Thursday, August 27, 2015

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - Great Last Lines

Much is made of the famous first lines in literary history - those lines that pull a reader in and perfectly set up the novel. But what about last lines? Those lines that you are left with, a line that might make or break a reader's opinion about all of the sentences that have proceeded it? Turns out, there are quite a lot of them and some are truly brilliant. And many of them are found in children's books. 

"Are there any questions?"
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaseless into the past."
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

"It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

"After all, tomorrow is another day."
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

"But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."
The House At Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne

"Yes," I said. "Isn't it pretty to think so?"
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

"Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him - and it was still warm."
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

"This is not a full circle. It's Life carrying on. It's the next book we all take. It's the choice we make to get on with it."
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

"A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR. I am haunted by humans."
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but it was already impossible to say which was which."
Animal Farm by George Orwell

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Some Luck by Jane Smiley

Some Luck by Jane Smiley
Published October 2014 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: purchased this one for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
On their farm in Denby, Iowa, Rosanna and Walter Langdon abide by time-honored values that they pass on to their five wildly different children: from Frank, the handsome, willful first born, and Joe, whose love of animals and the land sustains him, to Claire, who earns a special place in her father’s heart.

Each chapter in Some Luck covers a single year, beginning in 1920, as American soldiers like Walter return home from World War I, and going up through the early 1950s, with the country on the cusp of enormous social and economic change. As the Langdons branch out from Iowa to both coasts of America, the personal and the historical merge seamlessly: one moment electricity is just beginning to power the farm, and the next a son is volunteering to fight the Nazis; later still, a girl you’d seen growing up now has a little girl of her own, and you discover that your laughter and your admiration for all these lives are mixing with tears.

My Thoughts:
This word came up the other night when my book club was talking about this book, "minutiae." Well, that pretty much sums it up. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Just a warning.

This is mostly a very quiet book, full of the details that make up a life and reveal it in depth. Which is unusual to find in a book that spans thirty years. If you're a person that gives up on a book after 50 pages, there's the very real chance that this one isn't for you. It's all about connecting with the Langdon family and given that a good chunk of the first part of the book is told from the point of view of infants with not much happening, it's hard to get into.

In fact, if I hadn't been committed to reading it for book club, I'm not sure I would have stuck with it. In the end, I'm not sure how much I liked it. Smiley does do a wonderful job of taking her readers deeply into life on a Midwest farm in the first half of the last century. Seriously, I'm not sure what made women marry farmers then. Except that, of course, all of their family lived on farms nearby, as did both Rosanna's and Walter's families and that made for an interesting three-generation dynamic.

Two things that threw me: from the beginning, it seemed that the story was about the entire Langdon family and yet, very often, it felt like it was a book about Frank and the people around him. Which brought me to the second issue - when Frank went off to World War II, we went with him to Africa and then Italy where he served as a sniper. It seemed to me it would have been more in keeping with the rest of the book to have stayed with the family, to have seen how the war affected those left at home.

This is the first book of a planned trilogy. I'm not sure where Smiley will be going with the next book, if she'll be following Frank or one of his siblings or picking up with one of the other characters. I don't very much, though, that I'll read it even though I'd give this one a three star rating assuming I rated books here.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Life: It Goes On

Second verse, same as the first - Miss H has started moving things home this week. We're still not sure exactly when she will be completely moved back but she has filled my dining room twice this week with things that we had to sort and repack before they went back upstairs.

It's not so much the having them move back home that's the problem (although I am going to miss having a guest room!). It's the not knowing how long they're staying (so, not knowing how settled we need to get them). I NEED A PLAN, PEOPLE!!! Yeah, it might be starting to get to me.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Still On Beauty. Must say, now that we're shoulder deep into an infidelity story line, I'm not loving it as much.

Watching: The Big Guy's been out of town this past week so the television's been off quite a bit. Miss H has been around quite a lot so when the television's been on, we've watched baseball. Lots of baseball. Including the movie Fever Pitch with Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. Of course, I'm also watching as much preseason football as I can.

Reading: Well, Bout of Books was a bust. I did finish Some Luck but have hardly made a dent in The Likeness. I thought it was going to be a quiet week with a lot of alone time. I was wrong.

Making: We kept it pretty simple this week since I was never sure how many I was cooking for any night - one, two, or three. Today, though, I took advantage of zucchini a coworker brought in to make a couple of loaves of zucchini bread and a batch of savory zucchini bars.

Planning: This week continue to be about putting things in order and doing some rearranging so we are ready when Miss H's furniture comes home. And trying to find a home for that sectional which is still piled up in my living room.

Grateful for: Good news for my mom this week, health wise. A girl worries about her mommy, you know?

Enjoying: Alcohol, not gonna lie. A glass of wine here, a bottle of beer there, a cocktail now and then. It's keeping me from going crazy with all of this upheaval!

Feeling: Like I need a girls night. Yeah, I know I just had book club this week but I need my besties - we haven't all been together in much too long.

Looking forward to: This! Thirteen days and counting!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Some books creep up on you. They may take pages and pages to pull you in. It took Muriel Barberry more than 100 pages to draw me fully into The Elegance of The Hedgehog. It took Tana French just 2 pages. I wanted to share some of that with you today.
"Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950's. This is none of Ireland's subtle seasons mixed for a connoisseur's palate, watercolor nuances within a pinch-sized range of cloud and soft rain; this is summer full0throated and extravagant in a hot pure silkscreen blue. This summer explodes on your tongue tasting of chewed blades of long grass, your own clean sweat. Marie biscuits with butter squirting through the holes and shaken bottles of red lemonade picnicked in tree houses. It tingles on your skin with BMX wind in your face, ladybug feet up your arm; it packs every breath full of mown grass and billowing wash lines; it chimes and fountains with birdcalls, bees, leaves and football-bounces and skipping-chants. One! two! three! This summer will never end. It starts every day with a shower of Mr. Whippy notes and your best friend's knock at the door, finishes it with long slow twilight and mothers silhouetted in doorways calling you to come in, through the bats shrilling among the black lace trees. This is Everysummer decked in all its best glory."
"Move closer, follow the three children scrambling over the thin membrane of brick and mortar that holds the wood back from the semi-ds. Their bodies have the perfect economy of latency: they are streamlined and unselfconscious, pared to light flying machines. White tattoos - lightning bolt, star, A-flash where they cut Band-Aids into shapes and let the sun brown around them. A flag of white-blond hair flies out; toehold, knee on the wall, up and over and gone.
The wood is all flicker and murmur and illusion. Its silence it a pointillist conspiracy of a million tiny noises - rustles, flurries, nameless truncated shrieks; its emptiness teems with secret life, scurrying just beyond the corner of your eye. Careful: bees zip in and out of cracks in the leaning oak; stop to turn any stone and strange larvae will write irritably, who an earnest three of ants twines up your ankle. In the ruined tower, someone's abandoned strongholds, nettles thick as your wrist seize between the stones, and at dawn rabbits bring their kittens out from the foundations to play on ancient graves.
These three children own the summer. They know the wood as surely as they know the micro landscapes of their own grazed knees; put them down blindfolded in any dell or clearing and they find their way out without putting a foot wrong. This is their territory, and they rule it wild and lordly as young animals; they scramble through its trees and hide-and-seek in its hollows all the endless day long, and all night in their dreams.
They are running into legend, into sleepover stories and nightmares parents never hear. Down the faint lost paths you would never find alone, skidding round the tumbled stone walls, they stream calls and shoelaces behind them like comet-trails. And who is it waiting on the riverbank with his hands in the willow branches, whose laughter tumbles swaying from a branch high above, whose face in the undergrowth in the corner of your eye, built of light and leaf-shadow, there and gone in a blink?
These children will not be coming of age, this or any other summer. This August will not ask them to find hidden reserves of strength and courage as they confront the complexity of the adult world and come away sadder and wiser and bonded for life. This summer has other requirements for them."
In two pages, just two, French manages to thoroughly immerse her readers in the book's setting and the darkness that will enfold them. Brilliant.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In The Woods by Tana French

In The Woods (Dublin Murder Squad Series #1) by Tana French
Published May 2007 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: purchased this one at Target on May 26, 2009 - found the receipt still in the book!

Publisher's Summary:
As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox—his partner and closest friend—find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

My Thoughts:
Tomorrow I'll share some of the first couple of pages of this book with you. Then, if I can't make you understand here, you'll understand why I was so impressed with this book. I've previously read Broken Harbor and The Secret Place (books 4 and 5 in the series) and been awed by French's writing but the level of writing in the debut novel really wow'd me.
"What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective. Our relationship with truth is fundamental but cracked, refracting confusingly like fragmented glass. It is the core of our careers, the endgame of every move we make, and we pursue it with strategies painstakingly constructed of lies and concealment and every variation on deception. The truth is the most desirable woman in the world ad we are the most jealous lovers, reflexively denying anyone else the slightest glimpse of her. We betray her routinely, spending hours and days stupor-deep in lies, and then turn back to her holding out the lover's ultimate Mobius strip: But I only did it because I love you so much."
And so it will go - a dance between the truth and lies.

Rob Ryan is a wonderfully flawed narrator, as much scarred by the aftermath of what happened to him in 1984 as by the events themselves. With no memory of what happened to him, both Rob and Cassie know that he is treading in dangerous waters as they investigate the murder of Katy Devlin.
"There was a time when I believed, with the police and the media and my stunned parents, that I was the redeemed one, the boy borne safely home on the ebb of whatever freak tide carried Peter and Jamie away. Not any more. In ways too dark and crucial to be called metaphorical, I never left that wood."
As memories begin to seep in, Ryan begins to self-destruct. It was fascinating to watch, as was the relationship between Rob and Cassie. French surrounds them an interesting cast of characters and weaves the two mysteries together seamlessly.

This being French, things are dark, the atmosphere is palpable, the dialogue is strong, and the characters are well-written. There is nothing here that says this is a starting point for French, now watch her grow. It was, perhaps, a bit too long and occasionally loses focus but that's a small complaint given how much I enjoyed the book.