Monthly archives of “August 2008

TSS: Bookkeeping ~ August 2008

Today was a good reading day.  I spent all of Saturday with housekeeping and doing my hair, and today I got the chance to just relax.

I’m hosting a giveway that ends on September 1st, 11:59pm EST.  If you’s like to read Hurry Down Sunshine, by Michael Greenberg go here.  My review is here.

I started out the day reading The History of Lucy’s Love Life in Ten and a Half Chapters. Deborah Wright’s writing is clear and engaging and this is a great book to read to take your mind off the heavier stuff.  I don’t read a lot of chick-lit romances but this one called to me in the library because of it’s quirkiness.  A woman dissatisfied with her relationship visits all her favorite poets and writers with the help of a time machine. A little suspension of disbelief is necessary, but I spent two chapters with Lucy and for the most part so far am pleasantly entertained.

I spent the rest of the day reading Mudbound.  My, my , my is Hillary Jordan a great writer.  This is her first book and I sat yesterday and read it all the way through.  It was all there.  The story was compelling, the characters were full and fleshed out, and there wa such exquisite foreshadowing and suspense.  She gives you enough hints without giving away the final outcome and she has a few tricks in the end.  I can’t recommend this enough. Not sure how I can do the review any justice.

August Reads

So, in August I managed:

Hurry Down Sunshine, by Michael Greenberg
The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton
The Abstinence Teacher, by Tom Perrotta
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
On the Way Home, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Cornrows, by Camille Yarborough
Song of the Trees, by Mildred Taylor
The Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers: ANovel, by Xiaolu Guo
Jane Austen: A Life, Carol Shields
Lost, Cathy Ostlere (review)
The New-Slain Knight:The Haunted Ballad Series, by Deborah Grabien
Ain’t I A Woman, by bell hooks
The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood
Diets for Healthy Healing, by Linda Page
The Wife: A Novel, by Meg Wolitzer
The Lost Daughter, by Elena Ferrante & Ann Goldstein (Translator)
Matrimony, by Joshua Henkin
In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan
Mudbound, by Hillary Jordon

19 books and 5 reviews in the batch for August.  I have some catching up to do.  I have all of my reviews written by hand.  That seems to be the way that I have to do things.  There is something about the way hand and pen connects with the paper that starts my thought process.  Once I have written the review it can take me a while before I come back to it and edit it and then post it up here.  I have committed to writing and posting about all the books that I have read so far, so I have some catching up to do with posting reviews.  It would help if I could just type things right into the computer, but I don’t work that way.

What’s your method for writing reviews?

Book Bulletin ~ Matrimony, Joshua Henkin

I am about eighty pages into Matrimony by Joshua Henkin and I’m not yet sure how I feel about it.  Right now it’s a little loose and it’s just going along; from what I know so far I don’t have a a clue as to what will happen next or how these characters will end up.  I figure at some point someone will get married, since this is Matrimony after all.

Two guys, Julian and Carter, come from different worlds but reluctantly become friends in college at the prompting of their curmudgeonly Creative Writing professor.  They start dating Mia and Pilar, respectively, during their freshman year and manage to maintain their relationships throughout their senior year in college, where they are all trying to figure out their next steps; and that’s about where I’m at right now.  I’m interested enough in the story , and I don’t know if that’s because I have heard such good things about it, that I want  to keep reading, but I am a little disturbed at how insular the characters are.  They move into  a commune, where the couples live next door to each other, and so far not a single person who lives there, outside of the foursome, have been mentioned; and none of them seem to have any other friends beside each other. It’s a little weird.  The only place where other students are present is in the writing class the boys took together freshman year. 

So far I don’t feel I’ve gotten to know either of the boys that well.  I feel like I know their types, but don’t really know them.  But there are some places where there is a nice characterization of Julian , like with the dogs that he walks and the Korean couple that he gets to know at the vegetable market he frequents.  I am starting to get to know Mia a little as her world gets turned upside down.  So far, she seems to be the most fully developed character.  So we’ll see.

I’ll end with a sentence I enjoyed.

The babies lay like take-out orders beneath the warm lights, the boys with blue hats, the girls with pink ones, everything determined already; Mia, hating this, swore that if she ever had a baby she’d have the pinkest boy in the world, she’d have the bluest girl.

I like the image of babies as take out, and the use of the semi-colon (j/k).

Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood – Book Review


The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood
Fiction, 196 pages, Hardcover
Publisher: Canongate
Publication Date: 2005

I picked up this book while browsing at the library during lunchtime (that is quickly becoming my latest addiction).  I already have copies of Oryx and Crake, Alias Grace, and The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood at home; but of course I couldn’t read those, I had to bring home something else.  This is why I have about 400 books in my personal library and have read less than a third of them.  I go to the library, things look interesting, I pick them up.  People give me books to read (one of my co-workers has given me a second book to read (yay!) in as many weeks), and then I wander into bookstores and can’t help myself and on top of that can’t buy one thing.  Apparently books have that in common with Lays!  But, I digress.

I remember reading the Odyssey and thinking of Penelope being the smart, beautiful, industrious, long suffering wife of Odysseus. I was expecting that The Penelopiad would have been Penelope’s story, but I guess maybe it wasn’t her story in the way that I wanted to hear it.  In this story she constantly keeps her opinions to herself in order to keep the peace and allows herself to be manipulated by her mother-in-law and a faithful old servant of Odysseus. Atwood portrays Penelope as an uncertain teenager who has ideas and thoughts in her head that she can’t articulate to others, and because  of this can’t take control of her destiny.  She wanders friendless around the palace and lets the servant have dominion over her son Telemachus.  As I think about it now, Penelope has the voice of a teenager (and she is only  15 when she and Odysseus marry), which might explain a lot of her choices but for the fact that she writes it as a dead woman who has had thousands of years to reflect on her life.

Told in flashback, we begin with Penelope living in the Underworld where she has run-ins with her rival, Helen of Troy, the suitors who plagued her in Odysseus’s absence, and her twelve maids whom were hanged by her son Telemachus at Odysseus’s request.  Throughout her tale she offers commentary on the changes that have taken place in the world since her death, like what surprises her and how the living won’t leave the dead alone (she gets conjured up through séances).   These tangents I think, are meant to be cute and to provide Penelope with a hip and modern voice, but I found all the asides to be extraneous and distracting and they take up too much of the book.

Penelope’s voice as a character is in places witty, interesting and humorous; she’s a pretty smart cookie but I would have liked to see that displayed more in the narrative.  More focus seem to be devoted to her insecurities around Helen, and how lost she is without Odysseus. But, I laughed out loud when she talks about her misgivings on spending time with her father after he has tried to drown her in the river as a baby when a seer said that she would have something to do with the making of his shroud.

“I found this affection difficult to reciprocate.  You can imagine.  There I would be, strolling hand in hand with my apparently fond male parent along a cliff edge or a river bank or a parapet, and the thought would occur to me that he might suddenly decide to shove me or bash me to death with a rock.  Preserving a calm façade under these circumstances was a challenge.  After such excursions I would retire to my room and dissolve in flood of tears.”

That was good stuff!

Unfortunately Penelope got lost in the retellings of other people’s stories.  Her story is everyone else’s story but her own, and I considered given this is Atwood the commentary that she is making on women’s lives and how they make their choices.  I can see that, but I am a disappointed because Penelope’s mythology seems so different than the weepy woman who is often times telling this story.  Dead and buried, Penelope is still jealous of Helen of Troy. Even Atwood didn’t think Penelope had all that much to say.  With a title like The Penelopiad I was expecting something a bit more substantial than 196 pages, and the print was huge!  So this was very short; easily read in an afternoon. If I had it to do over, this is one by Atwood I’d probably skip.

Read this book? Send me a link and I will post your thoughts too!

Booking Through Thursday

btt button

If you’re anything like me, one of your favorite reasons
to read is for the story. Not for the character development and
interaction. Not because of the descriptive, emotive powers of the
writer. Not because of deep, literary meaning hidden beneath layers of
metaphor. (Even though those are all good things.) No … it’s because
want to know what happens next?

Or, um, is it just me?

I think the story is what compels me to pick up the book in the first place, but if the other elements aren’t there I question the worth of the story, and whther I will finish reading it. If the other stuff isn’t there it’s like having a delicious pie shell or pastry crust and the filling sucks.  Not very good, is it? 

Characters and their development usually go hand in hand with whether I can actually finish a book, and will have a major influence on my final thoughts on a book.  The only two books that I have failed to finish this year had characters that I didn’t feel anything for one way or the other, so much so that I couldn’t even finish for the story to see what happened to them; and I started reading them thinking that the concepts were interesting.  I just finished reading  The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante . The story was not the most compelling story in the world (a woman goes to the beach for three weeks on vacation), but I finished reading it because the character was interesting, constantly surprising, and even though I didn’t like her, she was fascinating.

Teaser Tuesday ~ August 26

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

Please avoid spoilers!

Grab your current read.
Let the book fall open to a random page.

Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.

You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

I wonder what my life would have been  like with another woman- a life away from men and their caterwauling  and continual need for affirmation, for stroking , as though within their  minds they were alway s deep  in the  Den of Iniquity, always waiting with the  robe belt  loosely tied, wanting a woman to pull it open and make them happy.  Men and women drifted through the room ;  distantly through the smoke I could smell  a malodorous breathe of anxiety, behind which  someone wondered if they would find pleasure tonight, if their robe would opened by warm, new hands.

The Wife,  Meg  Wolitzer

Lost, by Cathy Ostlere – Book Review

lost1Lost, by Cathy Ostlere
Memoir, 240 pages, Paperback
Publisher: Key Porter Books
Publication Date: March 1, 2009 (US)

Lost begins on September 30, 1995 with a family gathered around the kitchen table, waiting for Cathy Ostlere’s brother David to call. He is an adventurer and can be any given place at any time, but he “never forgets” and has never failed to call on his birthday. That day the family waits for a call that never comes.

This is a memoir about blame, guilt, and identity as it is about the time in Cathy Ostlere’s life when David and his girlfriend Sarah disappear in a small boat on the Atlantic Ocean. Ostlere deftly navigates the past and the present, and we learn that she is inextricably tied to her brother through their shared anything goes adventurous spirit, which is affected when Ostlere settles down and begins to raise a family. David, having caught the travel bug from his older sister particularly tries to push the limits on what he can do, and is critical of her settling down with her family.

“You’re not the woman you used to be,” David says. His words descend like a curse. I am on my hands and knees wiping spilled apple juice.”

Ostlere barrels down a road doubt and what ifs about how she handles the disappearance of her brother, who because of the bond that they share, has sworn her to secrecy about their trip so as not to worry their parents, especially their mother. She is the one who goes to seek out the last places the David was seen alive, and keeps up grim exchanges with the coast guard and other marine agencies. After all she was the one that waited a month after the missed phone call before she says anything. She is the one who is wracked with the guilt of waiting too long to start the search, and having kept his secret in the first place. The book is filled with tension, haunting passages and beautiful imagery as she tell the story of her and David’s relationship- the past and stories of recklessness where everything turns out okay, juxtaposed to the now that has gone horribly wrong.

By the last third of the book, I start to get a little lost. Her sentences are beautiful, but I am becoming to caught up in the beauty and in a sense they can obscure some of the feeling and the emotion. I remember thinking that her style compatible with shorter stories, where it would be easier to sustain the poetic beauty and the emotion over a shorter span of time. (As it turns out she usually writes short non-fiction pieces). At the same time I wanted more about where her exploration and revelations left her. In exploring her relationship with David and his being lost she is also confronting things in herself and how she has become lost in her marriage and who she is a person. I wanted to know where here journey led her and what decisions she made. Nevertheless, there is much to recommend in this fascinating interior journey of a woman trying to confront so many of the issues that we wrestle with in our lives against the background of family tragedy.

Have you reviewed Lost? Please e-mail me your link or leave it in the comments, I’d love to have it here.

Sunday Salon ~ ARC Giveaway

I read and enjoyed Michael Greenberg’s Hurry Down Sunshine, due out September 9, 2008,and now I am giving away my ARC copy so that you can enjoy it too!

From the Back Cover

HURRY DOWN SUNSHINE TELLS THE STORY OF THE extraordinary summer when, at the age of fifteen, Michael Greenberg’s daughter was struck mad. It begins with Sally’s visionary crack-up on the streets of Greenwich Village, and continues, among other places, in the out-of-time world of a Manhattan psychiatric ward during the city’s most sweltering months. “I feel like I’m traveling and traveling with nowhere to go back to,” Sally says in a burst of lucidity while hurtling away toward some place her father could not dream of or imagine. Hurry Down Sunshine is the chronicle of that journey, and its effect on Sally and those closest to her–her brother and grandmother, her mother and stepmother, and, not least of all, the author himself. Among Greenberg’s unforgettable gallery of characters are an unconventional psychiatrist, an Orthodox Jewish patient, a manic Classics professor, a movie producer, and a landlord with literary dreams. Unsentimental, nuanced, and deeply humane, Hurry Down Sunshine holds the reader in a mesmerizing state of suspension between the mundane and the transcendent.

Here’s how to enter:
For one entry ~ Simply leave a comment below.

For an additional two entries ~ Tell me what’s the favorite book you’ve reviewed between August 1st and now. Leave a link to the review on your site.

For an additional three entries ~ Tell me which book I’ve written about that you would be most likely to read.

So there’s a total of 6 entries available if you do all three. Deadline to enter is Monday, September 1st 2008. I will draw a winner on Tuesday, September 2nd.

Happy reading!

Diets for Healthy Healing, Linda Page – Book Review

diets-for-healthy-healingDiets for Healthy Healing by Linda Page
Non-Fiction, 256 pages ~ Trade Paperback
Publisher: Healthy Healing, Inc.
Publication Date: October 2005

“Food is a potent healer. Your diet can literally transform your body.”

I am a big believer in using my meals to stay healthy and out of the doctor’s office. Every now and then I like to read a refresher to see what new information is out there and if there’s something new I want to add to what I eat, or what new food theory I want to to test out and incorporate in my life if it proves to be worthwhile. This book is a great resource. I wish it were smaller, because it’s not very wieldy; but I guess most reference books aren’t. It was packed with information on food properties and health tips, not to mention recipes that you can try out in order to incorporate the changes that are mentioned. Their “diets” are targeted to help alleviate specific conditions and symptoms that you might be experiencing like women’s issue, cancer, anti-aging, immune defenses for the cold and flu, and of course fat loss and weight management. I loved the bonus sections in the back that had cooking tips and there were a lot of healthy recipes throughout that I can’t wait to try. Ginger Crab in Wine Broth really caught my eye. Yum!

Have you reviewed Diets for Healthy Healing? Please e-mail me your link or leave it in the comments, I’d love to have it here.

Random Musings & Lost by Cathy Ostlere

I’m in my bedroom, book by my side, and enjoying a glass of Chianti that I got last month in Rome. In the distance, in the kitchen, I hear a bag rustling and I know that one of my cats is rifling through the garbage; making a mess for me, but I am too relaxed to get up and shoo them/her/him away.

jane-austenThis morning I finished the book that I was reading on Jane Austen by Carol Shields. Biographies are always interesting to me because I spend half my time fascinated by the story, and the other half rolling my eyes at the author because I think, how can they possibly know and draw some of the conclusions that they make about the subject of their biography? But it’s the nature of human beings. I roll my eyes at myself when I get all carried away trying to figure out people and their complex motives and situations, trying to know what I can’t possibly know about other people. We’re all about conjecture, speculation and figuring things out. Still, Carol speculated well, and I will have more to say on the book shortly (as in a few days, maybe?).


Lost came in the mail yesterday. It’s by Canadian author Cathy Ostlere. I am already about 55 pages in, and am enjoying the read. Well, as much as one can enjoy a memoir about woman whose family is undergoing a crisis. Ostlere’s brother and his girlfriend have set out to sail a twenty seven foot boat around the Azores on the Atlantic Ocean and have not been heard from in over four weeks. Ostlere goes looking to find out what happened to them, and I am hooked.

Her writing is haunting and exquisite.

“In the last month I have held little of my brother in my mind. How carelessly I slipped into neglectfulness, and now I find myself in the present with with nothing but questions. I am ashamed. One of the acts of love is to hold memory.”

“I imagine how my home Province of Manitoba will look next month- a thin layer of early snow covering the roads and fields, pale footprints in long straight lines, and a thousand grey lakes turned wild by November winds.”

I’m having a quiet evening in while I read some more.

Recent Thoughts on Books:
How to Read and Why, Harold Bloom
Foe, J.M. Coetzee
An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison
The House at Riverton, Kate Morton
Hurry Down Sunshine, Michael Greenberg

Sunday Salon ~ Man Gone Down

Man Gone Down, by Michael Thomas
Fiction, 428 pages ~ Trade Paperback
Publisher: Black Cat
Publication Date: 2007

It seems that I am not destined to be one of the people who loved this book. The New York Times Book Review called it “powerful and moving…an impressive success”, and named it one of the ten best books of 2007, but I just cannot agree. I was so little moved by the unnamed narrator’s trials and tribulations that I was not able to invest in the stream of conscious narrative, and just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the characters. In the first twenty pages the narrator references at least three traumatic experiences which have made his life difficult, with the additional burden of being a black man married to a white woman and trying to raise their three children: X, C, and a little girl that remains unnamed. It’s almost as if the book is too intellectual because there is a strange absence of feeling in the part that I read.

And it’s not like it isn’t coherent and well-written. Thomas’s prose is poetic.

“There are ghosts on the street tonight. There’s a giant moon in the eastern sky, low and orange. It throws light on the asphalt, light and shadows of tree leaves and telephone wires. My father ran put on us when he was the age that I am now, but he didn’t have the heart to just go. First he went to the couch, then to the Ramada, and only after a decade of coming in and out of my life did he finally allow himself to completely disappear.”

It’s just that things happen and I’m not sure exactly what they are, and nor do I care to go back and find out what they are.

This was my pick for my book club based on a back cover that sounded very interesting and some great reviews. None of us liked it much nor were we able to get through the book other than by skimming. There just didn’t seem to be a compelling reason to read the story, and in the 428 pages covering four days, nothing seems to happen. The character alludes to childhood traumas that he is struggling with, even at the age of thirty-five, and maybe his perspective was too far removed and detached for us to be able to feel him. Not sure.

From the back cover:

On the eve of his thirty-fifth birthday, the unnamed black narrator of Man Gone Down finds himself broke, estranged from his whit wife and three children and living in the bedroom of a friend’s six-year-old child.. He has four days to come up with the money to keep the kids in schools and make a down payment on an apartment for them to live in. As we slip between his childhood in inner city Boston and present day new York City, we learn of a life marked by abuse, abandonment, raging alcoholism, and the best and worst intentions of a supposedly integrated American Dream gone awry, about what it’s like to feel pre-programmed to fail in life and the urge to escape that sentence.

Have you reviewed Man Gone Down, by Michael Thomas? Please e-mail me your link or leave it in the comments, I’d love to have it here.

Allowing for different strokes and all that, if anyone wants to read this book, leave me a comment and I will send it along.