Friday, January 30, 2015

Not Exactly Euphoric

As they were leaving the Mumbanyo, someone threw something at them. It bobbed a few yards from the stern of the canoe. A pale brown thing.
'Another dead baby,' Fen said.
He had broken her glasses by then, so she didn't know if he was joking.

The opening lines of Euphoria by Lily King, among the oddest I've encountered, left me feeling slightly off-balance. Unfortunately, I was never able regain my equilibrium or fully connect with the novel.

Inspired by events in the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead, Euphoria tells the story of "three young, gifted anthropologists in the 1930s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives."

I listened to the book in December after it was offered as an audible daily deal. In addition to the price, there were three additional draws:
-  it had appeared on several year-end "Best of" lists
-  I have a vague interest in both anthropology and Margaret Mead
-  narrators Simon Vance and Xe Sands are among my favorites

While I found lots of interesting anthropological tidbits, the novel itself just didn't have much of an impact on me.

The high point was definitely the narration. Euphoria perfectly lends itself to a dual narrator production and the combination of Simon Vance with Xe Sands was inspired. Vance, narrating the larger portion as Englishman Andrew Bankson, easily slips in and out of an Aussie accent. Sands narration adds depth and understanding to the character of Nell Stone.

Not a favorite by any means, but I'm glad I listened.

My rating:

by Lily King
narrated by Simon Vance, Xe Sands
Blackstone Audio, 2014
6 hours and 53 minutes

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You
by Celeste Ng
narrated by Cassandra Campbell
Blackstone Audio, 2014
10 hours and 1minute
source: purchased

Summary (from goodreads):
Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins this debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart.

My thoughts:

In a year rife with outstanding debut novels, Everything I Never Told You  stands out as one of the finest.

The sad lack of communication and understanding within the mixed-race Lee family is at the heart of this novel. Marilyn and James Lee, both misfits themselves, do not understand their children. They don't really understand each other either. The three children, Nath, Lydia, and Hannah, don't understand their parents enough to make sense of their actions, demands, and expectations. Lydia and Nath, though close, are too focused on their own lives and coping mechanisms to offer the other much support. And poor Hannah, the youngest, who sees and understands more than anyone realizes, is practically a nonentity to the rest of the family.

The novel opens with the stark statement that Lydia is dead. From there, it moves backward and forward through time, forcing the reader to pay close attention, but rewarding the effort with a gradual revelation of character, motivation, and, ultimately, circumstances surrounding Lydia's death.

Set in Ohio in the 70's, I loved the cultural references - the television shows, the fashions, and the ubiquitous Farrah Fawcett hair. But be forewarned, this is a sad book. Perhaps it wasn't the best listening choice for wrapping Christmas presents or my bouts of pre-holiday insomnia, but it is still brilliant. Book clubs will have a field day discussing these characters.

Everything I Never Told You  should be required reading for anyone with children. As you ask yourself how the Lees got it all so spectacularly wrong, you will be inspired to pay closer attention to your own family. You will be forced to re-examine the hopes and dreams you hold for your children, as well as your underlying motivation.

A note on the audio production: 
I chose to listen to this book because it is narrated by Cassandra Campbell. As always, she delivers an amazing performance. For me, an outstanding narrator can sometimes carry an average novel and it is often hard to judge how I might react to the book in print. However, I am certain I would have loved Everything I Never Told You  in any format.

Bottom line: 
Do not miss this book!

My rating:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tuesday Intro: Reading Barsetshire

Chapter I

Hiram's Hospital
The Rev. Septimus Harding was, a few years since, a beneficed clergyman residing in the cathedral town of ––––; let us call it Barchester. Were we to name Wells or Salisbury, Exeter, Hereford, or Gloucester, it might be presumed that something personal was intended; and as this tale will refer mainly to the cathedral dignitaries of the town in question, we are anxious that no personality may be suspected. Let us presume that Barchester is a quiet town in the West of England, more remarkable for the beauty of its cathedral and the antiquity of its monuments than for any commercial prosperity; that the west end of Barchester is the cathedral close, and that the aristocracy of Barchester are the bishop, dean, and canons, with their respective wives and daughters.
The Warden
by Anthony Trollope

2015 marks Anthony Trollope's Bicentenary and, following Audrey's lead, I have decided to read the six Barsetshire novels over the course of the year. The first installment, The Warden, was originally published in 1855 and is actually a reread for me.

Here is the goodreads summary: 
The book centers on the character of Mr. Harding, a clergyman of great personal integrity, whose charitable income far exceeds the purpose for which it was intended. Young John Bold turns his reforming zeal to exposing what he considers to be an abuse of privilege, despite being in love with Mr. Harding's daughter Eleanor. The novel was highly topical as a case regarding the misapplication of church funds was the scandalous subject of contemporary debate. But Trollope uses this specific case to explore and illuminate the universal complexities of human motivation and social morality. 
The plan is to read a book every two months:
The Warden  - January/February
Barchester Towers - March/April
Doctor Thorne - May/June
The Small House at Allington - July/August
Framley Parsonage - September/October
The Last Chronicle of Barset - November/December
Have you read Trollope? Are you a fan? Anyone is welcome to read along. We'll see how this goes...

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, January 25, 2015

Weekly Update 1/25/15: Plenty of Sunshine

Good morning from Florida! We've been here two weeks and, after a few minor complications, are finally settling into a routine.

You know you're not in central New York when a strange car odor is diagnosed as a 'palm rat' nest in the air blower. Two hundred dollars and an entire day in the garage later, the technician suggested placing moth balls strategically under the hood. Our car sat idle for ten days before we arrived, but evidently this is not an unusual occurrence!

The underground cable line was severed (hopefully not from the above-mentioned palm rat) and dealing with the company was a nightmare. I'll never complain about Time-Warner again. After countless phone calls, new cable was laid and, eventually, a crew even came back to bury it.

Our internet service was finally set up mid-week and now I'm eagerly anticipating delivery of a new washing machine. I won't go into how spectacularly the old one failed.

All that waiting around without cable or internet meant plenty of reading time and I finished several books:

Euphoria by Lily King (audio)
Most readers love this, but it didn't do much for me.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This could be the first post-apocalyptic novel I've ever enjoyed.

West of Sunset by Stewart O'Nan
A favorite author, but not a favorite book

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
I really liked this read/listen combination. The readalong added to my enjoyment.  #CarrieAlong

What am I reading now?

The Warden by Anthony Trollope
This is actually a reread. I plan to read all the Barsetshire novels this year to mark Trollope's Bicentenary.

Today's plan//
A walk on the beach, another cup of coffee, and some blog reading is on tap this morning. My FIL will be here later for a Chicken Piccata dinner and then it will be time for Downton Abbey! What do you think of the season so far?

The week ahead//
I should be able to get back to blogging as usual this week and look forward to catching up with everyone.

What are you up to today?

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

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Finding Florida by T.D. Allman

Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State
by T. D. Allman
narrated by James Patrick Cronin
Audible Studios, 2013
21 hours and 8 minutes
source: purchased

Summary (from goodreads):
Over the centuries, Florida has been many things: an unconquered realm protected by geography, a wilderness that ruined Spanish conquistadors, “god’s waiting room,” and a place to start over. Depopulated after the extermination of its original native population, today it’s home to nineteen million. The site of vicious racial violence, including massacres, slavery, and the roll-back of Reconstruction, Florida is now one of our most diverse states, a dynamic multicultural place with an essential role in 21st-century America.

In Finding Florida, journalist T.D. Allman reclaims the remarkable history of Florida from the state’s mythologizers, apologists, and boosters. Allman traces the discovery, exploration, and settlement of Florida, its transformation from a swamp to “paradise.” Palm Beach, Key West, Miami, Tampa, and Orlando boomed, fortunes were won and lost, land was stolen and flipped, and millions arrived. The product of a decade of research and writing, Finding Florida is a highly original, stylish, and masterful work, the first modern comprehensive history of this fascinating place.

My thoughts:

So maybe Ponce de Leon didn't really discover the Fountain of Youth in St Augustine but, according to T.D. Allman, most of the other history taught in Florida classrooms is white-washed, exaggerated, or just plain myth too. Instead, Allman proposes a history rife with corruption, deception, oppression, and racism.

I found Finding Florida to be highly entertaining, but is it a definitive, comprehensive, or objective history? I'm not so sure. This book is highly subjective and, at times, downright snarky. Upon finishing, I felt like I needed to spend some time doing my own research.

For the record, Allman's book is not accepted as gospel truth within the state and The Tampa Bay Times ran a story in 2013 entitled "Finding Flaws in Finding Florida".

As many of you know, I chose to listen to this book because we are spending much of the winter in Florida this year and I know very little about the state's history. While Florida's story certainly includes racism and political/electoral misadventures, it is up to the reader to decide whether the information presented here is fact, opinion, or one long rant.

A note on the audio production:
I was not especially fond of the snarky, somewhat sarcastic, narration although it did match the overall tone of the book.

My rating:

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Change of Scenery

Good-bye snow and bitter cold...

Hello, sand and sunshine!

Today is the day...  I'll be back to blogging as soon as we get internet service.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple

They Were Sisters
by Dorothy Whipple
Persephone Books, 2005
originally published 1944
464 pages
source: purchased

Summary (from goodreads):
Three sisters marry very different men and the choices they make determine whether they will flourish, be tamed or be repressed. Lucy's husband is her beloved companion; Vera's husband bores her and she turns elsewhere; and Charlotte's husband is a bully who turns a high-spirited naive young girl into a deeply unhappy woman.

My thoughts:
"....they were sisters and loved each other, no matter how deeply the circumstances of their lives seemed to divide them." 
Dorothy Whipple's books are a joy to read and I couldn't have been happier when the most recent Classics Club spin dealt me They Were Sisters. With her distinctly gentle style and keen eye for family relationships, this novel made for perfect December reading.

In They Were Sisters, Whipple focuses on the special bond between sisters and how it can be affected by life circumstances. Specifically, the changing boundaries imposed by marriage. She even presents us with 1940's-style domestic abuse. Poignant, maddening, and thoroughly enjoyable, They Were Sisters reminds me why Dorothy Whipple is a favorite Persephone author.

Although I generally prefer reading on my kindle these days, the special qualities of a Persephone edition - elegant dovegrey cover, colorful endpapers, and matching bookmark - made this book even more of a holiday treat.

Highly recommended.

My rating:

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tuesday Intro and a Read-Along: Sister Carrie

When Caroline Meeber boarded the afternoon train for Chicago, her total outfit consisted of a small trunk, a cheap imitation alligator-skin satchel, a small lunch in a paper box, and a yellow leather snap purse, containing her ticket, a scrap of paper with her sister's address in Van Buren Street, and four dollars in money. It was in August, 1889. She was eighteen years of age, bright, timid, and full of the illusions of ignorance and youth. Whatever touch of regret at parting characterised her thoughts, it was certainly not for advantages now being given up. A gush of tears at her mother's farewell kiss, a touch in her throat when the cars clacked by the flour mill where her father worked by the day, a pathetic sigh as the familiar green environs of the village passed in review, and the threads which bound her so lightly to girlhood and home were irretrievably broken.
Sister Carrie
by Theodore Dreiser

Over the weekend, Care mentioned the possibility of a low-key, no pressure Sister Carrie  readalong and I immediately agreed. Dreiser's An American Tragedy  was a favorite last year and I already had plans to read Sister Carrie  sometime in 2015. Besides, if I've learned anything from The Classics Club, it's that classics are always better with friends. My plan is to make this a read/listen combination. The details (loose and non-threatening) can be found on Care's blog. Would you like to join us for the #CarrieAlong?

Here is the summary from goodreads:
With Sister Carrie, first published in 1900, Theodore Dreiser transformed the conventional “fallen woman” story into a genuinely innovative and powerful work of fiction. As he hurled his impressionable midwestern heroine into the throbbing, amoral world of the big city, he revealed, with brilliant insight, the deep and driving forces of American culture: the restless idealism, glamorous materialism, and basic spiritual innocence.

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, January 4, 2015

Weekly Update 1/4/15: It's a New Year!

Good morning  and welcome to the first weekly update of 2015. After a small New Year's Eve gathering, a relaxing New Year's Day, and a long weekend, I'd say the year is already off to a good start. I even finished two books - They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple and the graphic memoir Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?  by Roz Chast.

Currently reading:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This is my first post-apocalyptic fiction in nearly ten years. So far, so good. 

Listening to:

Euphoria by Lily King
narrated by Xe Sands and Simon Vance
Under two and a half hours to go and I'm ready to be done with this book. The narrators are excellent, but I can't help wondering whether it would be better in print.

On the blog:
My 2014 Favorites: Fiction
My 2014 Favorites: Audiobook Fiction
My 2014 Favorites: Nonfiction
Review: Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?  by Roz Chast

Other Bookish Thoughts 

2015 will be another no pressure reading year for me - no blog tours, very few review books, no deadlines, no commitments, and more abbreviated reviews. I read pretty much anything I wanted in 2014 and, surprisingly, that meant a lot of new releases and debut novels. We'll see where free range reading takes me this year, but I'm anticipating a return to backlist fiction and classics.

The TBR Double Dog Dare hosted at James Reads Books kicked off last week  The idea is to read books already on your shelves (or e-reader) until April 1st. I've committed for the month of January, but we'll see how it goes after that. I'll be in Florida most of the winter and am not sure I can resist the local library. The little indie bookstore is quite tempting, too. I'll let you know if I decide to continue.

Are you familiar with Zinio? It's a newsstand lending service available through libraries... kind of like overdrive for magazines. I just signed up this week and my iPad is loaded and ready for Friday's flight. I got my mother set up, too. Now I can read The New Yorker  without the stress of all those unread issues piling up on the coffee table. My favorite food and travel magazines are also available, along with many, many more I can't wait to explore.

And finally... It's Downton Day! Will you be watching?

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

Friday, January 2, 2015

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
by Roz Chast
Bloomsbury USA, 2014
240 pages
source: borrowed from the library

Well I certainly didn't expect this to happen... revealing my first book of the year and  reviewing it at the same time! That mysterious system known as inter-library loan actually selected the book for me and, since we're leaving for Florida in a week, I needed to read and return it ASAP.

I've enjoyed Roz Chast's cartoons in The New Yorker for decades and when her first memoir began appearing on "Best of" lists everywhere, I knew I had to read it.

As it turns out, the notoriety is well-deserved. A 2014 National Book Award finalist, this graphic memoir, composed of illustrations, photos, and text, addresses a topic all of us must deal with at some point  - the aging and death of our parents.

Chast does not sugar-coat her experience. She is honest and candid about her childhood, her relationship with her parents, and the challenge of dealing with their increasing physical and emotional needs, as well as the associated financial worries.

This book is not especially pleasant or uplifting, but it will make you think, perhaps begin to formulate a plan, or at least nudge you into discussion with your parents.

Highly recommended.

My rating:

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Poem for the New Year

New Year Resolve
by May Sarton

The time has come
To stop allowing the clutter
To clutter my mind
Like dirty snow,
Shove it off and find
Clear time, clear water.

Time for a change,
Let silence in like a cat
Who has sat at my door
Neither wild nor strange
Hoping for food from my store
And shivering on the mat.

Let silence in.
She will rarely speak or mew,
She will sleep on my bed
And all I have ever been
Either false or true
Will live again in my head.

For it is now or not
As old age silts the stream,
To shove away the clutter,
To untie every knot,
To take the time to dream,
To come back to still water.

"New Year Resolve" by May Sarton, from Collected Poems 1930-1993.

I posted this poem a couple of years ago, but it's worth reconsidering...

The photo was taken 8/31/14 on my iPhone 4S - no filters or editing.


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