Love! The Season of Second Chances, by Diane Meier

Words like adoration and enchantment are popping into my head as I read The Season of Second Chances, by Diane Meier. I will cry and be heartbroken if I don’t love this book as much as I have loved it from the beginning through the first fifty pages.  It’s out on Henry Holt and Company next Tuesday, March 30th, and I am reading it in preparation for a review and interview with the author and her husband, Frank Delaney, the author of Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show – another book that is being wonderfully and favorably reviewed on so so many blogs that I love.  I can’t wait to read it as well.

It’s not even the fact that she is writing about my college town of Amherst, Massachusetts that thrills me so much.  I am just loving her book and her writing, and I am finding it to be so funny!  Readers of my blog might know that I usually tend to steer clear of humor in books, especially if that humor is intentional – it usually falls flat to me.  I am a very finicky humor reader, even though I think I have a healthy sense of humor.  I admit that there could be something that some one or many some ones (I’m looking at you) are not telling me, but I do better with humor that arise naturally out of situations, and there is plenty of that in this novel.

Natasha from Maw Books posted about ruthless de-cluttering on her blog the other day, and pointed to bunches of boxes of books that she still needed to go through.  It’s always difficult to get through those last few boxes!  I have also been on a de-cluttering kick of my own this year.  I was just feeling overwhelmed by stuff, and yes that included, books and have been giving stuff away to the point that friends have asked if I was okay.

The main character in The Season of Second Chances, Joy Harness, is in the midst of going through her personal items in preparation for a move and makes a list entitled “How to Move Your Life”.  Number one on that list reads:

Appraise all belongings and determine what is worth keeping and what is worth moving.  Separate them.  Figure out how you are going to get rid of all the belongings not worth  moving.  Somehow, this is far more difficult than simply moving them.

I absolutely loved Joy’s list.  It so true.  Every time I have moved, I have said that I was going to ruthlessly rid myself of all that I no longer need, only to take a good amount of it with me.  Every time I try to de-clutter, I find it hard to take the extra step to rid myself of things that no longer have any value besides a fleeting notion of loss.  The list and the chapter continue with a moving description of sorting through belongings as sorting through, coming to terms with and letting go of the past and ideas of our selves and our lives.  The writing is beautiful, funny and true and has resonated with me as have many other wonderful passages which are equally thoughtful and moving.

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Just thought I would pop in and share that really quickly and ask if you have come across any ideas that have resonated with you during your reading this week.  Hope everyone’s Friday is grand.  Now back to my book!

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Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger – Book Review

Audrey Niffenegger’s latest novel Her Fearful Symmetry explores the lives of a set of twins who are bequeathed an apartment in London by their late aunt, Elspeth Noblin. Elspeth has been estranged from her twin sister Edie for 20 years. Elspeth is diagnosed with cancer and, knowing  that she has less than a year to live, begins writing to Edie, who has moved to the United States and settled into a Chicago suburb with her husband and their twin daughters.  The sisters don’t have any other contact other than the letters that Elspeth sends, but when Elspeth dies, she leaves her flat, bordering Highgate Cemetary, and money, to Edie and Jack’s twin girls, Valentina and Julia Poole.

The conditions of her will state that the girls must live in the flat in London for at least a year before they are able to sell it, and that their parents are to never step foot inside the flat, not even to visit.  During the year they spend in London, the girls are introduced to quirky and emotionally troubled neighbors with questionable lifestyles. They try to figure out what it means to have existed in double for an entire life, and whether they will be able to forge and pursue interests separate from one another.

I was immediately drawn in and intrigued by the characters – the themes of loss, isolation and identity that they were facing, and the variety choices they made in determining their lives were fascinating.  The first third of the novel had me deeply invested in finding out how they had gotten to where they were in life, and what would happen next.  Living so deeply entwined for so many years seems to have had a profound detrimental impact in Elspeth and Edie’s lives, and there is a sense as the book unfolds that the same tragic pattern is emerging among Valentina and Julia.  I watched to see whether they would be able to manage their connection and start to create and invest in what could be a healthy and satisfying lives for the both of them. Elspeth also adds a unique dynamic to their relationship- the twins are in her apartment, surrounded by her things, and are also graced with her presence as a spirit who is not quite ready to move on.

Julia gravitates toward Martin, an intelligent and oddly charming older man whose lifestyle is severely inhibited by a crippling case of OCD.  Martin is learning to live alone after his long-suffering wife Marike, has finally left him, unable to live with his untreated illness any longer.  Valentina has strange interactions with Robert, Elspeth’s younger lover,  who can barely manage to face them in the wake of Elspeth’s death.  As I settled into the middle part of Her Fearful Symmetry, my interest started to wane considerably,  as the story wanders and becomes a bit stagnant.  The pacing slowed to the point where I wondered if there would be a point to the book, as Julia and Valentina wandered aimlessly through London, covering the same emotional conflicts and concerns.  There was a point where it would have been very easy for me to walk away and not finish the book.

The last third of Her Fearful Symmetry was able to get the book back on track for me as a precipitating event finally brings the mounting issues and tensions to a head, and the answers to some long answering questions are brought to light.  I loved the moral implications about identity and the lengths that people are willing to go to for self-preservation.  Once again Niffenegger presents a story with polarizing and off the beaten path issues to explore. I’m impressed with the varied themes and stories that she chooses to explore with her clear and engaging prose.  I like thinking about her stories, and so far they have made for great discussions, but if they were a little bit tighter I think I would like them that much more.

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The Evolution of Shadows, Jason Quinn Malott – Book Review & Spotlight Series Tour

The Spotlight Series was started as a way for bloggers to be able to promote books from deserving smaller and independent presses which might not receive as much attention as larger publishing companies.  I was only to happy to jump onboard this first tour to spread a little love for Unbridled Books.  They have a dedicated team of professionals who do a great job of picking books that are both thought-provoking and beautifully written.

Check out/read more book reviews from blogs participating in the Spotlight Tour for Unbridled Books visit The Spotlight Series Blog.

I was considering three books to read for this tour and finally settle on The Evolution of Shadows, by Jason Quinn Mallot.  Deceptively slight, The Evolution of Shadows certainly packs a punch.

In 1995 Gray Banick, a war photographer covering the Bosnian war, disappears.  Five years later,Cover Image - Evolution of Shadows, by Jason Quinn Malottthe people closest to him in the world have gathered in Sarajevo to search for the man who none of them can forget, because he taught each of them something key about life and love, and inevitably about themselves.

Gray Banick is a character who comes into focus slowly over the course of The Evolution of Shadows. Through the memories and internal dialogue of the other characters I was able to watch him take shape, and he wasn’t the warm and fuzzy type.  He is a bit cold, distant and definitely hardened by the war – but still I liked the relationship that he had with his friends, and it was because of those remembered relationships that I wanted them  to find him no matter how unlikely it seemed.

The dialogue and the story were simple and straightforward, and it initially seems as if they are masking the story until I realized that I had been immediately sucked in by the characters.  Granted a window into their lives, I realized how adept Mallot was at portraying them and their troubled histories in short and sure strokes.  I loved getting to know Emil Todorović, Banick’s interpreter and friend; his photography mentor, Jack MacKenzie;  and Lian Zhao, the reluctant lover who would break an already unstable heart.  The delicate relationships that they developed on their search were beautifully rendered and moving.  I was particularly interested in the way Lian’s strong sense of familial identity played so a crucial role in defining her relationship with Banick.

The Evolution of Shadows is a compelling weave of flavorful and diverse characters, each confronting the limitations of themselves and their cultural upbringings in order to come together to help find  a friend. Whether it’s through the refusal to let go of a relationship that can never be again, or hiding behind relationships and habits which are safe, they see each other.  This novel is short and very accessible.  I received this book from another blogger friend and thought that I could easily read it in an afternoon, but found that I wanted to savor the journey of these characters as opposed to rushing right through it.  Though it was filled with the devastation and difficult images of the war in Bosnia, the spare style only added to its urgent beauty.

Highly Recommended.

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Two Girls Read Shakespeare: Introducing Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare

Two Girls Read Shakespeare Button

Two Girls Read Shakespeare ButtonMeg and I are still reading Shakespeare and have decided that we are ready to read a play.  How exciting!

Nicole: So we totally dropped the ball on our final sonnets a few weeks ago.  Sonnet 116 is beautiful, romantic and gorgeous, but try as I might I couldn’t think of much else to say about it.  Sonnet 11 had Bill moping along long the same lines of mortality, but then he roped potential offspring – or someone else’s potential offspring into it, and I just couldn’t really smell what he was cookin’.  Meg?

Meg: I’m with you! After discussing sonnets at length the past few weeks, I felt my enthusiasm wane. Sonnet 116 is fantastic and something I’d love a handsome hipster to recite to me, possibly while standing in a city street, but I can’t contribute much beyond that.

Nicole: So we decided to move on.  I mean do you understand everything that comes out of your man’s mouth?  We went the tried and true, “Yes dear.”  Even though we had no real clue about what he was babbling about in Sonnet 11, we decided we’re ready to read a play!  What? We are!  Tell ’em what we are reading Meg.

Meg: Twelfth Night, one of William Shakespeare’s 14 comedies! It seems like my own education in all things related to the Bard was limited to the tragedies — teens killing themselves in the name of love; backstabbing best friends; ungrateful children and a king quickly disintegrated into madness. Heavy stuff. And we always hear about Shakespeare’s excellent turns of phrase and comedic timing, so now it’s time to really test that out.

Nicole: I’m along for the ride.  I have almost no experience with Twelfth Night, even though I have seen a manga version floating around.  (Don’t tell Meg, but I think that might be my version of the Cliff Notes!) We’re reading the Signet classic version and the plan is to discuss the First Act on or around April 2nd.

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Have you read this or any of Shakespeare’s comedies?  I’m not a big reader of comedy, so I am hoping that I will like this one.

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Frederica, by Georgette Heyer – Book Review & Classics Circuit Tour

The Classics Circuit GraphicGeorgette Heyer is on Tour with The Classics Circuit this month.  Click on the icon for more information about the Georgette Heyer Tour, and other tours on The Classics Circuit.

Lord Alverstoke is a stylish and wealthy bachelor – bored with his sisters, their families and their perpetual ploys to get him to fund their already lavish lifestyles.  Cynical to the core, he is skeptical when he meets Frederica, the charming head of the orphaned Merrivale clan. Frederica has brought her family to London to ask the assistance of relatives of her late father in launching her beautiful sister, Charis, into society with the hopes of finding her a husband.  The right match will make all the difference in the family fortunes, and save Frederica and her family from genteel poverty.  Needless to say Alverstoke’s sisters are less than pleased with the appearance of their distant relatives and are proprietary about not only Alverstoke’s time and attention which is newly directed at the young family, but also of his money.

This is by far my favorite of Georgette Heyer novels.  While so many of them have been enjoyable to me, here she strikes just the right balance with her charming and engaging plot and characters.  I love Alverstoke’s dry wit and interaction with his family, and it was fun to see him question the way he has been living his life as he becomes more involved in the always interesting antics of the Merrivales.  I have to say that I shared his impatience with Charis- beautiful and well-mannered though she might be, the girl was a bit of a dim bulb.  Fredderica and Alverstike are wonderful together and I love that she is such a determined, smart  and capable heroine.

One of the things that I have really come to appreciate about Heyer is her fabulous detail to the period – the food, clothing, furnishings and language.  She doesn’t fail here, and brings the same wonderful sense of time and place that has been present in her other novels.  The characters are vibrant and I enjoyed the pacing and the way that Alverstoke and Frederic gradually came to now each other better and managed their feelings for one another.   A vibrant cast of characters kept me wondering what they next antics would be as Frederica’s brother Jessamy and Felix are fully developed, mischievous and constantly getting into things that Frederica and  then, of course, Lord Alverstoke would have to get them out of.  I rationed the chapters so that I could savor this lovely romance.

Recommended.

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The Redbreast, by Joe Nesbo – Book Review

Early last week Harper Collins hosted a release party for Joe Nesbø’s new book, The Devil’s Starthe latest in a series of novels about Norwegian detective, Harry Hole.  I am always on the look out for a well written detective series, and while catching up with Amanda (Life and Times of  A “New” New Yorker) and Jennifer (Bookclub Girl), I was also able to chat briefly with the author, who is doing his first tour in the United States.  In taking a look at his books, I was impressed, because they all appear to have absorbing and intricate plotlines.  Nesbø fretted that meeting the author might have a detrimental effect on the enjoyment of his books, he couldn’t be more wrong.

In addition to The Devil’s Star, Nesbø has also written The Redbreast and Nemesis– and while both Nemesis and The Devil’s Star both seem like page turners, I opted   to start at the beginning of the series with The Redbreast (at least the beginning as far as books available in the US – there are two others before this one). I have been on jury duty the past few weeks, so this seemed like as good a time as any to try this series out while I had a bit of extra reading time.

At 521 pages, this novel is a bit of a chunkster, but I didn’t mind that at all and finished it in just three short days.  Once I got started, I couldn’t put it down!  Harry Hole is a detective who is no stranger to trouble in his career.  A recovering alcoholic, trouble has found him once again, and when a mission to protect foreign heads of state goes horribly wrong he is given a “promotion” and reassigned to a division where he will be safely out of the way.

Needless to say, he doesn’t stay out of the way, and when his new investigation into a rare Marklin Rifle leads to reports of that weapon being fired, Hole find himself in the middle of a far-reaching investigation that delves into Norway’s complex relationship to Nazi Germany during World War II, and current problems with the growing Neo-Nazi presence in Oslo and greater Norway.

I can’t wait to read the rest of these books, because I loved this novel.  Nesbø doesn’t shy away from having a large cast of characters, but I was throughly engaged by each of them and caught up in their stories.  He sets an excellent pace, and the suspense and mystery are wonderfully maintained even as he crosses back and forth between the present day and various points during Word War II.  Figuring out how all of the characters fit within the mystery kept me guessing, and the writing is top-notch. I was often flipping back and forth to check up on certain things within the story and would find myself reading several pages that I had already read before I realized it and stopped myself.

The characterizations were complex and credible.  I thought a lot about the different reasons that people and countries chose to enter the war on the sides that they did.  There were definitely some really bad characters that I had mixed feelings about.  That is something I enjoy in  a novel, and think is the hallmark of a thoughtful author. There are a wealth of sub-plots within and they were all engaging and usually interconnected, but just a warning that if you like everything tidily resolved at the end you will be disappointed.  There were  a few story lines that really got to me, and I’m still waiting to see how they will be resolved.  It’s a good thing that I have Nemesis all ready to go!

Highly Recommended.

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The Sunday Salon: Jury Duty Reading


Once I moaned, groaned and resigned myself to the fact that I had to go in and do my civic duty, I looked on it as an opportunity to read – something I never have enough time to do as I would like.  I spent two days sitting in the jury pool before I was placed on a case and then I spent another half day waiting for them to choose the rest of the jurors for the case.  Once I was actually on the case I was bounced in and out of the courtroom quite a bit while the judge and the lawyer consulted, and then again for lunch breaks.  I was only too happy for once that I had plenty to read.

Completed During Jury Duty:

  • Double Fault, by Lionel Shriver
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
  • The Lotus Eaters, by Tatjana Soli
  • Willow, Julia Hoban
  • Amulet, Kazu Kibuishi
  • The Redbreast, by Joe Nesbø

Made A Considerable Dent In:

  • Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  • Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger (I actually finished this one yesterday for my BTR show with J.T. from BiblioFreak Blog)
  • An Old Fashioned Girl, Louisa May Alcott
  • Louisa May Alcott:  The Woman Behind Little Women, by Harriet Reisen

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I’m still recovering from the experience so I find I can’t manage more than this list, and I am also anxious to get some blog visits in, so I’ll end here.  I must say that the Louisa May Alcott biography is excellent.  She had such a fascinating life.

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Double Fault: A Novel, by Lionel Shriver – Book Review

Cover Image - Double Fault, by Lionel ShriverWilly Novinsky is a born tennis player.  Playing since five, she has dominated the sport, beating out first her father and sister, and then going on to trounce all other opponents so badly that no one will play her. A mid-ranked professional player with minimal income, she is determined to make it to the top.  Though her family is unsupportive, Willy scrapes together money to pay for her own racquets and top of the line training with Max  Upchurch, the best coach on the East Coast.  All goes according to plan until she meets Eric Oberdorff. Eric is a low ranked, up-and-coming tennis player beneath. Willy is reluctantly smitten.  Though love blooms, it also changes everything.

Lionel Shriver is such a smart writer.  I love reading what she has to say about issues because whether it’s ambivalence about motherhood cultivating a killer child, or dual careers in a sport leading to the cruel undermining of identity and career and a marriage, she always communicates a riveting and well-considered position in her novels.  Her books make great discussion pieces for book clubs, and while this one was no exception in that regard, this probably won’t ever be my favorite of her books.

Reading Double Fault was excruciating –  like watching trains on a collision course and being completely helpless to stop either one.  Shriver has some interesting things to say about competition within a marriage and how much a woman’s identity can be in jeopardy when she has to make choices that will be beneficial to the marriage, while they were costly for her own needs and sense of self.  I think the biggest thing that made this such a hard read was the relationship between the supremely flawed main characters, Willy and Eric.  These two operated at such a high level of dysfunction that it was hard to believe that the couple they presented contained two people who were crazy about each other.

I spent most of the book not believing that they truly loved each other, so while I understood as a whole where the author was going and the points she was exploring via their relationship, I was exasperated with the characters because I didn’t understand how they were together and thought they loved each other in the first place.  Since I had such a hard time with this, it made reading the book feel pointless.  Double Fault is heavy on the tennis references and delves deeply into game play and terminology without explaining much about it to the reader.  It made getting into the book difficult and went a long way toward distancing me from the story and the characters.  Tennis lovers should also note that Shriver admits to taking liberties with the game and the way that it is played.  I don’t know enough about tennis to know if this is such a big deal, but I guess she did enough that she thought it was worth mentioning, so keep that in mind.

Well written and thought-provoking, as I have come to expect from Shriver, Double Fault was tough for me to read.  I think I needed to like at least one person in the book a little more than I did.  I found most all of the characters to be unrelentingly horrid, and the story, bleak.  There were some moments that I felt for Willy, but they were definitely very few and mostly at the end.  While I liked the discussion that I had about it on Twenty Minute Book Club, this is probably not a book I would have read knowing what I know about it now.  But I haven’t given up on Shriver.  I am still looking forward to reading The Post Birthday World.

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Arcadia Falls, by Carol Goodman – Book Review

Cover Image - Arcadia Falls, by Carol Goodman

Cover Image - Arcadia Falls, by Carol GoodmanMeg Rosenthal and her daughter Sally have sold their home to move Arcadia Falls where Meg has obtained a teaching position at the town’s boarding school of the arts.  It’s a hard time for both as they try to adjust to life in the absence of Meg’s husband, and Sally’s father, Jude.  Sally is angry and withdrawn, and Meg struggles to do the right thing by her daughter as they adjust to their new life in reduced circumstances.

Though the dean of the school, the enigmatic Ivy St. Clare, had promised comfortable lodgings, the cabin that they are assigned is old and in disrepair.  It also harbors secrets that could prove dangerous to both Meg and her daughter Sally.  Then a young student dies tragically at a school sponsored pagan festival, leaving Meg to wonder if it’s somehow related to The Changeling fairytale and the  myth of the White Witch, and more importantly if she should just take her daughter and run.

I so enjoy reading Carol Goodman’s novels. Being a big fan of fairytales,  mythology, and stories within other stories, I am never disappointed by that aspect of her work.  I wasn’t disappointed this time around either.  She has crafted another intriguing novel that makes use of myth and fairytale to reach out and grab hold over everyone at Arcadia; Meg and her daughter, the students at the schools, the local sheriff, Callum Reade, on whom Meg might have a little crush, and also the reader!

I had compassion for Meg trying to raise a moody and resentful teenager, while teaching, rediscovering the art she’d abandoned when she had a child, and her anger at her husband for leaving her in the situation that he did.  There were plenty of times when I wanted her to be stronger with her daughter, and as a character she is often upstaged by the school’s wealthy founder Vera and her talented companion Lily, whom she comes to know through letters and diaries that she explores while completing  the thesis that has too long gone unfinished.

Lily and Vera started the school first as a summer retreat, and mainly as a place where women could help each other nurture their talents and art without the distractions of men.  Vera champions the notion that women’s art suffers when they become nurturers of their husband careers and talents.  In addition to that, having a child completely destroys a woman’ career as an artist.  One of the major themes of the novel is the high cost that women have to pay in order to be creative people, and several characters explore how to balance the roles necessary to create fulfilling lives to mixed and sometimes disastrous results.

I love sinking into Goodman’s rich prose, and felt transported into her fairytales and to the school that she has created in the haunted environs of Upstate New York.  In the past I have found that some of her work ended too abruptly and was a little rushed, but the timing of the events throughout this novel left me feeling satisfied throughout.

Recommended.

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I am an Amazon Associate.  This book was sent to me for review by the publisher.

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How Do You Like Your Classics?

Classics Month Button

Classics Month ButtonTasha from Heidenkind’s Hideaway and Meghan at Medieval Bookworm have decided that they need to read more classics this month, so that is exactly what they are doing for the month of March.  They have each decided to read at least four apiece.  Today I am hanging out at Meghan’s blog and giving my .02 on the books that  have the trifecta of what I look for in a classic novel. Head on over to see what I look for in a classic and which ones are my faves, and chime in on which ones work for you!

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