Thursday, May 31, 2012

Clarissa: May Progress Notes

Terri and I are co-hosting a yearlong group read of Clarissa by Samuel Richardson. Links to May update posts are being collected here.

Have we really been reading Clarissa for five months? As you might have guessed, I'm still lagging behind schedule. Around mid-month I set a goal of finishing the April letters by the end of May but, despite a strong last minute push, fell short of success and only made it to L130. With 85 June letters (282 pages) added to the 57 May letters (160 pages), it's safe to assume I won't be catching up next month either.

My feelings about Clarissa can be summed up in a single word - neutral.
I generally enjoy reading the book, but never mind putting it aside either. There was a single "just let me read one more letter" period during the high family drama at Harlowe place, but since then I haven't exactly looked forward to my evening letter-reading.

Some random observations:
Richardson could have used a good editor.
My sympathy for Clarissa increases as her situation worsens.
It seems odd that Clarissa refers to her family as her 'friends'.
I'm glad I live in the 21st century.
The letters are slowly revealing Lovelace's character... not to his advantage.

Lovelace's entire discussion of virtue in letter 110 is very enlightening.
"For is not a wife the keeper of a man's honour? And do not her faults bring more disgrace upon a husband than even upon herself."
"Virtue then is less to be dispensed with in the woman than in the man."
"And now, if I have not found a virtue that cannot be corrupted, I will swear that there is not one such in the whole sex. Is not then the whole sex concerned that this trial should be made? -and who is it that knows her, that would not stake upon her head the honour of the whole? -Let her who would refuse it, come forth and desire to stand in her place."
Lovelace to John Belford, L117
"Poor Hickman! I pity him for the prospect he has with such a virago! -But the fellow's a fool, God wot! And now I think of it, it is absolutely necessary for complete happiness in the married state, that one should be a fool..."
Now back to reading...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May Acquisitions

Four wonderful books found their way to my house this month. From the top:

Tabloid City by Pete Hamill (audiobook) - When Kathy heard I was a fan, she generously offered to send her copy. This is a book only Pete Hamill could write. My review is coming in June.

We Bury the Landscape by Kristine Ong Muslim -  I won this book through a blog giveaway. It's a collection of flash fiction in which each story is based on a work of art - ingenious!

Butterfly's Child by Angela Davis-Gardner  -  This novel was sent by the lovely Bellezza after I posted about my recent experience with Puccini's opera. It imagines the fate of the child after Madama Butterfly ends and is on top of my TBR pile.

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen is my current read/listen. The book was purchased just hours after downloading the audio from - I simply had to own a hard copy!

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer here in the US, and summer reading lists are everywhere. If you happen to be making one this weekend, be sure to include The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield.  It has what every reader wants - memorable characters, a plot that keeps you turning pages into the wee hours, and great writing. It also offers a healthy dose of down home comfort.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is, without a doubt, my favorite book so far this year. I've been trying to write a review for weeks, but all I seem to do is gush. Why is it that the more I like a book, the less articulate I become? For a real review, check out what Les has to say. Her post convinced me to read the book in the first place.

I downloaded the audio from and started listening in the car. After three and a half hours (which seemed like no time at all), I wanted to keep going. When a friend on twitter suggested I drive around in circles and I lamented over the price of gas, the author offered to send a print copy. That was on a Friday afternoon, and by Monday I had the book in my hands. For the next few days, I was totally immersed in The Homecoming of Samuel Lake - reading at home and listening in the car. From the indomitable Swan Lake, to her big-hearted Uncle Toy and the villainous Ras Ballenger (who literally sent chills down my spine), the characters became part of my life. When the book ended, I missed them for days and, to be perfectly honest, still miss them now. The good news is that the author will begin work on a screenplay soon!

For audiobook fans, this production is right up there with The Help on my list of all-time favorites. Catherine Taber is a fantastic reader and her southern accent makes this an amazing listening experience. You can listen to a sample here.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is truly a must read!

My rating:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Saturday Snapshot #2

The poem from today's Writer's Almanac reminded me of a favorite photo taken in 1997. These are my three daughters (one with braids) in their "bright-colored jackets". The "rocky shore of the lake" is actually the sandy, shell covered beach of Captiva, Florida.

by Joyce Sutphen

This was when my daughters were just children
playing on the rocky shore of the lake,

their hair in braids, their bright-colored jackets
tied around their waists. It was afternoon,

the shadows falling away, their faces
glowing with light. Whatever we said then

(and it must have been happy; it must have
been hopeful) is lost as I am now lost

from that life I lived. This was when nothing
that I wanted mattered, though all I wanted

was happiness, pure happiness, simple
as strawberries and cream in a saucer,

as curtains floating from a window sill,
as small pairs of shoes arranged in a row.

"Happiness" by Joyce Sutphen, from First Words. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2010.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by:
Alyce from At Home With Books

Find details and more photos here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday Intro: Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake

Introduction: Life in the Fifties 
It's odd when I think of the arc of my life, from child, to young woman, to aging adult. First I was who I was. Then I didn't know who I was. Then I invented someone and became her. Then I began to like what I'd invented. And finally I was what I was again.
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake
by Anna Quindlen

This is a first. I downloaded Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake on audio (read by the author) yesterday morning and by late afternoon was at the bookstore buying a print copy - one day, one book, two purchases. It really seemed like Anna Quinden was speaking to me. After just one chapter, there were so many passages to be reread and reflected upon that owning a print copy seemed the only choice. I suspect every woman who has reached her 50th birthday will need a copy of this book, too!

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 paragraph(s). Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Pin It and Do It

Pinterest has been tempting me for months, but the last thing I needed was another online activity. My resistance was firm until Trish created the Pin It and Do It challenge. Even the button is adorable. How could I not start pinning?

My recipe board began to grow and this week I decided to start experimenting with a few pins. First up was a Chicken Stir-Fry with Asparagus and Cashews from Food & Wine  magazine. This was a big hit with the family. I followed the recipe exactly, but omitted the chives. Asian fish sauce and oyster sauce were special purchases for this recipe, but I know I'll make it again.

Encouraged by success, I went back to my board the following night and tried Parmesan-Crusted Tilapia courtesy of Rachel Ray. This was simple and delicious. I didn't have fresh parsley and used dried. Next time I'll be sure to have fresh on hand, it would give the dish a little more color. A minute or two under the broiler might be good, too.

We went three for three on Friday with this recipe for Marinated Pork Medallions. I didn't get my act together in time to marinade overnight, but that didn't seem to matter. All day was adequate. The grill rack made cooking a breeze. We had no leftovers.

This makes me a 'Timid Pinner' (1-3 pins), but there's a cake recipe I want to try later this weekend. I may just end up being 'Pinterested' (4-7 pins). Thanks, Trish, for hosting this challenge.  Pinterest is fun!

Are you are on Pinterest? I'm pinning as LakesideMusing... come follow me.

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has a food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend.

Friday, May 18, 2012

You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik (Audio)

You Deserve Nothing
by Alexander Maksik
Narrated by Cassandra Campbell, Dan John Miller, Adam Verner
Tantor Audio, 2012
7 hours 27 minutes

Product description (from amazon):
Set in Paris, at an international high school catering to the sons and daughters of wealthy families, You Deserve Nothing is a gripping story of power, idealism, and morality.

William Silver is a talented and charismatic young teacher whose unconventional methods raise eyebrows among his colleagues and superiors. His students, however, are devoted to him. His teaching of Camus, Faulkner, Sartre, Keats and other kindred souls breathe life into their sense of social justice and their capacities for philosophical and ethical thought. But unbeknownst to his adoring pupils, Silver proves incapable of living up to the ideals he encourages in others. Emotionally scarred by failures in his personal life and driven to distraction by the City of Light's overpowering carnality and beauty, Silver succumbs to a temptation that will change the course of his life. His fall will render him a criminal in the eyes of some, and all too human in the eyes of others.

In Maksik's stylish prose, Paris is sensual, dazzling and dangerously seductive. It serves as a fitting backdrop for a dramatic tale about the tension between desire and action, and about the complex relationship that exists between our public and private selves.

My thoughts:

Thanks to my wish list, which currently consists of 142 books suitable for every mood imaginable, audiobook selection is usually a breeze. Recently though, I was feeling restless and decided to change things up by perusing my print wish list instead. An extra click showed the titles available on audio, and I quickly discovered that You Deserve Nothing featured multiple narrators. I generally love this type of production, and previous experience with two of the three readers made this audio the perfect choice.

All I knew of the plot was that it involved a teacher at the American School of Paris and some questionable choices. The audio was instantly engaging, but before too long, it became clear where the plot was headed. Novels about teacher/student relationships are not uncommon, yet I tend to avoid them. As the mother of three college-aged daughters, my sympathies never lie with the teacher.  This book, although quite intelligent and well-written, would most likely have been abandoned had I been reading.  However, I was totally invested in the audio production and simply could not stop listening.

Eventually, I became aware of the controversy surrounding this novel. The author actually was a teacher at ASP, became involved with a student, and was let go. Parts of the book (certain conversations, lessons, etc.) are alleged to be very close to the truth and used without permission. This leads me to wonder whether You Deserve Nothing is really even a novel, or simply the further exploitation of a student?

A note on the audio production:
Some books naturally lend themselves to multi-narrator productions and, when done well, usually end up being a favorite. You Deserve Nothing is very  well done. Cassandra Campbell and Adam Verner are 'tried and true' readers. Campbell has long been a favorite, and I discovered Verner in 2010 through Pavilion of Women.  Dan John Miller, previously unknown to me, was also excellent.

My ratings:
The audio production is nothing short of amazing.

The novel itself is smart and well-written.

The surrounding controversy, however, turns my stomach.

Bottom line:
You Deserve Nothing was a very memorable audio experience dealing with a topic I tend to avoid.

FTC disclosure: purchased from

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saturday Snapshot #1

My sister snapped this shot outside Bunch of Grapes bookstore last weekend during Bike MS: Ride the Vineyard on Martha's Vineyard. She knew I'd like it... how can you not love a clock that says "Time to Read"?

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by:
Alyce from At Home With Books

Find details and more photos here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tuesday Intro: Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Wiltshire, September 1535
"His children are falling from the sky. He watches from horseback, acres of England stretching behind him; they drop, gilt-winged, each with a blood-filled gaze. Grace Cromwell hovers in thin air. She is silent when she takes her prey, silent as she glides to his fist. But the sounds she makes then, the rustle of feathers and the creak, the sigh and riffle of pinion, the small cluck-cluck from her throat, these are sounds of recognition, intimate, daughterly, almost disapproving. Her breast is gore-streaked and flesh clings to her claws.
Later Henry will say, 'Your girls flew well today.' The hawk Anne Cromwell bounces on the glove of Rafe Sadler, who rides by the king in easy conversation. They are tired; the sun is declining, and they ride back to Wolf Hall with the reins slack on the necks of  their mounts. Tomorrow his wife and two sisters will go out. These dead women, their bones long sunk in London clay, are now transmigrated. Weightless, they glide on the upper currents of the air. They pity no one. They answer to no one. Their lives are simple. When they look down they see nothing but their prey, and the borrowed plumes of the hunters: they see a flittering, flinching universe, a universe filled with their dinner."*
Bring Up the Bodies
by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel's eagerly awaited sequel to the 2009 Man Booker Prize winning Wolf Hall  is on sale today. I plan to start reading later this week. The opening paragraphs seem a little unusual, but I am intrigued and look forward to continuing. What do you think of the intro? Is this book on your 'to read' list?

As a special treat for audiobook fans, click here to listen to an excerpt from Macmillan Audio. Bring Up the Bodies is narrated by the fabulous Simon Vance.

*This quote is from an uncorrected proof. The finished version may differ slightly.

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 paragraph(s). Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Monday, May 7, 2012

At Home and Unplugged

After an unbelievably productive and totally enjoyable weekend at home, this week begins with a Monday version of The Sunday Salon.  Over a quiet dinner at our favorite restaurant Friday evening, we decided to tackle a few outdoor projects. Saturday morning began with a run to the hardware store... and the rest is a blur. By Sunday evening, I was amazed at all that had been accomplished.

  • yard work galore
  • major garden clean-up
  • experimented with two new recipes
  • gazed at the Super Moon
  • finished reading The Makioka Sisters
  • laundry, and the other usual indoor tasks
  • read a few letters in Clarissa
  • relaxed by the lake with a glass of wine

As it turned out, I was also unplugged for the entire weekend. It wasn't planned, but there was no Weekend Cooking post, no Sunday Salon, and no blog reading. Sure, I popped into twitter for a moment on Saturday and took a quick look at Pinterest on Sunday, but overall it was a technology-free weekend. We didn't even turn on the television! Graduations, college reunions, and apartment hunting with Daughter #1 loom on the horizon, so this won't happen again any time soon. But what a great weekend - at home and unplugged.

*photo courtesy of my BFF Nancy

Friday, May 4, 2012

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon (audio)

You Know When the Men Are Gone
by Siobhan Fallon
Narrated by Cassandra Campbell
5 hours, 50 minutes
Tantor Audio, 2011

"In Fort Hood housing, like all army housing, you get used to hearing through the walls. You learn your neighbors' routines: when and if they gargle and brush their teeth; how often they go to the bathroom and shower; whether they snore or cry themselves to sleep. You learn too much. And you learn to move quietly through your own small domain. 
You also know when the men are gone. No more boots stomping above, no more football games turned up too high, and, best of all, no more front doors slamming before dawn as they trudge out for their early formation, sneakers on metal stairs, cars starting, shouts to the windows above to throw them down their gloves on cold desert mornings. Babies still cry, telephones ring, Saturday morning cartoons screech, but without the men, there is a sense of muted silence, a sense of muted life."

It doesn't happen very often, but every now and then a book comes along that reminds me why I love to read. You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon, a collection of eight loosely connected short stories about Army families living at Fort Hood, Texas, is one of those rare gems.

It's about more than life on the base; the stories deal with the emotional effects of war on the soldier and on the families left behind. They're about readjusting to civilian life after a tour of duty, and sometimes they're about breaking apart - a failed relationship, losing a loved one, or  injuries sustained in combat. The stories are emotional - some happy, some sad, but all brutally honest. At times they made me uncomfortable or put me on edge.

You Know When the Men Are Gone provided insight and understanding into a world in which I have virtually no first-hand experience, and left me wanting to express my gratitude for the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families.  Siobhan Fallon is an extremely talented young writer. You can be sure I'll read whatever she writes next!

A note on the audio production: 
Cassandra Campbell is one of my favorite narrators, and I'm always more likely to choose an audiobook when her name appears in the credits. Her outstanding performance here surely added to the overall impact of these stories. One minor complaint: The stories often end quite abruptly. It contributes to their power, but I found it jarring and would have appreciated a short pause between stories... just to catch my breath and regroup.

Bottom line:
Read the book, then go thank a soldier... and their family.

My rating:

FTC Disclosure: purchased from

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tuesday Intros: The Three Weissmanns of Westport

"When Joseph Weissmann divorced his wife, he was seventy-eight years old and she was seventy-five. He announced his decision in the kitchen of their apartment on the tenth floor of a large, graceful Central Park West building built at the turn of the last century, the original white tiles of the kitchen still gleaming on the walls around them. Joseph, known as Joe to his colleagues at work, but always called Joseph by his wife, said the words "irreconcilable differences," and saw real confusion in his wife's eyes. 
Irreconcilable differences? she said. Of course there are irreconcilable differences. What on earth does that have to do with divorce? 
In Joe's case it had very little to do with divorce. In Joe's case, as is so often the case, the reason for divorce was a woman. But a woman was not, unsurprisingly, the reason he gave his wife."
The Three Weissmanns of Westport
by Cathleen Schine

I'm about to start our next book club selection. The intro sounds very much like women's fiction, but we usually select lighter books for summer. My understanding is that The Three Weissmanns of Westport is a modern retelling of Sense & Sensibility, and several bloggers I trust have really enjoyed it. I love Jane Austen and think this might be fun. What do you think of the intro?

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 paragraph(s). Feel free to grab the banner and play along.


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