Thursday, June 22, 2017

Georgiana Darcy's Diary by Anna Elliott and Laura Masselos

I didn't know it, but it looks like we have Anna Elliott to thank for bringing the Darcys and the Bennetts back to the stacks. I'm so out of it because I had no idea about this series of books and the first volume was published in 2014. Elliott has three volumes of P&P Lovers' books out there that take us back to 1814 Pemberley...exactly where we want to be. 

Big sister-in-law and new BFF Elizabeth is there. Our darling and lovable older brother Fitzwilliam is there and he is happy! Our beloved cousin and guardian Colonel Edward Fitzwilliam is there. We're beginning to appreciate Carolyn Bingley a bit, enough to wish a happy ending for her. Even our cousin Miss Anne DeBourgh is growing on us. It's good. It's right where we want to be.

Though I'm still reading the novel I know one thing: Anne Elliott loves Pride and Prejudice as much as I do. She knows the characters as well as I do. She's imagined Pemberley as often as I have. And Anne Elliott has taken these beloved characters and has grown them, not as Jane Austin might have done, but as a very good fan fiction writer might do. And we can enjoy that for what it is. Who wouldn't appreciate the moment when Elizabeth Darcy offers to take Lady Catherine DuBourgh to another part of the house to talk about putting shelves into an errant closet?

I don't know if non-Austin-Lovers would appreciate the many beloved features of the book, the repurposed phraseology, the familiar set ups, or even the continuation of sweet dialogue. Maybe the book would be a bit below-standard. Probably some readers might be unimpressed with the journal entries of Georgianna Anna Darcy but I enjoyed getting to know her better. I can honestly not judge in the way of a non-Austinite because I have swallowed P&P whole and I have savored it for many years. 

If you are an Austin Lover, you will likely enjoy this book for its easy read, it's feeling of being home. You will enjoy the surprise of Carolyn Bingley's story line, maybe even enough to forgive her rudeness and condescension to Elizabeth Bennett in the original. If you loved Austin you will probably forgive the few out-of-time anachronisms. And if you love Austin you will probably agree with my rating of seven stars, taking away three stars simply because that's about as high as fan fic can rate.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Just FYI, I couldn't and didn't read all of Poldark. Too much of a yawner. 
My friend loved it so much but I simply could not read another word. 
Maybe I'll pick it up again at some later date.

I don't know how it is that I have never read Jane Eyre before. It seems like one of those books that I would have devoured in my youth, yet I did not. This 500-page book caught me and held me, though the language was heavy and dense and Gothic. I can honestly say that it took me about two weeks to read the entire book...and that's saying something. Some of the language was incredibly ponderous; I'll bet I looked up 100 words that I did not know!

So what kept me reading if it was such a challenge?
It was Jane!

What a surprising character for the time period. At a time when female protagonists were fainting all over the place, Jane Eyre never so much as blanches at the many, many challenges that her sparse life presents to her. As a reader of many a Gothic novel, I found her rebellion as a child inspired and unexpected and surprisingly modern. In the dark and cold of her childhood in the orphanage of your nightmares, our Jane manages to actually develop and grow a sense of self that surprised me, Dear Reader. (I'll be referring to you, the reader, several times in this blog post because Jane frequently urges you, Dear Reader, to understand her points of view and choices.)

In the earliest chapters Jane is raised by an unloving and harsh aunt who has no affection or time for this small wisp of a girl. Jane is forever being misunderstood, blamed, and punished in this family of bullying and selfish cousins. Jane's aunt continually refers to Jane in such undeserved terms as deceitful and untrustworthy. Our hearts break as, again and again, in her efforts to win her aunt, little Jane is brushed aside or punished or even tortured in a scary, death-haunted room. When circumstances change and Jane is passed along to a boarding school/orphanage our hopes, Dear Reader, are high that someone will claim Jane and give her the love and affection that she is so desperate for.

Alas that charity orphanage offers an indifferent set of authority figures and a harsh reality for this young heroine. Jane and the other girls are subject to such nightmarish circumstances that I found myself completely hating England for about a week and mocking England for its false reputation of being cultured. Here Jane endures painful losses and continued deprivation.

Finally a welcome change when Jane chooses to leave the school and to seek a position as a governess for a child at Thornfield Hall. She is hired by a household with a child named Adèle Varens, a young French girl. Jane finds a home, a welcoming group of people, and a meaningful purpose for her life for the very first time. We are delighted as she learns better and better ways to interact with Adèle. Jane learns about herself and asserts her own sense of identity under this roof. I'm not at all sure why this section of the book moved me so much, but it did. I'm sure it had something to do with her resilience and her hope.

It is at Thornfield Hall that Jane meets Mr. Rochester for he is the guardian of Adèle. Jane seeks to understand the confusing social life of Mr. Rochester as well as the many events in the house that seem to be strange, mysterious, and secretive. But none of the mysteries of the house can stop her from maturing and falling in love with the enigmatic and unusual Mr. Rochester.

I won't report anymore on the story line, only to say that it worth the slogging. The purity of Jane's voice and her search for identity,  usefulness, and maybe integrity are quite refreshing and engaging. Because of the difficult language and writing style I'm sure the read is well wasted on most high school students who are required to read it.

It was news to me that a movie has recently been made based on the book. Can it hold up? Can Jane come across as likable and engaging when we don't read her autobiographical musings ourselves? How will we feel about the other characters? I have no idea. As for the book, I give it a strong eight stars.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787 (The Poldark Saga)

Aidan Turner notwithstanding, I've never read the book.

Somewhere on Netflix or Amazon Prime I stumbled onto the Poldark series. I was caught by the look of Aidan Turner but kept by the surprisingly engaging, unexpectedly beautiful, and continuously intriguing story. 

Written by Winston Graham in the 1940s and 1950s, the first book of Poldark series, entitled Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787 (The Poldark Saga), has the flavor and feel of Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, or Elizabeth Gaskell. Set in the 1780s and 1790s, the series follows war-weary Ross Poldark as he returns from fighting in the Colonies, a war that the English lost. What interesting reversal of paradigm, reading an English novel set in that miserable time period. Wars were being lost, land was losing value, the mines in the area of Cornwall were not producing, food and living was extremely costly, and people were living scrub existences. What an odd time to set a romance novel/drama.

Yet, Ross Poldark does return to his family's land, finding decrepitude and gin-swilling servants, and begins to rebuild and renew his life. Not only does Ross deal with his own physical struggles and the struggles of managing the estate, he immediately discovers that the woman he has loved for these many years is set to marry his cousin.

And now we are set for the first book.

Aidan Turner
I am nearing the middle of the first book and I've discovered that the book is worthy of blogging about. For not only is Ross Poldark a worthy character, he and his fellow characters are all drawn so humanly, so heart warmingly, I am undone. And I am undone completely without the need to imagine Ross Poldark as played by Aidan Turner...and that is saying something. 

Now that I'm half way in, I am finding the writing engaging as hell and if Cornwall is even half as beautiful as Winston Graham writes it, I want to see it. For Cornwall itself is a character in this book. Cornwall's environs and its peoples of the 1780s are sharply and finely drawn; in their misery and celebration, they are by turn hilarious, petty, unworthy, worthy, filthy, lice-ridden, pompous, loyal, disloyal, unlearned, noble... Normal and regular folk.

It remains to be seen if I will read beyond this first book into the series. So far I have highlighted several passages that either use language that has moved me or has cracked me up. I'll let you know more when I've finished the book. Back in a day or two...

Also, now I know where Penzance is.  LOL

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Room by Emma Donohue

I had a little time last night so I started reading Room by Emma Donohue (author of a recent book I read I Wonder); the next thing I knew it was 5am and the sun was coming up. Little did I know I had picked up a book that has become a phenomenon. It was made into a movie in 2015.

Undoubtedly one of the most harrowing stories I've read in awhile, Room is a fictionalized story based on several notorious accounts of people taking young girls prisoner and keeping them locked up for many years, raping and abusing them, siring children with them, and keeping their horrific secrets, sometimes for decades.

Room is given yet another layer of distress by being told from the voice of Jack the five-year-old son of the kidnapped woman, born into the horrific man-made prison and raised in the enclosed space, never knowing anything at all about outdoors. Not knowing that anything at all exists outside of the room, their entire world. From Jack's perspective his life is lovely, secure, idyllic, and spent entirely with his beloved Ma while from his mother's perspective she is living in torture, neglect, rape, victimization, and abuse.

Jack's mother cycles through extreme depression and remarkably resiliency and exceptionally creative parenting over the years of her captivity. One cannot help but be in awe of her fortitude and fierce love and protection for her son. While Jack lives day to day to day within the small world of Room. Jack is a highly inquisitive little boy and his mother struggles with being honest about the world at large and with the reality that he may never know or see the world beyond Room. She is forced to choose what she will keep from him; he comes to believe that all of the things he sees on TV are pretend and not real, including other people, weather, nature, even the planet. 

Jack's ever-growing curiosities bring confusion to him as he struggles to understand the facts as Ma has presented them and all new information she gives him in his natural questioning and energy. He is such a beloved little boy; every parent can relate to his guileless inquisitiveness. He is lovable, well-meaning... protected from the horrific reality of their circumstances. In Room, Jack and his mother are barely individual. At one point he muses "Maybe I’m a human," he thinks, "but I’m a me-and-Ma as well." The psychological damage to both Jack and his mother is an ever-growing sea of inevitability... 

I hate to give away too much of the plot but I must relate that a certain point the two are released from their captivity. What follows is a two-fold path of recovery from the harrowing abuse and imprisonment experience and an abrupt expulsion from a sanctuary or haven at the same time. One must almost refer to the dual story lines as masterful. 

While I didn't understand the lack of compassion in family, nor did I understand some of Jack's mother's major choices in the life after Room, 
I did appreciate the continual discovery and confusion and dissonance experienced by Jack in Outside. 

It's not every day that a book moves me, disturbs me, disquiets me this much. I found myself doing several hours of research and reading after completing the book...leaving me even more sore and bruised. I honestly can't decide if I will read Elizabeth Smart's memoir My Story...

For the innovative, non-gimmicky use of the five-year old's voice, for the moving telling of two points of view in one terrifying story, for keeping my heart in my throat through the night, I give this book ten stars, minus three because I wanted to know so much more about Jack's mother and so much less about Jack's grandparents. That's seven stars from me.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Vincent Czyz's The Christos Mosaic


Vincent Czyz, author of this book, has written three books that I know of and from the reviews of his other books his writing has been well-received. I, however, am not in love with this book. I'm willing to own my own boredom.

In a world where so much is being written and revealed to the general population about church history, this book seems a bit underwhelming to me. The revelatory content could have been drawn more fully while also being repeated far less. It was as though the author didn't think the reader could follow. It was repetitive. Said again and again. Repeated ad nauseum. Suggested that the reader needed to read revelations again. 
And again.

Allow me a moment to offer quick reminder about the premise of  The Christos Mosaic: Drew, an American, is involved in the recovery of a newly discovered Dead Sea Scroll. Not surprisingly the scroll contains source and historical information that overturns everything that the Christian church puts forth as church doctrine and upon which that church has built its stories upon which the church rests. The church is seeking to keep the scroll from becoming public. Drew, a man with deeply-held Christian beliefs again and again and again and again and again in the book has to reconsider information about the beloved institution of his faith that he thought was fact. 

I won't tell you what the scroll reveals but I will tell you that the story and its intrigue could have been better. I found it tedious. Someone new to reading about early church history might truly enjoy the wealth of research material to follow but I found much of it redundant to materials I have read in the past. Therefore I must conclude that it is the writing that is at fault in this read.


While I didn't love the book I did love its setting, mostly in Instabul. At the moment I am watching some Turkish dramas available on Netflix and I have enjoyed learning about the area and the history. I find it amazing that we here in The West never really learn about or appreciate the significance of Turkey and that entire Black Sea area. It is such a crossroads of culture. In its time Istanbul and the Muslims have attained vast power and vast riches. But we seldom learn about this part of the globe and its people without negative connotations. 

I give this book three stars for one really good supporting character.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Christos Mosaic

This is one of those books that seems like I'd be bound to read sooner or later: The Christos Mosaic by Vincent Czyz. I hadn't heard about the book until about a week or two ago, though it has been out for about five months. I have also never heard of the author Vincent Czyz.

I've read about half of the book at this point and I'm slightly underwhelmed. I have to prod myself to read more, hoping that the intrigue builds or someone dies or something happens to keep my interest. The Christos Mosaic, at this point feels very derivative, and not in a good way. 

One of my favorite reads ever was The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown and if you haven't read The DaVinci Code but rather watched the lame movie, then RUN, no not walk, out to buy yourself a copy at the nearest yard sale. That book was AMAZING. The DaVinci Code offered high quality intrigue from page one.

The Christos Mosaic has been compared to The DaVinci Code, though I'm not at all sure why, except for the concept. Secret knowledge, esoteric documents and wisdom, churchy conspiracy thugs, secret groups and all seems familiar. I do hope that there is more offered by Vincent because at this point I'm just not intrigued.

How to summarize...

I know you have some familiarity with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Well, our hero in this book Drew has somehow become embroiled in a series of hijinx as he inherits a newly-discovered scroll that is being sought after by treasure hunters of antiquities, unethical scholars, and unscrupulous buddies. As Drew races to understand the Christinity-changing secrets that the scroll reveals, he and his gang of Turkish partners-in-crime are being pursued by nefarious agents who are trying to prevent the information from the scroll being revealed and who have killed and are willing to kill again to keep the information in the scrolls secret. The scramble takes the gang across Egypt and Turkey as they seek information and trustworthy partners.

While this all sounds pretty exciting I just find myself kind of bored. Perhaps I am not moved by poor Drew's crisis of faith as he begins to piece together what he is learning from and about the scrolls and the early Christian church because while it is obvious that our Hero of a Thousand Faces is on a journey, most of it is of the intellectual variety and, I fear, kind of pathetic. Perhaps the revelations simply don't surprise me. Perhaps I'm spoiled by Dan Brown's far better writing. And perhaps my overall antipathy toward Drew and his merry gang of fellows plays a part in my lukewarm following of this book.

But I'm going to continue reading with the hope that things will improve. One thing I do seriously enjoy is the accompanying research that I get to do as I read, so I'm learning about some things right along with Drew.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Andrew Sean Greer's The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells


It took me several days to read through
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer. Partially because I was reading slower, partially because I was savoring it. Now this is a book with some surprising time travel, so allow me to set the stage:

The book starts out with our first and our real Greta Wells living in 1985. In 1985, Greta's beloved twin brother Felix dies of complications from AIDS. Greta is devastated. This major loss is then complicated by the break up with her long-time partner Nathan. Greta Wells becomes severely depressed and chooses a fairly radical psychiatric treatment to alleviate her debilitating depression. The treatment, though, has unexpected and bizarre effects when Greta finds herself whisked to previous lives she might have had if she'd been born in a different era. It might be enough to know that those Gretas are also submitting to some form of ECT, electroconvulsive therapy, shock treatments, in those lives as well...

During the months of her treatment Greta cycles between her own time in 1985, another alternate life in 1918, where she is having an affair with Nathan and where her brother Felix is alive and well, though struggling with his identity, and a life in 1941 where Greta is married to Nathan and mother to their son. Separated by odd time and interesting changes in social mores, Greta's three lives populated with the same people, albeit achingly different relationships. In each time period Greta finds herself longing for those people she has lost in 1985, though the prices of those realities might be too high to bear.

Who hasn't wondered the what ifs of life? What if I hadn't lost that person in my life? What if that relationship had continued? What if I had the power to know the future? How does my life affect those around me? Can I be happier with other choices? What would I give up to have back those whom I have lost? What could life be like if I had what I thought I wanted?

Have you ever wondered what life was like generations ago? Greta gets to walk through her own apartment, on her own street, through her beloved neighborhood in New York City in three different eras. Enjoying the prosaic events from one life: walking down the street, dressing, preparing a meal, hearing the news, responding to community events. Moving with Greta through 1917 and 1941 was a delight because Andrew Sean Greer so obviously delighted in his research. He so obviously enjoyed creating Greta's home and neighborhood of the past and for that I thank him. What a surprising thing to say, hey? But the flotsam of one life can be simply magical when seen through the eyes of someone from another time.

I didn't expect this book and I think I can highly recommend it...

And now for my favorite part of any review:  I have two favorite excerpts from The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, though Greer's writing is quite lovely to read I could have included dozens of pieces. See if you don't love these pieces as much as I do:

 Our heart is so elastic that it can contract to a pinpoint, allowing our hours of work and tedium, but expand almost infinitely - filling us like a balloon - for the single hour we wait for a lover to awaken.


It's easy to say something is all in your head. It's like saying sunset is all in your eyes.

 One last thought about a secondary character, Greta's Aunt Ruth. This character provides another complex relationship for Greta to transit, yet Aunt Ruth's presence is a wonderful touchstone for the reader. In each of her lives, Aunt Ruth is Greta's beloved yardstick of reality. Aunt Ruth offers Greta both continuity and comparison. Her flaky, consistent, even bohemian lifestyle couches Greta in each life and helps her to process many of life's lessons...for the most part. I had a wonderful seasoned actress in mind any time Aunt Ruth appeared on the page and she made me smile, often.

So enjoy the luscious prose.
I give this surprising read a nice rating of six stars.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells

Did I discover this author?!
This book is The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer. Have you heard of Greer? I miiight be the first to read him...therefore I have discovered him. *wink*

So the story is this.
Greta Wells, in 1985, has experienced two devastating losses and is in a long-term depression. In a desperate attempt to improve her mood Greta begins undergoing ECT, Electroconvulsive Therapy, shock therapy. 

Kind of a grim beginning, but wait. This is a time travel novel. In a twist of fate, Greta Wells in 1918 and Greta Wells in 1941 are also beginning EST, called Electroshock therapy in 1941, and let the time travel begin. Each time these multiple Gretas undergo treatment they move to another Greta timeline.

Greta from 1985, after her first treatment, wakes up in 1918, in the surprising life of Greta Wells in 1918. The difference in this Jazz Age Greta time line is that 1918 Greta is married to the boyfriend who just left 1985 Greta and Greta's twin brother Felix who just died in 1985 from AIDS is married to a woman in 1918. Of course the differences don't stop there but I don't want to give away too many points of the storyline. Let's not forget the crinolined Greta in 1941. SUCH a fun set of revelations as this 1941 Greta enjoys the pre-Feminist days of 1945 women... Discovering the new lives is quite delightful and interesting and, yes, kind of romantic.

Also present in these parallel lives is Greta's delightful and beloved Aunt Ruth as well as key secondary characters. I'm making it sound like all of her discoveries from her other lives are wonderful, but of course that would not be realistic. Be prepared for struggling and processing.

As Greta moves through a series of ECT treatments over several months she finds herself shuffling through 1918, 1941, and 1985. An interesting part of the move is that the Greta from each of those lives has moved to her 1985 self like a place keeper.

Still with me? OK.

I am over half way through this book and I find myself thinking that the writing is wonderful. Greer truly has a beautiful, sensory way with words. In preparation for this blog post this morning I read ONE review on Amazon by lynn-sb and lynn-sb's review absolutely praises Andrew Sean Greer's ability to write from the perspective as a woman in all of these relationships, including discovering that she is a parent in 1918 Greta's life. But I have to disagree with that reviewer's opinion.

While I have nothing but praises so far with this book, praises I tell you, I disagree that Greer is writing well as a woman. About half way through the first half of the book I realized that the Gretas weren't quite developed enough for me...not enough female. Female stuff is just...missing. (What do I mean by female stuff? I mean, Um, ...stuff.)

It's wonderful and well-written and I've already purchases another book by the guy...

Back with more after I finish the read.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Bless the Beasts & Children

How is it that we don't hear about this book anymore? Do teachers still teach it? I hope so because it is a wealth, I tell you. And I was fortunate enough to read an e-edition with a wonderful postscript written by the author's son Mitch Swarthout.

Bless the Beasts & Children is real treasure of social conscience and coming-of-age. I read it for the first time in the sixth grade, along with that cultural phenomenon Born Free...I was so moved by the plight of wild animals and how oddly barbaric and violent our species can be toward them. Just give a human a few flimsy justifications and they will be off in the wild with plans to kill an unsuspecting animal. Not fair and not the coming-of-age story that they deserve.

I have come to a realization that I have never liked the coming-of-age story. I thought A Separate Peace was like a long, slow thumb screw; the cover of Swarthout's book seems to compare this book to that book. But no. Nor is it a bit like Lord of the Flies.

Maybe I related to this book a bit tonight because I know that I was a total dink when I was young. Dink. The term used by the kids in this book for a total loser. The plot of this book might read something like this: Six misfit teens come together at a summer camp and form a bond as the emotionally-messed-up outcast cabin. Together they embark on an adventure to ...should I say? Anyway, they go an adventure to right a wrong and each of them, in their own way, come to terms with their own identities and their own choices in life. If only we can come to terms with the choices that others make for us...with the decisions that people make for us that we, then, must live with.

Let me begin by saying that this is an unexpectedly beautiful read.
Glendon Swarthout is a poet.

The book was the 70s to me. Socially aware and awkward, all mixed into the lovely hearts of dinks with courage in spite of it all. Not just in Box Canyon Boys Camp just outside of Prescott AZ where the motto is Send us a Boy, We'll Send you a Cowboy.

Seems like in the 70s bullies were everywhere. Did schools even have any idea what to do about that back then? Is it still the same? How many of us were placed into the misfit cabin of school because of the limitations placed on us by the alphas? Swarthout's depiction of the struggle of the misfits was moving and realistic to my experience in the 70s. The breaking hearts and unspoken piercing pain of each character, all six main characters: Cotton, Teft, Goodenow, Shecker, Lally1, and Lally2.

But who is really the misfit? The child responding to his abandonment or the parent who does the abandoning? The young person sobbing in his sleeping bag from the abuse or the cabin full of young men who get off on beating and badgering the weaker more sensitive boy or the adult leaders who encourage such violent competition to be superior? The pillow-toting travelers on a social mission passing through town or the cruel and vicious hangers about found in every small town in the country, projecting insecurities and self-loathing on unprotected, random vulnerable. The adults paying to gun down magnificent beasts in a faux and unfair nature or a group of misfits seeking to free them?

Allow me to share one of my favorite quotes from the book to give you an idea of the quality of writing we are talking about; it is a quote where the musing was about a western film: 
You did not watch it. You sucked on it. For this is the marrowbone of every American adventure story: some men with guns, going somewhere, to do something dangerous. Whether it be to scout a continent in a covered wagon, to weld the Union in a screaming Wilderness, to save the world for democracy, to vault seas and rip up jungles by the roots and sow our seeds and flag and spirit: some men with guns, going somewhere, to do something dangerous.

As I read Bless the Beasts & Children I often thought to myself, let me be Cotton. Let me have the courage and integrity of this boy willing to stand up for what is right, stand right in the face of louder people determined to put their heels down on the heads of seemingly lower people. Let me lose my cool only to discover that I am equipped with resilience. Let me have the confidence to lead the pack when all direction and plan is lost. Let me speak to myself and speak to my friends with the utmost belief that our lives fricking matter. Let me know when to hold on and when to let go...

Each aside out of time in this book moved me almost to tears and pulled me further into the journey of these brave and deserving and fearful teens. I know I will revisit this book and recommend it to friends. I must give this book a very emotional seven stars. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Bless the Beasts

Back in the sixth grade I was in that classroom of smart kids. We had, somehow, completed the elementary school curriculum and we were doing all kind of cool independent work under the tutelage of our excellent teacher Mrs. Joanna Stork. I remember the very cool activities that she had us doing; lots of creative and independent work.

It was in that class that I read Glendon Swarthout's Bless the Beasts & Children. At this same time Karen Carpenter was on the charts with her song Bless the Beasts and the Children to the hit film Bless the Beasts & Children. That song is was sublime then and it is sublime now. It was also the same year that I read Born Free by Joy Adams...I was so moved.

This book came to my attention the other day and I decided to give it another go. I have so often found that revisiting books I've read in the past is such a wonderful trip. I should mention that I've never seen the film.

Back soon with the 411.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

The Truth According to Us
by Annie Barrows

Are you one of the many who read the 2009 surprise hit The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows? What a delightfully charming and fabulous book that was! I remember buying that book from a small, independent book store in Webster Groves (I wonder if that delightful place is still there) at the recommendation of a fellow shopper that day. I began reading it immediately and discovered a true gem.

When I ran across another book by Annie Barrows, coauthor of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I quickly purchased it when I ran across it at the shop on my ereader...and for less than three bucks!

The Truth According to Us is a story about generations, about how each generation relies on the truth of the history of the previous generation and how those stories can box us in or set us free. Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the main characters in the book: Willa Romeyn, the eleven year old daughter of the irascible and inscrutable Felix, Jottie Romeyn, sister of Felix,  and Layla Beck, visiting daughter of a NY senator, in town to write a historical treatise of Macedonia West Virginia during the summer of 1938 as the town prepares for their sesquicentennial. These three women clash with and love one another and learn from one another. By writing from each point of view we discover delicious nuance and engaging personality quirks as we view events from a child's perspective and from the perspective of an adult. Quite interesting and often humorous.

Beloved Willa reminded me so much of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird that I envisioned her as young Mary Badham from the 1962 film as I read the book. Always questioning, always longing for...something, always taking risks, knowing that the clean and tidy history she has been told is not true enough. Willa will remind us how confusing it is...this growing up.

Set in the small fictional town of Macedonia, West Virginia, we meet a delightful array of quirky, real characters around the Romeyn family, we learn about past losses and lost loves. As the story progresses, as we page forward, one page at a time, we uncover more and more of each character; we uncover what moves them, motivates them, what they long for.

The unmasking takes much longer for with Felix, the handsome central character who remains hidden, yet beloved by all of the women in his life. The mysteries of his private life keep us turning the pages as more is revealed to those around him. We sincerely hope for things with Felix to be well because his eleven year old daughter is watching him like a hawk and needing him to be good, respectable, and, above all, knowable.

Personal histories, once again, slowly revealed affect each generation of women in different and very personal ways. And we discover that we never really know those around us and I, for one, enjoyed the deepening characterization of each main character.

In the beginning Jottie, Aunt Jottie to Willa and her sister Bird, is quite two dimensional and background. But in the fullness of the read, this woman becomes as beloved and true as Willa to the reader. Her ability to love and forgive is moving beyond words. Jottie's courage, struggle, and eventual personal growth is a highlight from the book. Both Jottie and Layla Beck provide bookends of strength in the Romeyn home, giving the girls Willa and Birdie, truly, women to learn from, though first Layla has alot to learn about what love looks like. More than one person becomes unmasked.

I loved this book.
I have continued to read as voraciously as ever, yet few books bring me to this blog. I knew, almost from page one, that this book was one for the internet. Annie Barrows writes with such spectacular detail, keen and amusing observation, wisdom. Grab some iced tea because this hot summer story of five hundred pages will grab will call your book club leader and recommend this wonderful story of loyalty and forgiveness. Some may say that the many voices in the novel sanitize it a bit or even confused it. Some may dislike the too tidy ending. Myself, I was OK with it because, hey, summer is too hot for anything else.

Overall I would give this book a nice rating of six out of ten stars.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

The other evening I was having dinner with a new friend; we were talking about our favorite books. When I asked her what her most recent favorite book was she thought for a moment and replied, I read it two years ago; it was The Great Gatsby. Embarrassingly, I think I actually shrieked to her that I was reading the book right now. 

It's so great when you and your new friend like the same books.

As I said the other day, I've read this book before. First time was in high school: HATED IT. Several times again over the years when someone would mention that they liked it: STILL HATED IT. I also didn't care for the Robert Redford, Mia Farrow film from '74. But, as I also mentioned the other day, I read too fast and I now realize that I have, time and again, missed the beauty of the book. 
When I read it this time I didn't miss the language.

As I read Gatsby on my ereader this time I highlighted dozens of passages, beautiful writing, good quotations. I read it over several days even though it is s very short novel. I even stopped for a couple of days in order to read the new Harry Potter. (worth it)

I'm grateful to F. Scott Fitzgerald for having Nick Carraway tell this tale of people who are so incredibly bankrupt of common decency because I wouldn't have wanted to hear the story from anyone else: Daisy Buchanan, Jay Gatsby, Tom Buchanan, Jordan Baker, Meyer Wolfsheim, Myrtle Wilson. I'm glad Nick is the narrator because he is fair, truthful, decent, and he is confused by the intrapsychic feelings of worthlessness that seem to plague so many ultra-wealthy people. Without Nick's observations and good heart the tale wouldn't be worth telling. Tom and Daisy wouldn't be people worth knowing.

Nick's storytelling gave beauty to the people and to the memories. He paints beautiful pictures with his words and moves us like a master.

If not through Nick's opinions and words I would not know what to think about Jay Gatsby. Was Gatsby a pitiful sham of a human being? Was he a corrupt bootlegger? Was he a deranged and obsessed man in mental anguish? Or was he a lovesick romantic worthy of our compassion? A man pursuing meaning in a life of empty pleasure?

I've decided that I care about Jay Gatsby for a simple reason: that he is hopeful. He is a man from very modest means attempting to navigate the culture of the extraordinarily wealthy, albeit through illegal means. I choose to see his admittedly stalker ways as romantic, charming, and human. I love that he reinvented himself, that he lifted himself up and pursued his dreams. According to the rules of The American Dream, you can't do better than that. Seems the biggest misfortune in Gatsby's life happened the moment he met the beautiful and flawed Daisy, the girl who seemed to be living the American dream...

The wealthiest in the country in the Jazz Age of the 1920s were, then, living the American dream. But is the American dream really lots of money, pursuing excess and pleasure, intoxication, jewels, spending huge amounts of money? Or is that pursuit just as empty, disappointing, and misleading as chasing Daisy Buchanan turned out to be? Gilded but ultimately not worth it?

I am disgusted by the insipid Daisy Buchanan and her equally heartless, morally bankrupt husband Tom Buchanan. I'm certain it was their abrupt departure during the crisis that destroyed poor Nick.

I haven't read anything else by F. Scott Fitzgerald but I see by the titles and description of his famous books The Beautiful and the Damned, Tender is the Night, and This Side of Paradise all seem to be exploring the raging 1920s and the decadence juxtaposed with the beauty, the greed and the fragility, weakness, and the vulnerability of love. Gatsby certainly fits that focus. Perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald's own life choices fit that focus as well. 

Most of us know of Fitzgerald's Jazz Age lifestyle, his chronic alcoholism and over-the-top way of life, and his relationship with the tragically unstable and schizophrenic Zelda. Take those major struggles in his life and it's no wonder he would write books about such pain, struggle, emptiness, illness, and decline. What is a wonder is that he could do so with such beautiful language and in an interestingly clear perspective of a clear-headed, voice of integrity like Nick Carraway.

Some of my favorite quotes from are not the usual ones you find repeated online, but the longer, lovelier descriptions and dreamy imagery by Nick Carraway. Some of this is too beautiful for the story of HollaGirl Daisy.
  • We were all just humans, drunk on the idea that love, only love, could heal our brokenness. 
  • I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.
  • His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete. 
  • If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees. 
  • For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened - then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.
  • Each night he added to the pattern of his fancies until drowsiness closed down upon some vivid scene with an oblivious embrace. For awhile these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing.

There's more, lots more, but you'll have to read for yourself to appreciate it.

I'd already seen the Robert Redford film so I watched the Leonard DeCaprio version. While I adore the beautiful Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, Leonardo seemed simply too old for the character of Gatsby. Besides, nobody says "Old Sport" quite as sincerely and heartbreakingly as Robert Redford. Robert Redford is incredibly beautiful and fits the role better in his natural vulnerability and his preppy, pretty-boy face.

With certainty that I will read even better books, I'm giving Gatsby an 8 out of 10 stars.

  Again, I have to thank my sister Linda for  
  encouraging me to reread this book.