Tuesday, July 8, 2014

local folks spreading a love for books and a review of Lisa O'Donnell's Closed Doors

In my wanderings around town (seriously, treadmill, you broke less than a year after you arrived as a replacement for one that broke in the same fashion???  wonder how long the next replacement, arriving tomorrow, will last), I've found two Little Free Libraries.  I'd donated a few books to the first one I'd found...duplicates, of course, since I have a book-hoarding problem.  I feel oddly proud of donating one of my two copies of THE BEST BOOK EVER, neither was my original but I still have an odd attachment to any copy of The Monster at the End of this Book.  I did talk to the Stewards of both "libraries" (both are in the same Women's Club) and told them I applaud the effort to: 1) encourage reading and 2) encourage reading of physical books (Monster can't possibly work the same in digital form).

Moving on....book review time:

Michael, age 11, likes to listen at doors, eavesdropping on his Mom, Dad, and Grandma when they talk about adult things.  He also likes soccer and is a bit uncertain about girls.  One night, his beloved mother comes home one night, badly beaten.  Listening at doors tells him it was more than a fall and he is asked to keep the story that he's told, a simplified version of the truth told, a secret.  He's good at secrets. Things continue to grow complicated as the town eyes his father as the culprit behind his mother' beaten face and his mother struggles to move beyond the truth of her rape.  Grown-up difficulties and secrets too big to understand accompany the more traditional confusion of being a pre-adolescent in a small Scottish community.

I'll give this a solid 4 out of 5 stars.  Michael is an endearing narrator, honest in his telling of the facts as he sees them, but definitely showing a growing boy's bias in his characterization of those around him.  While I got a bit tired of some topics (his obsession with "keepie-uppies," his soccer ball trick, and a potential children's talent show), I suppose the issues he dwells on make him a pretty realistic pre-teen.  The novel deals with very difficult topics and shows an appropriately complex journey for both the mother and the other family members in the wake of the rape.  The community's reaction to the unfolding story also felt both real and, at times, upsetting.  In a different vein, I also liked the portrayal of Michael's utter confusion and uncertainty when it comes to girls.

(Here's a link to my review of O'Donnell's prior novel, The Death of Bees.  Both were provided to me in the form of advance reader's copies by the publisher.)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

ramblin' on

I keep on intending to write, but I'm fining myself a bit stressed of late and with very little extra energy. Plus, I have so much to catch up on.  Which all clearly indicates a need for an update post in the bullet-point style I love so dearly:

  • On April 27, I became Mrs. Military Man.  I really intend to write a full post on the day.  I was a total girly teary mess during the ceremony but made it through a part I'd long promised myself would happen -- we both read some words we'd prepared for the other (not vows, I like matching vows, but more of a message to the other person).  I'm totally taking the suggestion to include both writings in the eventual album and tempted to post my own ramblings.  Those exchanges included, I think it turned out to be a lovely day.  Our week in Florida was a lovely, relaxing escape as well!
  • I wanted to throw a party the day I finished my Thank You cards!
  • I also have been seeing a new set of docs and had a radiofrequency ablation.  I tried to believe it would work and that they'd zap away the nerves that were causing my pain.  Sadly, enough time has passed that I have to conclude it might have gotten a bit of the issue, but no more than 5-10% of the problem.  My follow-up was frustrating...at one point he said "but you're not there yet" which upset me since he may be new to my case, but my case (i.e. my pain) is not new.  Anyway, for now he's trying some topical medicines.  He did mention maybe looking at a spinal cord simulator but I think he feels like they are going to improve considerably in a year or two. 
  • I've progressed well through the grieving process re my father, at least per Pain Shrink.  For brides who've had a similar loss, especially an unexpected one fairly close to the event, I highly recommend picking a day around a week ahead of time to just straight out mope.  It helped to assign a day of grief...not that grieving can be truly confined to a day, but I took one day to just be sad and it really helped.  Of course there were hard moments (I am lucky to have a step-father who served as my escort...I debated walking alone, even before the loss, given where I am in life but it would have been hard), but I think it was a lot better than it could have been.  There are some Dad-related issues that I'm having trouble with, but I feel somewhat at peace with my father in general and that helps across the board.  I still have an impulse to seek out his input on medical things and to send him random notes.
  • Perhaps you recall my new-found fondness for aquaucise (and my classmates).  Well, I'm still going but now find myself on the other side of the class.  The Y's aquatic director asked me to take over teaching for the summer.  I'm loving it and getting great reviews (including from at least one woman who'd stay quiet if she wasn't pleased, a contrast to some who I think might just want me to feel good).  Not sure if they'll have me give the class back in the fall or stay on....particularly since I get the impression that most of the class prefers me to the most recent instructor.
  • It may take a moment to see, but these are our recent visitors.  The first pic is the day they hatched.  In the second, one baby had already "fledged" (left the nest) and I caught the second as he was getting ready.  He sat and watched me for a bit and then I startled him and he took the big leap.  I think it is pretty cool to have the pics the day they hatched and the day (the moment!!) one of them left the nest.

Friday, May 30, 2014

still here, still reading, w/ reviews of a novel and collection dominated by place: The Kept (Scott) and The Other Language (Marciano)

Yes, I'm still here!  It has been a crazy period in Rambler-land and there are many updates from the medical to the marital (!!!).  But, since I'm feeling a bit neglectful of my reviewing obligations, I'll start my reappearance off with a pair of book reviews

Elspeth Howell is a midwife at the turn of the twentieth century.  Her husband and five children live an isolated and largely self-sufficient life in upstate New York, while Elspeth leaves for long stretches to go work in various towns.  This routine is violently interrupted when a gang, marked by red scarves, arrives and slaughters the father and four children.  Twelve year-old Caleb survives by chance and he is so afraid that he nearly kills his mother on her return.  After helping her mend, the two set off to search for the red-scarfed-men and for many other answers to a life Caleb had begun to suspect was somehow "off."  The rest of the book details their journey (in winter, of course) and stay in a tough town where Elspeth hides as a man and Caleb ends up in some unsavory company.

I'm afraid it's only 3 stars for this novel (Advance Reviewer copy provided by Harper).  It had promise, but it would have benefited from being cut at least by one-quarter.  The characters don't ring very true to me.  One "secret" was apparent to me from pretty much the start and there's a bit too much that feels incredibly coincidental as things went on.  There is a strong sense of place, always a plus for me but not enough to carry me.

Readers should know the book is quite violent.  That's not an issue for my generally, but it does get extreme, especially with the same scenes revisited multiple times (in the novel's defense, I suppose they are scenes that memory would revisit). Wilderness (within people and in the rough climate) and revenge are dominant themes and I think you'd need an interest in both to be pulled through and stay interested.

This is a collection of short stories tied together by themes of places and change.  The stories are fronted by women of all ages who are facing a wide variety of circumstances, but all are adjusting to change and very much shaped by their setting.

I suppose it is always a potential issue when it comes to reviewing short story collections, but it is one I haven't really faced before.  There are some stories in this collection (provided to me by Pantheon) I'd rank fairly high and others that I struggled to get through.  I struggled through "Big Island, Small Island," where a woman seeks out a man who formerly led her circle of intellectual friends and has disappeared to a small remote island.  I thoroughly enjoyed "The Italian System" in which a woman writes of the Italy that lives in her mind many years after her move to New York.  "An Indian Soiree" bored me and I didn't care about the marriage we peek in on as the spouses travel after a long period of the wife acting as support to the author husband.  The opening tale, which shares the book's title, is a coming-of-age piece with a bit of a shocking middle, and was one of my favored tales.

I think the fair point is a 3.5 and I'm going to resist rounding here and probably go with 3 on one "whole stars" site and 4 on another (I typically post reviews to Amazon and Goodreads).  I applaud the focus on place and character, not to mention the varied but often strong female leads.  Still, something made me really struggle to keep going both in certain stories and overall.