Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tuesday Intro: The Children Act

London, Trinity term one week old. Implacable June weather. Fiona May, a high court judge, at home on Sunday evening, supine on a chaise lounge, staring past her stockinged feet toward the end of the room, toward a partial view of recessed bookshelves by the fireplace and, to one side, by a tall window, a tiny Renoir lithograph of a bather, bought by her thirty years ago for fifty pounds. Probably a fake. Below it, centered on a round walnut table, a blue vase. No memory of how she came by it. Nor when she last put flowers in it. The fireplace not lit in a year. Blackened raindrops falling irregularly into the grate with a ticking sound against balled-up yellowing newsprint. A Bokhara rug spread on wide polished floorboards. Looming at the edge of vision, a baby grand piano bearing silver-framed family photos on its deep black shine. On the floor by the chaise lounge, within her reach, the draft of a judgment. And Fiona was on her back, wishing all this stuff at the bottom of the sea.
The Children Act
by Ian McEwan

With a nod to Dickens, Ian McEwan begins The Children Act, his most recent (2014) novel. I've read several of McEwan's novels and enjoyed them all, though On Chesil Beach is my favorite. Just a few pages into this book, I already appreciate the gradual insight into Fiona's career and marriage. I think it could turn out to be a very good book for discussion.

Here is the goodreads summary:
Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge who presides over cases in the family division. She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude, and sensitivity. But her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife. There is the lingering regret of her childlessness, and now her marriage of thirty years is in crisis. 
       At the same time, she is called on to try an urgent case: Adam, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, is refusing for religious reasons the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents echo his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely expressed faith? In the course of reaching a decision, Fiona visits Adam in the hospital—an encounter that stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. Her judgment has momentous consequences for them both. 
Have you read Ian McEwan?

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.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Sunday Salon: June 26, 2016

Good morning, friends. We're in the middle of a beautiful summer weekend... it just doesn't get much better! We spent much of yesterday out on the lake and plan to do the same today.

We have a four-legged houseguest for the rest of the month. Remember Angus the greyhound? We're "grey-b-sitting" him again while his family is away on vacation. Zelda seems happy to have company, at least most of the time, and now that he's stopped whimpering all night, I'm enjoying the two-dog life. My husband says "don't even think about it!"

It's a dog's life!
Zelda (left) and Angus

Finished this week//

This book features an unreliable narrator, unlikable characters with questionable moral values, and a gripping, twisted story that drew me in right away. I'll be posting a book brief soon. Koch has a new novel coming in September.

Current listening//

Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo
Ron McLarty's narration is so good that I've stopped reading and am exclusively listening. But this book is long... over 24 hours! I'm approaching the half-way mark, and am in no hurry for it to end. It's my favorite audiobook so far this year.

Up next//
I'll sample a few books tonight or tomorrow and then decide. Here are a few titles up for consideration. Have you read any of them?

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

On the blog//

Book Brief: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Top Ten Tuesday: Midpoint Favorites 2016

The week ahead//
 Will revolve around preparations for our annual 4th of July celebration. My brother and his family will be visiting, other friends are coming up from Philadelphia for a few days. Menus must be planned, food prepared, and so much gardening and outdoor 'sprucing up'... I need to come up with a master schedule for the week!

How was your week? What have you been reading?

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

Friday, June 24, 2016

Book Brief: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

by Elizabeth Gaskell
originally published in installments, 1851-1853
Penuin Classics, 2005
257 pages

audio edition:
narrated by Prunella Scales
Audible Studios, 2007
6 hours and 45 minutes

Goodreads summary:
A portrait of the residents of an English country town in the mid nineteenth century, Cranford relates the adventures of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle-aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances. Through a series of vignettes, Elizabeth Gaskell portrays a community governed by old-fashioned habits and dominated by friendships between women. Her wry account of rural life is undercut, however, by tragedy in its depiction of such troubling events as Matty's bankruptcy, the violent death of Captain Brown or the unwitting cruelty of Peter Jenkyns. Written with acute observation, Cranford is by turns affectionate, moving and darkly satirical.

My Three Sentence Review:
Gentle, genteel, and oh so charming! I enjoyed my time in this small English village. Reading Mrs. Gaskell is always a pleasure.

A note on the audio production:
I chose a read/listen combination after my twitter conversation with Thomas. He praised Prunella Scales narration, but I wasn't familiar with her work. I now agree she is wonderful, but Juliet Stevenson remains my favorite female voice for British classics.

Now I must watch BBC series!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Midpoint Favorites 2016

It's hard to believe 2016 is half over! The end of June is a good time to pause and reflect on how the year's reading is shaping up, and The Broke and the Bookish is here to help. This week's Top Ten Tuesday asks about our favorite 2016 releases, but I'm adjusting that slightly to my favorite books read in 2016. Each category is listen in the order read.


City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
I was so angry over the non-ending of this chunkster, but that feeling has faded. Now I only think about the excellent writing, gripping story, and memorable characters...and how it could have been 300 pages shorter.

Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen
A great story! I think it's Quindlen's best novel in 20 years.

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
Maybe it doesn't live up to all the hype, but still a solid, entertaining summer read.

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
Hands down my favorite novel of the year. Why have I waited so long to read Graham Swift?

The Children by Ann Leary
Maybe not quite a good as The Good House, but it still earns a spot on my list of favorites.


A tough read, but so important.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My favorite nonfiction this year. Keep the tissues handy.

I was a rabid Mets fan back in the day... no apologies ;-)


by Julia Claiborne Johnson, narrated by Tavia Gilbert
A good story made great by an outstanding narration.

by Richard Russo, narrated by Ron McLarty
My current listen. Russo is a favorite author and Ron McLarty is Sully... I'm loving this one!

Have you made a list of favorites?
More Top Ten Tuesday posts can be found here.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Sunday Salon: Father's Day Edition

Good morning and Happy Father's Day! There's time for a quick post before the twins serve a special breakfast for my husband. We'll celebrate with my father later today. He has requested lasagna and I'll make it... Who cares if the temperature tops 90?! Yesterday we took a day trip to visit my FIL. He's up from Florida and spending time with my SIL. The above photo was taken in her garden. Views from the "hill" are stunning. Vermont's Green Mountains are in the background, and to the right (not shown) is Mount Greylock in Massachusetts.

Now on to the books...

Current reading//

Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo
At the 25% mark, I'm loving this book! Russo is a master storyteller and has long been one of my favorite authors. In an effort to finish before book club on Friday, I've added in the audio, which is also outstanding. Ron McLarty nails Sully's voice...it's perfection!

Finished this week//

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Reading Mrs. Gaskell is always a pleasure and I enjoyed my time in this small English village. I'll post a book brief soon.

Bailed on//

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
I read 190 pages before deciding to move on. I don't usually wait that long to give up, but the writing is great and I loved the food, wine, and behind-the-scenes in a NYC restaurant sections. There was just a little too much "coming-of-age" for my taste ... especially since I have two twenty-something daughters living in Manhattan!

On the blog//

Review - Mothering Sunday  by Graham Swift
Tuesday Intro: Nobody's Fool  by Richard Russo
Circling the Sun, West With the Night, and my book club
Book Brief: The Children  by Ann Leary

In the kitchen//

I discovered the best turkey burger recipe ever! We had them for a second time last night... Grilled Pesto Turkey Burgers from The Lemon Bowl. Sun-dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese are mixed into the turkey. Top it with a slice of mozzarella, then add the arugula and pesto - YUM!

The week ahead//
... will not be as crazy as the one that just ended. Since my calendar is not overly crowded, I may have time to finish Nobody's Fool  by Friday. Fingers crossed...

How was your week? What are you reading today?

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

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

Mothering Sunday
by Graham Swift
Alfred A. Knopf, 2016
177 pages
source: borrowed from the library

Summary (from Goodreads):
Twenty-two year old Jane Fairchild, orphaned at birth, has worked as a maid at one English country estate since she was sixteen. And for almost all of those years she has been the secret lover to Paul Sheringham, the scion of the estate next door. On an unseasonably warm March afternoon, Jane and Paul will make love for the last time--though not, as Jane believes, because Paul is about to be married--and the events of the day will alter Jane's life forever. As the narrative moves back and forth from 1924 to the end of the century, what we know and understand about Jane--about the way she loves, thinks, feels, sees, remembers--deepens with every beautifully wrought moment. Her story is one of profound self-discovery and through her, Graham Swift has created an emotionally soaring and deeply affecting work of fiction.

My thoughts: 

Mothering Sunday  was a near perfect reading experience. I started it on a Friday evening while sipping a glass of wine by the lake. Within a few pages, the narrative cast a spell and it held me captive until I turned the final page Saturday morning.

Swift's writing is simply beautiful - every word carefully chosen, every sentence perfectly crafted - and it left me in awe of his talent.

The novel's action takes place on a single day (Mothering Sunday, May 1924), though the story actually weaves in and out of time over the course of Jane Fairchild's life... in a manner reminiscent of Mrs. Dalloway. I was also reminded of Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach and, though I can't explain precisely why, Julian Barne's The Sense of An Ending. Both of those were favorites the year I read them. The setting, time period, and upstairs/downstairs interactions were an added bonus for this Downton Abbey fan.

My one complaint about Mothering Sunday? It was too short. I would have relished another hundred pages of Jane.

It's always a thrill to discover a new author, but why did it take me so long to get around to Graham Swift? I plan to read his entire backlist now. Hopefully those previous novels are as good as Mothering Sunday.

A few quotes:

Jane thrills to words of all kinds, calling herself a gatherer... They’re never enough, as the book makes clear, but they’re the only tools we’ve got. Life is “about finding a language,” however ineffectual it may be...

It was called "relaxation," she thought, a word that did not commonly enter a maid's vocabulary. She had many words, by now, that did not enter a maid's vocabulary. Even the word "vocabulary."

...and the point of libraries, she sometimes though, was not the books themselves but that they preserved this hallowed atmosphere of not-to-be-disturbed male sanctuary.

The gathering evening, the apricot light, the gauzy green-gold world, was impossibly beautiful.

She was... put into service.... it made you an occupational observer of life, it put you on the outside looking in. Since those who served served, and those who were being served - lived. Though sometimes, to be honest, it felt at the time entirely the other way round. It was the servants who lived, and a hard life they had of it, and the ones who were served who seemed not to know exactly what to do with their lives. Proper lost souls, in fact...

My rating:

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Tuesday Intro: Nobody's Fool

Upper Main Street in the village of North Bath, just above the town's two-block-long business district, was quietly residential for three more blocks, then became even more quietly rural along old Route 27A, a serpentine two-lane blacktop that snaked its way through the Adirondacks of northern New York, with their tiny down-at-the-heels resort towns, all the way to Montreal and prosperity. The houses that bordered Upper Main Street, as the locals referred to it - although Main, from its "lower" end by the IGA and Tastee Freeze through its upper end at the Sans Souci, was less than a quarter mile - were mostly dinosaurs, big, aging, clapboard Victorians and sprawling Greek Revivals that would have been worth some money if they were across the border in Vermont and if they had not been built as, or converted into two- and occasional three-family dwellings and rented out, over several decades, as slowly deteriorating flats.
Nobody's Fool
by Richard Russo

It's not the entire first paragraph, but those two sentences are enough to show Richard Russo hard at work setting a scene... and I already recognize the tiny upstate New York village. My book club will discuss Nobody's Fool  a week from Friday and, even though I'm still reading both Sweetbitter and Cranford, it's time to get started.

Empire Falls (a favorite in 2001) was my introduction to Russo and I've been reading him ever since. Somehow I never got around to this 1993 novel, but can't imagine not loving it. If time becomes an issue, there's always the movie. You can't go wrong with Paul Newman, right?

Here's the Goodreads summary:
Richard Russo's slyly funny and moving novel follows the unexpected operation of grace in a deadbeat town in upstate New York—and in the life of one of its unluckiest citizens, Sully, who has been doing the wrong thing triumphantly for fifty years. 
Divorced from his own wife and carrying on halfheartedly with another man's, saddled with a bum knee and friends who make enemies redundant, Sully now has one new problem to cope with: a long-estranged son who is in imminent danger of following in his father's footsteps. With its sly and uproarious humor and a heart that embraces humanity's follies as well as its triumphs, Nobody's Fool is storytelling at its most generous.
Would you keep 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.


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