around it. Most members will read The Woman Upstairs, but a couple of us are diving into her backlist.

First impressions?
I love Messud's writing! Her word choices, sentences, and characters drew me in immediately, as did her description of New York City. She also really nailed upstate New York's "north country" in the second chapter. I had to check her bio to see how she might have gained such insight and found that she'd briefly attended Syracuse University's MFA program. Mystery solved.

Which character do you relate to so far?
I understand where all of the main characters are coming from, but can't say I'm relating to any one in particular yet. The way the characters are presented in the opening chapters reminds me of  The Interestings  by Meg Wolitzer... another book I loved.

Are you happy to continue?
Yes, definitely. I wish I had even more time to read right now.

Where do you think the story will go?
The groundwork is still being laid as I continue to learn more about each character. I have a feeling Frederick “Bootie” Tubb , the high school valedictorian and college dropout from the north country, will migrate to New York and have a negative impact on the lives of the group of friends from Brown.

Click here for more information, including the goodreads summary.
What do you think of the intro? Are you tempted to keep reading?

Tuesday Intro is hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea.
Brona's Salon is hosted by Brona at Brona's Books.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Weekly Update: October 23, 2016

Sunday morning - cold, dark, and windy. Many of the leaves have blown off the trees. It snowed yesterday in higher elevations nearby, but it was all rain for us. Still, it's just a matter of time. Hard to believe I was walking in Central Park last Sunday (the photo above was taken from Oak Bridge), but since then we've had a blissfully normal week at home.

Finished this week//

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
I was inspired to get an early start on my Classics Club spin book after visiting the Charlotte Brontë exhibit at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York. This is an autobiographical novel about Anne's time as a governess and, though it wasn't as enthralling as The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I enjoyed it very much. I'll post a full review soon.

Current reading//

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud
The Woman Upstairs was a favorite a few years ago, so I decided to read Messud's earlier novel before hearing her speak at a nearby university in early November.  I'm not very far yet, but the writing is excellent and her portrayal of upstate New York's "north country" in the second chapter is spot on. I have high hopes for this one!

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Not my favorite James by a long shot, I've read this book twice and had a different impression of the ending each time. The audio version was mentioned on Litsy last week and after discovering Simon Vance was the narrator, I decided this short book (under 5 hours) would be a perfect pre-Halloween listen.

Up next//

My plans change constantly, so I should probably just eliminate this heading. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett was at the top of my list because of the library due date. Since we were traveling, I knew I wouldn't finish in time and purchased my own copy. Now the urgency is gone, but it's still what I plan to read next...

On the blog//
Tuesday Intro: Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
Wordless Wednesday: Cape Cod
Book Brief: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

In the kitchen//

Skinnytaste Fast and Slow, a new cookbook by Gina Homolka, is the newest addition to my shelf. Her recipes are always a success, and the Slow Cooker Italian Sausage and White Bean Soup with Escarole I made last week was no exception.

 A Pinterest find: Slow Cooker Hasselback Apple Pork Loin is the perfect dinner for nights you need a complete meal ready and waiting when you walk in the door. I've added this recipe to my Pin Wins board.

Later today//
We'll take Twin A to the train station. This weekend is her first time home since starting the new job last summer. We're also celebrating my twin sisters' 50th birthdays today... should be a memorable event!

How was your week? What are you reading?

This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading? hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Book Brief: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
by Bryan Stevenson
Spiegel & Grau, 2014
352 pages
source: borrowed from library

narrated by  Bryan Stevenson
 Random House Audio, 2014
11 hours and 4 minutes
source: borrowed from library

Publisher's summary:
A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice - from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship - and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy  is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

My thoughts:

This book!
It made me angry.
It made me cry.
It made me think.

You should read it, too... better yet, listen.

"We need more hope, we need more mercy, we need more justice."

My rating:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tuesday Intro: Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë

All true histories contain instruction: though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found out, so trivial in quantity that the dry, shrivelled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut. Whether this be the case with my history or not, I am hardly competent to judge; I sometimes think it might prove useful to some, and entertaining to others, but the world may judge for itself: shielded by my own obscurity, and by the lapse of years, and a few fictitious names, I do not fear to venture, and will candidly lay before the public what I would not disclose to the most intimate friend.
Agnes Grey 
by Anne Brontë

My current read was chosen for me by the Classics Club Spin. I loved Anne Brontë's second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, so decided to add Agnes Grey  to my Classics Club list, too. The novel was published in 1847 and deals with the author's experiences as a governess. I'm approaching this as a read/listen combination... a surprise to no one, I'm sure.  I "purchased" the free kindle edition from amazon, and that entitled me to a reduced-price audio from audible - only $3.95!

I've read or listened to just over a third of the novel so far. It's not quite as good as Tenant (yet), but I am enjoying it.  Between Agnes Grey  and my recent viewing of the Charlotte Brontë exhibit at The Morgan Library & Museum, I have been inspired to finally pick up The Brontës: Wild Genius on the Moors by Juliet Barker, a book that has been on my shelf for years.

Here is the goodreads summary:
At age 19 Anne Brontë left home and worked as a governess for a few years before becoming a writer. Agnes Grey was an 1847 novel based on her experience as a governess. Bronte depicts the precarious position of a governess and how that can affect a young woman. Agnes was the daughter of a minister whose family was in financial difficulty. She has only a few choices for employment. Agnes experiences the difficulty of reining in spoiled children and how wealth can corrupt morals.
What do you think? Would you continue reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Book Brief: Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

by Julian Fellowes
Grand Central Publishing, 2016
402 pages
source: purchased

Audio edition:
Hachette Audio, 2016
narrated by Juliet Stevenson
15 hours and 48 minutes
source: Borrowed from library

Publisher's Summary:
Julian Fellowes's Belgravia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London's grandest postcode. Set in the 1840s, when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is peopled by a rich cast of characters. But the story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. At the Duchess of Richmond's new legendary ball, one family's life will change forever.

My thoughts:

"Show, don't tell." 

When it comes to writing, we're all familiar with that basic rule. Julian Fellowes not only breaks it with Belgravia, he totally ignores it. This novel is ALL telling... and yet, still immensely enjoyable.

Belgravia  is a rollicking good story filled with a big family secret, social class and position, upstairs/downstairs tension, and intrigue - so  Julian Fellowes! While there's nothing special in the writing, Juliet Stevenson's narration is perfection. I could practically see the miniseries as I listened. And I'm guessing that's exactly as Lord Fellowes intended.

I especially recommend this book as a follow-up to an intense, emotionally draining read. It was exactly what I needed after Germinal.

My rating:


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