Wednesday, November 19, 2014

PLEASE STAY TUNED






I had cataract surgery on my right eye on Monday. Now I have 20/20 vision in that eye but my old near-sighted left eye still has a cataract which will not be fixed until late December. That boils down to a sort of weird monovision for distance and a somewhat useless left eye. This is not conducive to reading or computer work except in short stints. 

Please bear with me. I will be back. I have a pile of excellent books already ready to review. I will get to them as soon as I am able. 

Meanwhile I am catching up on literary podcasts including the awesome Other People, where Brad Listi interviews cutting edge current authors, often published by small and independent presses. Check it out!

Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

THE INVENTION OF WINGS




 
 
 
There are certain novels that are so wonderful they keep me reading, always hoping I will find another wonderful one. If you are a reader, I am sure you can think of at least ten such novels. What is even more wonderful is how personal this is, how each reader is unique as to what makes a novel wonderful.
 
Sue Monk Kidd's first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, was such a novel for me. Now I have added her latest novel, The Invention of Wings, to my personal list of wonderful novels. And this is the last time I will use the word wonderful in this review!

The story involves a slave owning family and their slaves. The Grimke household is located in Charleston, NC. In 1803, on her eleventh birthday, Sarah Grimke is given her own personal slave, Hetty, also known as Handful because she is one.

Although her family has always owned slaves, Sarah is horrified by the idea of herself owning another human being. Instead she makes Hetty into a friend and begins teaching her to read. Soon enough both of them are in big trouble, but from that day on Sarah, Hetty, Hetty's mother Charlotte, and Sarah's baby sister Angelina are bound together. 

Sarah and Angelina grow up to be abolitionists and feminists, though of course they are expelled from their family home and from Charleston. All four women struggle, rebel, and suffer before the Civil War has even begun. Each one crosses the treacherous lines and boundaries of family, racism, and patriarchal traditions in a relentless search for freedom.

Readers of this blog know that I take umbrage at writers who unsuccessfully tell stories about other races, nationalities, or countries to which they do not belong. I hereby admit that some authors can manage such a feat convincingly and Sue Monk Kidd has done it twice. But if a person of color reads this review and disagrees, I am open to what you have to say.

I read The Invention of Wings in two days, carried along by the excellence of Ms Kidd's writing craft and immersed in her characters' adventures. I felt proud to be a human being. Here it is 2014 and we still encounter racism and oppression of women on a daily basis but from the beginning of time there have been individuals who stood up to humans oppressing humans and said, "No!"


(The Invention of Wings is available in hardcover on the shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)



Sunday, November 09, 2014

A SEVERED HEAD






A Severed Head, Iris Murdoch, The Viking Press, 1961, 248 pp


Martin is happily married to Antonia but also has a mistress names Georgie. Antonia is older than Martin and undergoing analysis. Suddenly she leaves Martin and moves in with Anderson, her analyst. Anderson's sister Honor tells Antonia about Georgie. Honor is such a truly cracked character that she makes the rest of them look only mildly weird in comparison.

Again a 1961 novel about infidelity. In contrast to Wallace Stegner's A Shooting Star, this one is a breath of fresh air with that almost slapstick feeling Murdoch does so well. Every time I felt I had a grip on the plot, she went in exactly the opposite direction I would predict.

I can just hear some of my reading group ladies getting riled up because not one character is likable or admirable. I certainly did not imagine that the tortured, non-self-aware Martin would end up with ...ah, I can't say. But as she tells Martin, "This has nothing to do with happiness, nothing whatever."

And that is the joke percolating through the whole tale. Many of us tried open marriage in the 70s. What a Pandora's Box! We should have read The Severed Head first.


(A Severed Head is available by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Friday, November 07, 2014

THE LIE







The Lie, Hesh Kestin, Scribner, 2014, 229 pp



Once again a reading group steered me to a book I'd never heard about and am glad I read. The Lie is set in Israel and though it is standard fare as thrillers go, the author (a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces) gives readers a provocative look at today's issues.
 
Dahlia Barr, a tough attorney based in Jerusalem and known for defending Palestinians accused of terrorism, accepts recruitment into the Israeli security establishment. She believes she can change the system from within and do away with torture.
 
Then her 21 year old son, a soldier, is kidnapped by Hezbollah and the political becomes personal for Dahlia.
 
I have read David Grossman's To The End Of The Land and Amos Oz's A Tale of Love and Darkness, not to mention a great amount of historical fiction about war. It is the mothers who suffer most, at least from my point of view. 
 
In this novel I found a mother who was in a position to do much more than wait at home in fear and grief but that very position put her straight into the most difficult conflict of her life. What a gripping story.


(The Lie is available by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Monday, November 03, 2014

A SHOOTING STAR




Wallace Stegner has been an uneven novelist for this reader. I first read his 1943 historical The Big Rock Candy Mountain, a book I could not put down. The Preacher and the Slave, about Joe Hill and the Wobblies was also riveting. A couple others left me either bored or less than enraptured.

He was a great writer both in craft and the conveying of emotion, but sometimes I feel he tried too hard, even to the point of preaching his message too obviously. In A Shooting Star he went overboard on wordiness, his story arc took too long to arc, and while he tried hard to understand his female protagonist, a judgmental flavor spoiled the result.

I've had a time reading my 1961 list, as it has featured many long books and some weaker books by authors I have previously admired. However, as harbingers of cultural change to come, especially the sexual revolution of the late 60s and the second wave of feminism in the 70s, many of these novels are examples of how writers had their fingers on the pulse of change before it became apparent in mainstream culture.

Sabrina Castro, raised in a deeply screwed up but fabulously wealthy family, married a physician. As her husband became successful with rich matrons in Los Angeles, he began to neglect Sabrina. Because she was not able to conceive a child, she was restless, unfulfilled, and lonely. What does a woman in such straights do? She takes a lover. Thus the drama begins.

And goes on and on. Stegner creates tension with Sabrina's indecision about her marriage, her husband (a sanctimonious jerk), and her future. I am fully aware that female dithering is commonplace. I have been guilty of it myself. Reading about it drives me to distraction.

So OK, he gets that aspect of female life and it is in the 1950s when a woman could not easily go outside of accepted societal norms, no matter how rich she was, but it still went on too long. I also detected whiffs of Freudian concepts about females suffering from infantile behavior. Yuck! A woman working through issues with a messed up mother is not infantile, she is working through issues.

Bottom line: worth reading as a sign of the times; maddening that it took me six days to do so.


(A Shooting Star is available by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)



Friday, October 31, 2014

NOVEMBER READING GROUP UPDATE







Pondering the elasticity of time today. October felt endless this year but it also feels like I did the October Reading Group Update just the other day. Here it is: the books we will be reading as we transition from Trick or Treat to Thanksgiving. Let the reading and the eating begin!!


Tiny Book Group:


New Book Club:


Once Upon A Time Adult Reading Group:


Tina's Group:


Bookie Babes:


One Book At A Time:

Luckily I have already read two of these books. Otherwise I might not have time to eat!

What are your reading groups devouring this month?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

LOVE ANTHONY






Love Anthony, Lisa Genova, Gallery Books, 2012, 306 pp



When I was growing up there basically two groups of people: normal people and then all the rest. Of course that was simplistic. As a young woman I became interested in all the people who weren't "normal," as did most of society. Now we've got names for all the different kinds of people though unfortunately many of those names are mostly labels.

One kind of unusual person is devoted to understanding differences among people and passing the info on to others. That is a worthy human endeavor, if not always appreciated. Lisa Genova is such a person. She has a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard and has written three novels about people who suffer from neurological difficulties.

Still Alice (2007) which she originally self-published, was about a Harvard professor with early onset Alzheimer's disease. It became a bestseller and the author was signed by Simon & Schuster. Left Neglected (2011) is the story of a woman trying to recover from a brain injury.

Love Anthony deals with autism. When Anthony was diagnosed as autistic at the age of three, Olivia and her husband had the "reason" for Anthony's differences but their marriage could not hold up when Anthony died some years later.

Olivia separates from her husband and escapes to their summer cottage on Nantucket. After a lonely winter she meets Beth, mother of three and also separated. Due to a series of coincidences and synchronicities they impact each others' lives in positive ways.

I read this for a reading group. Many members, as well as bloggers and readers who post on Goodreads, were dismayed by some unlikely elements in the plot, by its almost chick lit flavor, and by a "different" approach to the relationship between Anthony, Olivia, and Beth. It is as though they were spiritually connected. 

I was not bothered by any of those criticisms. I have an interest in such things as synchronicity, non-verbal connections, and especially the many ways that women help each other. I thought the writing was just fine, even brilliant at times.

The insight into the mind of an autistic child is done so well. It is sensitive, down-to-earth, and because of her education and experience I believe Lisa Genova. Because of my various spiritual studies, women's studies, and experience I think Olivia and Beth are realistic characters. Love Anthony was a good read for me. Now I want to read her other two books.

Is anyone completely "normal?" Of course not!


(Love Anthony is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)