Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
Published October 2010 by Penguin Group
Source: bought this one myself

What would it be like to grow up the daughter of the laughingstock of town? For Cecelia Honeycutt, her reality is that her father is rarely home and she is left to care for a mother who is slowly losing her battle with bipolar disease. CeeCee is only saved from this friendless life by the tragic death of her mother. When CeeCee's father agrees to let her great-aunt Tootie take CeeCee away to live with her in Savannah, she is angry with her father and sad to be leaving her next-door neighbor, Mrs. Odell. CeeCee has no idea that it will turn out to be the blessing she's been waiting all of her life for.

In Savannah CeeCee will find the love, laughter, and happiness that she's been longing for all of her life. Surrounded by strong, colorful, and distinctly Southern women, CeeCee will face for the first time racism and come to terms with her mother's legacy.

Lovers of Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees will also enjoy this one; if fact, they share many of the same themes. They also share a build up of racial tension that fails to deliver a real punch. As with Bees, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt presents the reader with formidable African-American women and Hoffman gives the reader a glimpse into their lives as they struggle to survive in a part of the country they love but which doesn't always love them.

Hoffman brings the reader the South in the way that Karen Allen and Sarah Addison Allen do - she brings the South she clearly loves alive. As someone who loves history and strongly believes in saving our past, I wanted to hop in my car and drive back in time to help Aunt Tootie in her work to save the old homes of Savannah. And oh, those flowers - I swear I could smell them as Hoffman described the gardens that Mrs. Odell and Aunt Tootie so love. For those who love reading about the softer side of the South, those who love reading about strong women, and those who love a book that tugs at your heart strings, this one's for you.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Only True Genius in the Family by Jennie Nash

The Only True Genius in the Family by Jennie Nash

Published February 2009 by Penguin Group
Source: the lovely Jennie Nash herself!

Claire's place in life is as much about her position in her family as it is by the fact that she's reached the point in life where most adults begin to ponder what they've accomplished in their life. Claire is the daughter of the great photographer Paul Switzer, whom she has had a rough relationship with and mother of Bailey, whose talent Claire is at once immensely impressed by and quietly envious of.

Claire herself is a well-respected food photographer, in demand by no less a food powerhouse than Martha Stewart. Were it not for her father and his shadow, Claire would very likely feel wonderful about what she's accomplished. But while Claire feels competent, comfortable that she knows what will look good when it comes to working with food, she wants so much more for herself. She wants to be like her father, a genius, but he had made it clear to her years earlier that she was not one.
""How a genius for seeing can skip a generation just like blue eyes or a dimpled chin," he said."

His voice was smooth, polished. I had the distinct feeling that although I had never heard him speak those words, he had said them many times- to his lovers and wives, his friends and associates - but not to me, never to me. I felt something collapse inside me. It caved in, it crumbled, somewhere near my heart. At the same time, I tasted the sharp tang of truth."
 When Paul dies, it throws Claire into something of a tailspin. In Paul's will, he took one last stab at Claire's psyche - he left power over his work after his death to Bailey. For Claire it would have been his apology, instead it's one more reason for her to resent both her father and Bailey.
"My dad died at an incredibly inconvenient time, and I have no doubt that he planned it that way on purpose. ..His timing also seemed designed as a turbo boost for the only other person who he believed had been touched by God in the same way he had been...That person was my daughter..."

"I felt rage at him and shame that I was glad he was gone. I felt jealous of Bailey - of her talent, her confidence, her luck, her easy relationship with my dad and the world. For years and years, I'd been pushing that emotion down, telling myself that what I was feeling was not jealousy, but something different - a mix of maternal anxiety and pride."

It's those feelings that drive this book as Claire deals with the aftermath of her father's death and the rise of her Bailey's acclaim. No one writes about the feelings of woman as well as Jennie Nash, and she did not disappoint with the character of Claire. Watching her battle, from the middle place, her feelings about both her father and her daughter, Claire made me alternately want to shake her and hug her. Her relationship with husband, Harrison rings true, as Nash's marriages always do, as well.

I had two quibbles with this book: a scene where Claire chooses to take a photograph in a situation where I felt uncomfortable about her doing it and a pervading sense of Nash wanting us to understand that this family has money. But they are minor problems that didn't distract from my overall impression of this book. Nash sent me this book a couple of years ago at the same time that she sent me a manuscript of The Threadbare Heart. Knowing that it was the last of Nash's books for me to read, I've put off reading it, not knowing when Nash's next book might be published. When I saw on Nash's website that she sent off a completed draft of her next novel to her publisher, I knew it was time to read this one. It was worth the wait!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Salon - February 26

Welcome to Sunday Salon, the Oscar edition. I know what you're thinking - "why is she even talking about the Oscars, she's repeatedly said that she doesn't see movies until they come out on DVD?" Well, yes, that's true. But I do love to watch great movies and I am totally going to an Oscar party tonight so I need to get my head in the game. Plus, for a change, I've actually seen quite a few of the nominated movies.

Of course, I'm excited to see who will win in the best actor, actress and movie categories. Seriously, though, if the story is no good, not even George Clooney or Ryan Gosling can save the movie. Well...maybe they could but no one else. Luckily for the two of them, they got to star in "Ides of March" this year, one of the movies nominated for best adapted screen play. Which is my very most favorite category.

This year's nominees in that category (the others are "Hugo," "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," "Moneyball," and "The Descendants") are in good company. Previous  winners include "It Happened One Night" (Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert - if you
haven't seen it, you definitely should - it was the first screwball comedy!), Mario Puzo's "The Godfather," Steinbeck's "East of Eden" and "The Grapes of Wrath," and Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird." The list of all previous winners in this category positively makes my heart go pitter-patter - there are so many great plays and screenplays I have yet to read. To be honest, not all books and screenplays that have been made into movies were nearly as good as the movie they were made into. But there had to be some kind of a great beginning there, right? So someday soon, you might notice that I'm reading Upton Sinclair's Oil!  - you may know it better by it's movie title, "There Will Be Blood."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
126 pages
Source: my copy was purchased from Scholastic through the schools

You all know the story - in ye olde Verona live two warring families, the Capulets and the Montagues, are trying the patience of their prince. They've been warned but boys will be boys and every time the young men from each family meet in the streets, there is bound to be trouble. Still, when young Romeo crashes a party one night, it matters not in the least to him that Juliet is a Capulet. In one of the greatest love scenes ever written, the two declare their love on Juliet's balcony later that night:

"Romeo: Lady, by yonder blessed moon I vow, 
That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops--
Juliet: O, swear not by the moon, th' inconstant moon,
Lest that they love prove likewise variable.
Romeo: What shall I swear by?
Juliet: Do not swear at all;
Or if you wilt, swear by thy gracious self, 
Which is the god of my idolatry,
And I'll believe thee."

Tragically, the couple's love is short lived and only by their deaths are their families finally reconciled.

This was the third time I've read this play. Every time I read it, I'm more blown away by certain passages, more impressed that Shakespeare captured so well the angst and impulsiveness of young people, and so surprised to, once again, realize that there is very little stage direction in this play. Even Shakespeare can make me wonder "what was he thinking," though. Why in the world was there a scene after Juliet "dies" where a group of musicians are teasing each other? Maybe I just don't "get" it - surely Shakespeare didn't put in a throwaway scene, right?

My introduction came a very long time ago, when my dad took me to Franco Zefferelli's movie adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (I'm pretty sure my parents weren't aware there would be a bare butt scene - I was still in elementary school!). I loved, loved it then, I love it still. I'll be renting it to watch this weekend! Of course, there have been several movie adaptations, the play is a perennial favorite for summer play series, and there is even a graphic novel version and a manga version available now. So pick your poison (just make sure it's not the kind that Romeo took!).

I read it this time for the Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bleak House Readalong

Ah, the beauty of having cut back on the number of books I'm accepting for review these days - I have time to join in with readalongs! Wallace of Unputdownables is hosting a readalong in March, April and May of Charles Dickens' Bleak House. I've been wanting to read this one for a long time (I even gave it a try for a couple of weeks last year). I'm happy to have the push to read it and others to discuss it with. If you'd like to join the group, head on over to the sign up post and check out the rules and the schedule. I hope you'll consider joining us!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton

The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton
352 pages
Published October 2010 by Headline Book Publishing, Limited
Source: the author

Catherine, divorced, mother of grown children, daughter of a woman whose dementia has taken her away already, is looking for new start on life when she sells her home in England and buys a home in the Cevennes mountains of France. She's chosen a place she loved visiting as a child, but life as an adult, trying to set up a business in a small town when you're definitely the outsider, is not nearly as idyllic as Catherine had imagined. The rains, the old buildings, the red tape - it all endeavors to wear a girl down. But Catherine's determined to make a go of it. Slowly she wins over the locals, begins to build herself a business and even meets an man (although he may be the biggest puzzle she has to solve). Her business begins to grow, her garden thrives and even the bees she's been given as a gift begin producing. But just when Catherine begins to feel that she's finally at home, bureaucracy flares its ugly head, her sister's visit exposes a new problem and a terrible loss makes Catherine rethink all of the plans she's made.

Much more than strictly a romance novel, The Tapestry of Love is a story that most woman of a certain age can relate to. Catherine is a loose ends. Her children and her mother no longer need her and she doesn't have a spouse to build a life around. The Tapestry of Love is a love story to finding yourself. If along the way, you happen to fall in love with a place and its people and even find someone who might want to spend the rest of your nights with, so much the better

Rosy Thornton teaches law at the University of Cambridge but this lady knows how to write a beautiful story. the tapestries that Catherine creates, the Cevennes mountain countryside, an intimate country life - Thornton makes them all as important to the story as the romantic love that can't seem to get off the ground between Catherine and Patrick Castagnol, one of her closest neighbors who remains a mystery. Thornton sent me this book for review a year ago; I'm sorry to have taken so long to read it. It was a lovely book to read the week of Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 20, 2012

I've Been Tagged!

It's been a long time since I've been tagged to do a meme. By now there may be one or two of you that don't already know everything about me so it's time to play along again. Thanks to Suey of It's All About Books and Lisa of Books. Lists. Life. for allowing me to play along!

1. You must post the rules.
2. Answer the questions the tagger set for you in their post and then create eleven new questions to ask the people you’ve tagged.
3. Tag eleven people and link to them on your post.
4. Let them know you’ve tagged them!

Suey's Questions For Me:

1. Do you bake? What's your favorite thing to make? I love to bake - I blame credit 4-H and my mom. I love to bake cookies and brownies because I can share them but my favorite thing to bake is cheesecake!

2. What's your favorite quote? "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Eleanor Roosevelt

3. What's your biggest pet peeve? Drivers who think they are in more of hurry to get where they're going than any of the rest of us.

4. Who's your current favorite TV couple?  (or movie, or book couple) Patrick Jane and Teresa Lisbon from The Mentalist. Okay, I know they aren't a "couple" at the moment but you just know they're going to get there!

5. Where's the best place you've ever visited? Any beach!

6. What would you do if you could do anything for a whole day? If I'm home, it would be to go out for a wonderful brunch then spend the whole day reading without anyone turning the television on and my wonderful hubby bringing dinner home for me.

7. Look on the floor by your bed... do you have books there? How many? No - but only because I just rearranged all of my books and finally found homes for all of the books that were there.

8. What's the best book you've read so far this year (since January)? Rules of Civility by Amor Towles - first one I've loved this year.

9. What's your favorite book genre? literary fiction

10.  What are you making for dinner tonight? Linguine in cream sauce with prosciutto. 

11. Why eleven questions? Any guesses? Because everyone else does ten? Don't know.

Now for Lisa's Questions:

1. Could you eat the same thing for lunch every day? Nope. I've done the same thing several days in a row but then I'm burned out on it. What would it be?

2. How many library books do you have checked out right now? None. I don't go to the library any more. I check out entirely too many books then get them back late because I'm so determined to finish them before I return them.

3. Do you feel strongly about specific music? or more of a music in general type person? Not necessarily strongly but maybe that's because I like so many different kinds of music. Except country - there is almost no country music that I like.

4. What is your favorite brick and mortar retail store? The one I'm in the most would definitely be Target but my real favorites are antique and second hand stores.

5. What is your favorite online store? I don't really shop online. I'm all about being able to inspect what I'm buying.

6. What is your favorite moment of heartstopping romantic tension? (Book, movie, music, tv, real life, art, anywhere.) The scene in the Keira Knightley version of "Pride and Prejudice" where Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy meet in the field toward the end of the movie. I know it didn't happen in the book that way but that scene is beautiful and the script is marvelous!

7. What is the first book you remember reading? The first book I can actually remembering reading myself would have to be one of the Dick and Jane books.

8. Are you creative in any way? How so? Sort of - I like to be creative in my decorating and I've made some gifts for people over the years but I'd love to be able to come up with the ideas and really translate those ideas into reality. So jealous of those that can!

9. Not counting your family, pets, and vital personal documents/pictures, what one thing would you save in a fire? If it's a fire and I have to be able to carry it out in a hurry, it would be the small table that my husband gave me for a present when we got married.

10. What is your favorite type of vacation (museums, beach, cabin, mountains, theme parks)? I love to be able to be at the beach but then I love to be in the mountains in the summer as well. Of course, I love to visit museums as well. Hmm .. my taste in vacations is as eclectic as my taste in music and books.

11. What is the most surprising or unexpected thing you've done in the last 12 months? Discover an inner strength I never knew I had.

Now I know those rules at the beginning said I had to make up some questions and tag eleven of you but this post is already long enough as it is and so many of you have already done one of these. I'd love for each of you to pick one of the questions that Suey and Lisa asked me and give me your answer instead!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Salon - February 19

Screech - that's the sound of what happened to my reading in the past three days. I had two books going and planned to have both of them done by the end of yesterday. Then my mother-in-law arrived for the weekend. Usually we spend a lot of time around the house but this weekend we have been busy. While we've done a lot of fun things, I've only had time to read about 70 pages. Today I will finish both of them because I've got other reading to get started on.

I'm joining in a readalong that I want to get started on (more on that later this week) and Trish of Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity and I are going to be reading Erik Larson's In The Garden of Beasts together. Assuming I can find my copy. Did I loan it to you? UPDATE: Found it! My hubby had stuffed it under his night stand when he was done with it. Who does that?

Friday night we went to spend time with three of my favorite people. It was wonderful to watch the original Mama Shepp with her newest great-grandson. I can only hope that I live long enough to literally get to bounce my great-grandchildren on my knee like she got to do!

Last night we went to see George Clooney in "The Descendents." It's an excellent movie; I highly recommend it. Did I mention that it stars George Clooney? Ahhh - that man is no less good looking as he's gotten older!

This coming week I'm looking forward to a book club meeting, a get-together with old work friends and an Oscar watching party - that's an awful lot of socializing for me. I'm definitely going to have to shut myself in my room and spend a couple of nights reading in a quiet place! What are you reading this week?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fairy Tale Friday - The Love Edition

When I was growing up there seemed to be two kinds of fairy tales: those that dealt with living happily-ever-after and those that didn't. Now I enjoyed those that didn't, to be sure, but it was those happily-ever-after ones that grabbed a young girl's heart as she grew. Cinderella and Prince Charming, Sleeping Beauty and Prince Phillip, Snow White and her prince...what young girl wouldn't be dreaming of finding her own Prince Charming. Even the idea of having to kiss a frog to get there wasn't so bad if it meant you'd find the man of your dreams.

I have long since learned that just because a girl may find a man she loves and wants to spend the rest of her life with, happily-ever-after is a myth. As it turns out, it never really happened in the fairy tales most of the time either, not as they were originally told. Over the past year, I've looked at the reality of Cinderella and the like and discovered that there really isn't much to be learned about love in them at all.

At Folk Tales Corner, I found an interesting and amusing article on this very subject.  They say that a young man will need three or more of these characteristics to find romance in a fairy tale:

1/ Be a 7th son or at least youngest of three
2/ Be poor
3/ Have a magical weapon
4/ Have a wicked step parent
5/ Be friends with a talking animal

For the young ladies, you'll only need one of these characteristics, preferably #3, although #4 is almost always a given:

1/ Be a princess
2/ Be pretty
3/ Be kind and smile through all hardship
4/ Have a wicked step parent
5/ Be friends with a talking animal

If you're really looking for fairy tales that give them impression that the happy couple may truly find lifelong happiness after the story ends, you're bound to find that the pair have had to suffer to get to that point.

In the Rapunzel tale, that prince was thrown from a tower, blinded by thorns and left to wander for a couple of years before Rapunzel found him and restored his eye sight with her tears. He wasn't alone in his suffering - poor Rapunzel had to give birth to twins all alone in the wilderness.

The Beauty and the Beast tale may give the reader the most hope for finding true love if you're a good enough person. In it, a young prince was turned into a beast for being such a terrible person. Not until he could make someone love him despite his appearance would he be changed back. He had to learn be kind and generous in order to do that. The Beauty was willing to give up her freedom to save her beloved father. Both found love because of what was inside of them, not their outside appearance, and truly did get the happily ever after. I've never tried to sell my daughter on the idea of happily-ever-after but I like that I have this story to use as an example of looking deep inside to find the person you should be with for the rest of your life.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cat Thursday

Once again, thanks to cousin Kris for this one! Cat Thursday is hosted by Michelle of The True Book Addict.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
352 pages
Published July 2011 by Penguin Group
Source: the publisher

On New Year's Eve 1937, secretarial pool member Katey Kontent (emphasis on the second syllable) and roommate Evelyn "Eve" Ross are celebrating at small jazz club when they chance to meet a young man, Tinker Grey, who sits down next to them. The three become fast friends even as the two young ladies each try to stake their own claim on the young banker. They show him the everyday places of New York while he takes them to the finer places. But a tragic event will change the course of all of their lives.

In the coming year, Katey finds herself moving from the secretarial pool into the offices of Conde Nast and moving between the haunts of the working class and upper echelons of New York society as friendships and beliefs are tested.

This book arrived in the mail unrequested and I set it aside to fulfill other obligations. Then life interrupted just as praise for this book began to fill the blogoverse. Praise, as it turns out, which was richly deserved. As I read Rules of Civility the word "smart" kept coming to mind. Publisher's Weekly compared Towles' writing to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Like Fitzgerald, Towles has utterly captured his setting and its denizens. He has glamorized the life of the wealthy while not glamorizing the wealthy. All of his characters are fully developed - the rich are not just elitists; the working class are not all filled with jealousy and ambition.

What really made me love this book, however, was Towles' crisp, witty writing style. I will forewarn readers, though, that Towles does not use quotation marks for dialogue which can be confusing at times.

"As a quick aside, let me observe that in moments of high emotion--whether they're triggered by anger or envy, humiliation or resentment--if the next thing you're going to say makes you feel better, then it's probably the wrong thing to say. This is one of the finer maxims that I've discovered in life. And you can have it, since it's been of no use to me" 

When I finished this book, I finally looked at the author information on the back flap. I was first and foremost surprised to discover that this is Towles' first novel. One can only hope that he's busily at work on another. Then there's that pronoun I just used - "he." I don't suppose I'm very often impressed with how well a female writer has captured a male character, not having any personal basis in determining whether or not it rings true. But I'm often surprised when a male author writes female characters so well as Towles' has done in this book. Here Towles has created a character in Kate that I wanted to get to know, who I could imagine spending time with, something that always endears a book to me.

I highly recommend this book for men and women. It would make a good book club selection with characters and character choices that are sure to generate discussion as much as the writing would.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

"Then must you strive to be worthy of her love. Be brave and pure, fearless to the strong and humble to the weak; and so, whether this love prosper or no, you will have fitted yourself to be honored by a maiden's love, which is, in sooth, the highest guerdon which a true knight can hope for." - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle "The White Company"

The old couple had come round to that tragic imitation of the dawn of life when husband and wife, having lost or scattered all those who were their intimates, find themselves face to face and alone once more, their work done, and the end nearing fast. Those who have reached that stage in sweetness and love, who can change their winter into a gentle, Indian summer, have come as victors through the ordeal of life. - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle "The Brown Hand"

"You are my heart, my life, my one and only thought." - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle "The White Company"

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - who knew he was such a romantic!

Monday, February 13, 2012

American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White The Birth of The "It" Girl and The Crime of the Century " by Paula Uruburu

American Eve Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White The Birth of The "It" Girl & The Crime of the Century by Paula Uruburu
400 pages
Published April 2009 by Penguin Books
Source: bought it after hearing about it on NPR

Florence Evelyn Nesbit was born into the upper middle class. Unfortunately, when her father died it was discovered that he had been quite a bad businessman who left his widow, daughter and son, Howard in dire circumstances. Mrs. Nesbit proved to be hopeless when it came time to provide her children. Before long the trio was shuffling from rundown boardinghouse to rundown boardinghouse until the day Evelyn is literally "discovered" on the street by an artist who wanted to paint her picture.

Soon the beautiful young girl was earning enough as a popular artist's model to support her family and they were lured to New York where Evelyn quickly became the muse of artists and photographer's alike. Her likeness appeared on sheet music, in advertisements and even in the paintings hung in churches.

When Evelyn's dreams took her to the stage, her life changed even more rapidly. Young and old, rich and poor - men began sending her love letters, flowers and begging for her time. She had very little interest in any of them, although her dear mama was more than willing to allow some of the wealthy, older gentlemen to fawn over her sixteen-year-old daughter.

Enter Stanford White, leading architect and notorious consumer of young girls. For months White showered Evelyn, her mother and her brother with his largess, moving them into better lodgings, paying for young Howard's education, and providing Evelyn with all manner of diversions. One horrible night, White finally showed his true colors; he drugged Evelyn and raped her. For some time afterward she shunned him but she had so loved him that before long she forgave him. The two began an affair that lasted until Evelyn began to suspect White of having other girls as well. She sought out the attention of Jack Barrymore (who would come to prominence as actor John Barrymore), initially to make White jealous but eventually she grew very fond of him. In fact, the two became engaged until Mama Nesbit and Stanford White stepped in to put an end to it.

The void left room for a third man who had had his eye on Evelyn for some time, Harry K. Thaw of Pittsburgh. Thaw was by turns an evangelical and a rounder with a brutal streak. He spent more than a year wining over Evelyn and convincing her to marry him which she finally did despite his having beaten and raped her on a trip to Europe.

Thaw had another obsession that would be the downfall of both himself and Evelyn - he abhorred Stanford White and was incessant in his belief that he must make White pay for his sinful ways. When he found out what White had done to Evelyn, he became more enraged than ever. When other methods proved inadequate, Thaw took matters into his own hands. One night, in front of hundreds of witnesses, Thaw shot White to death on the rooftop theater of White's own Madison Square Garden.

Thousands gathered daily as the trial of the century commenced. Crowds gathered on the streets below the so-called Bridge of Sighs, a walkway between the jail and the courthouse hoping to catch a glimpse of Thaw as he made his way to first one and then a second trial. Mother Thaw's vast resources managed to keep Harry out of jail but they couldn't keep him out of the insane asylum. Poor Evelyn was forced during both trials to testify as to what White had done to her and, although the public initially took pity on her, her life was never the same. At the age of twenty-one, the once rising star was a divorcee with a young son. She lived another sixty-five years but life was hard for the woman who had once been the face of a new century.

I was drawn to this book because Evelyn, Thaw and White were all characters in E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime, a book I adored.
"To anyone familiar with E. L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime, the name Evelyn Nesbit may evoke the mauve-tinted crucible of the sentimentality inclined and cynically named Gilded Age. To others, it may signify passion and perversion, murder and scandal, "love, hate, villainy, perfidy, and outraged innocence." The extinction of an era. And a red velvet swing."
I have always wondered about Evelyn Nesbit and when I heard about this book I knew it was one for me. Uruburu did not disappoint. The book is well-researched and works on many levels, as a fine piece of story telling, recounting of historical and a look a society as the country was caught between one way of live and another.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Salon - February 12

Happy Sunday! It's been a good weekend here at Chez Shepp. Much has been accomplished, we've watched some good movies, got to spend some time with all five of us together, and The Big Guy and I once again had a marvelous evening with my parents watching the folk music duo, Neal and Leandra, perform. Today I'm planning on having lunch with Miss H, my sister and my niece.

We call ourselves Musketeers (it's a long story having to do with steak knives and the whole "all of one and one for all" thing) and whenever one of us needs a pick me up, we're there for each other. There is bound to be plenty of laughter and I'm once again reminded of why I live where I live. Would I love to be someplace where the temperatures never dip to 3 degrees below zero (this morning's temperature) and I never had to drive on icy roads? Absolutely! But when the various branches of my family came to this country, this is where they settled and this is where my family remains. There is nothing more important to me.

Speaking of the Musketeers, have any of you read Alexander Dumas' The Three Musketeers? I've only every read the abridged version of his The Count of Monte Cristo. I found that to be thoroughly entertaining so I might just have to pick up the tale of the Musketeers one of these days.

This week on the blog will be all about love, in its many incarnations. I've got two book reviews scheduled this week, American Eve and Rules of Civility, which both deal with different kinds of love to some extent, a Valentine's Day post showcasing an author it had never occurred to me to think of as romantic, and a Fairy Tale Fridays post about love. As for my reading, it's also going to deal with love. Right now I'm reading The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton and will follow that up with, I think, P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern.

I hope none of you get too wrapped up in the commercialization of the day and take some time this week to tell someone that you love them!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Fairy Tale Fridays - The Little Match Girl

One of the fairy tales I loved best when I was young was Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl." Perhaps it's because I'm especially fond of Andersen on the whole, being of Danish descent. But I'm more inclined to believe that it's because the story is so sad and yet so filled with hope. Unlike so many fairy tales, while this one pulls no punches, there is nothing in the story that has to be sanitized for children. In fact, in reading our copy of The Little Match Girl, illustrated by Rachel Isadora and published in 1987, I found that I was reading exactly the same story as the one I had just read in my "grownup" collection of Andersen's tales. The story of "The Little Match Girl" was first published in 1845 and was intended by Andersen to be a moral lesson about the plight of Europe's poor.

On New Year's Eve, a poor girl is on the streets, barefooted, cold and hungry. No one is buying her matchsticks and she can't go home until she sells some or her father will beat her. Finally, she seeks solace in a sheltered corner and lights one of the match sticks to keep warm. Suddenly she is seeing visions of a roasted goose. When that match stick burns out, she quickly lights another and can feel the warmth of the fire she sees before her. In one vision she sees a shooting star. Her grandmother had told her that shooting stars mean a soul is going to heaven, and when she lights her next matchstick, she sees her grandmother. Quickly the girl lights the rest of her matchsticks because she so wanted her grandmother to remain with her. The grandmother grabbed the girl up in her arms and together the two ascended to heaven. In the morning, the body of the little girl was found in the corner, a smile on her face.

Lovely and touching, yes? I think so. Which is why I can't, for the life of me, explain how Rikki Ducornet took that story as inspiration for her story "Green Air" which appears in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. In her story, an unnamed woman (I assume it's a woman, she is locked in a drawer in a cedar chest the entire story so can it be a human), is married to a brute of a man who dreams of nothing but violent sex and abuses the woman. The only correlation I can see between this story and Andersen's tale is a note that the woman has a matchbox tucked in her pocket which she begins lighting, that and the idea of an abused person looking for an escape from an untenable life. At the end of this story, I had no idea what the heck had happened. Usually if I'm stumped with these stories, the author's notes at the end did nothing to enlighten me. It was the first tale I've read in the book that I didn't enjoy.

That wasn't the strangest thing I discovered as I researched the story of "The Little Mermaid." I had no idea that it had ever been made into a musical. I love musicals and I love this story but even I couldn't possibly see how you could take such a short story and stretch it that far (although I guess if you can turn Where The Wild Things Are into a feature film, anything is possible). Still, when I found this 1987 television adaptation of the movie on YouTube, I found myself irresistibly drawn to what I was certain would be nothing short of a train wreck of a movie. In that I was not disappointed. The music is awful, the story preposterous. Let's face it, if you're a movie starring Roger Daltry and Twiggy, there's not much hope for you. I'll give the little girl playing the match girl props - she did have a terrific voice. I wonder if she was ever able to recover from starring in this bomb?

Next, in honor of Valentine's Day, my focus will be on love in fairy tales.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cat Thursday

Cat Thursday is hosted by Michelle of The True Book Addict. Thanks to my cousin, Kris, for once again providing me with a picture for Cat Thursday.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Across The Endless River by Thad Carhart

Across The Endless River by Thad Carhart
320 pages
Published September 2009 by Knopf Doubleday
Source: the publisher

Across The Endless River is the story of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the son of Sacagewea and a French fur trader. Baptiste (as he preferred to be called) went with the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Ocean as an infant and grew up in two cultures. Through much of his life, Baptiste split time between the Mandan tribe his mother was a part of and St. Louis, where he got a traditional education and was cared for by his godfather, Captain Clark. Even as a young man, he became well known for his skill with languages (in addition to English and French, Baptiste was skilled in several Native American languages as well), knowledge of the western lands and people, and his ability to live in the wild. Because of these skills, Baptiste was introduced to Duke Paul of Wurttemburg (Germany) and asked to help the Duke collect Native American artifacts and native plants and animals. Impressed with the young man, the Duke asked Baptiste to accompany him back to Europe to help catalogue his acquisitions, prepare them for exhibition and write a book.

Baptiste spent the next five years in Europe, spending time in France and Germany, meeting people from all walks of life, working with the duke and his peers, attending balls, and falling in love. While he enjoyed the benefits of living with nobility and finding himself accepted by them, it was always clear to Baptiste that he was not one of them. Neither was he one of the servant class, a fact also made clear to him.

Across The Endless River is one of the first books I was offered for review when I began blogging. I accepted it because much of the early story was set in my part of the country and because I enjoy historical fiction. For some reason, once it arrived, though, it never seemed to call to me. In the past few months I've been accepting far fewer books for review in an effort to clear up my previous commitments and this one finally made its way into my hands.

There were parts of this book that very much impressed me. Carhart does a wonderful job of taking historical fact and mixing it with historical fiction and has a way with description that really made me see the places, people and things he was writing about. Ultimately, though, the book feel flat for me. Much of the first part of the book felt like a buildup to the second part but once Baptiste and the Duke arrived in Europe, it felt like very little was actually happening. The pair would flit from place to place and periodically Carhart would stop and spend a great deal of time writing about a particular scene but often these scenes didn't seem to contribute to building the story for me. Carhart touched on some topics I would have liked to see him spend more time with and I couldn't help but wonder if a different editor might have been able to keep the book on a track that would have worked better for me.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
336 pages
Published January 2011 by Gallery Books
Source: the publisher

Bob and Sarah Nickerson are working hard to have it all - they and their three children live in the best neighborhood, they drive great cars, they have a home in the mountains. But it all comes at a price. Both work more than 60 hours a week leaving them little time with their children and even less time for each other.Sarah loves her job and is proud of the success she's had in it. Still...

When Sarah wakes up eight days after being in a terrible car accident, everything has changed. Diagnosed with a rare brain disorder called "Left Neglect," Sarah is unable to see and is unaware of anything on her left. She can't walk or dress herself because she doesn't even know she has a left leg or arm. She never finishes a meal because she doesn't see the left side of the plate. She can't read because she can't see the left side of the page or even the left side of the words.
"She has Left Neglect. It's a pretty common condition for patients who've suffered damage to the right-hemisphere, usually from a hemmorhage or stroke. Her brain isn't paying attention to anything on her left. "Left" doesn't exist to her."
After weeks in rehabilitation and intensive therapy, Sarah is sent home where she must continue to train herself to recognize that while she is missing the left of everything now, she may have been missing even more before her accident. Thanks to her condition, Sarah is able to rebuild her estranged relationship with her mother, reconnect with Bob and truly become the parent her children need.

In Left Neglected, Genova addresses a number of medical subjects and relationship concerns. You've heard me complain before about authors trying to tackle too many issues in one book. It rarely works for me and I often find books that do this to be preachy and teachy. Genova manages to avoid that trap for the most part. Other than the Left Neglect, the medical conditions that she introduces are common to many families and it doesn't feel like Genova has tried to work something into the story just because she has something to say. Any household with children and two working parents can identify with much of what Bob and Sarah go through, trying to balance family and career, figuring out whose turn it is to take the children to school.

Genova's characters feel real and her writing highlights the little moments as much as the major ones. Readers will be able to relate to Sarah throughout the book, but certainly more so after her accident as she struggles between doubt and hope for her recovery. The Nickerson family is so real that Genova has even managed, with all of the heavy topics in the book, to work in some humor, lightening the book and helping to make it feel true to life. When I finished this book, I was immediately ready to start Genova's first book, Still Alice. Not wanting to muddy my thoughts on this one, I've tabled that book for a bit. As much as I enjoyed this one, it won't be long before I read pick it up, though. I highly recommend Left Neglected.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sunday Salon - February 5

Welcome to the Snowman edition of the Sunday Salon! After getting no more than 8-9" total of snow all winter, we got that much snow overnight Friday and into Saturday. Not that nice light fluffy stuff that doesn't make good snowballs but is easy to scoop. Oh no, this was the kind where every scoopful felt like it weighed twenty pounds. Miss H does two of the neighbors' driveways and sidewalks and with that much snow The Big Guy and I felt like we should help her. Once we got through all of that, it was a day to play on the computer, watch movies and read, read, read. I'll tell you what, I'm hurting today but geared up to get the house cleaned and ready to have some people in to watch the Super Bowl. Go Giants (I have to say that; Miss H is a huge fan)!

I spent yesterday afternoon getting caught up on reviews. In almost three years of blogging, I've never been so far behind on reviews! It's nice to be ahead on posts for a change, though. This week I'll have reviews of Across The Endless River by Thad Carhart and Left Neglected by Lisa Genova. I updated my challenges and find that I'm off to a good start there for a change. Maybe I'll succeed at all of them this year!This week I'm reading Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. I've been looking forward to it for awhile, especially after finding it on so many bloggers "best of 2011" lists. What are you reading this week?

This week's highlight for The Big Guy and me will be a concert in Lincoln on Saturday night. Every year, Neal and Leandra (a folk music duo) come to either Omaha or Lincoln to perform and we've been going for years. We've never tired of hearing them and have been happy to introduce their music to many friends. Here's why:

What are you looking forward to this week?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Fairy Tale Fridays - The Mermaids

It's been years since I read Hans Christian Andersen's original tale of The Mermaid (who, by the way, in my copy at least, wasn't little). The closest I've come to it in the past twenty years is repeated viewings of the Disney adaptation. Just after Christmas, though, I picked up a copy of Andersen's Fairy Tales and The Mermaid was the first tale in the book, making it the perfect place to start.

On her fifteenth birthday, the youngest daughter of the king of the mermen is at long last allowed to travel to the surface of the ocean. There she sees a ship with a handsome prince traveling on it and she is immediately smitten. As she watches him, a storm comes up and the prince is thrown into the sea. The mermaid saves the prince, depositing him on the beach where a young woman finds him. The prince, who had been unconscious for some time, awoke, believing this young woman had saved him.

The mermaid continued to travel to the surface to watch the prince from the distance. As her love for him grew, she became determined that she must be with him. She has also been told that humans, unlike merpeople, have souls, making them immortal. The mermaid had long yearned to have a soul and decided to visit a witch to see if her dreams might be made to come true. The witch assures the mermaid that she can be made human but she warns the mermaid that the pain of her tail separating intolegs will be excruciating and that the price of becoming human is the mermaid's voice. Furthermore, if the mermaid is unable to win the prince's heart and he marries another, then the mermaid will die and return to the sea as foam. Despite all of that, the mermaid agrees and the witch cuts out her tongue.

The mermaid swims to shore, drinks the potion and is found sometime later by the prince. He is enchanted by her beauty, as is the kingdom. But the prince cannot stop thinking of the young woman he believes saved his life. When she turns out to be the daughter of another king, and not a religious woman as he believed, he marries her. The mermaid is devastated and prepares to die. Just as that begins to happen, she is visited by the daughters of the air, who tell the mermaid that if she joins them and does good deeds for three hundred years then she will earn a soul. It's a price she is more than willing to pay.

Reading the original tale gave me a much greater appreciation for what Carolyn Turgeon has written in Mermaid. In it, she retained much of the original story, playing up the darkness that Andersen only hinted at. What struck me most about Andersen's tale was not the love story between the prince and the mermaid but the story about the mermaid's desire for an eternal soul, something that makes the story even more universal.

In My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me (edited by Kate Bernheimer), Katherine Vaz has used the tale of the mermaid as the inspiration for her story "What the Conch Shell Sings, When The Body Is Gone." She was also influenced by the story of the real life Million-Dollar Mermaid, Annette Kellerman, a woman who performed self-styled ballet inside water-filled tanks.

Vaz tells the story of Meredith and Ray, a couple who started as friends and eventually married. By the time we meet them, however, Meredith and Ray are hardly talking. Meredith suspects, rightly, that Ray is having an affair. When she confronts him, she warns him that the other woman is only using Ray to promote her own career. The two divorce and Ray marries the other woman, only to find out that Meredith was right. Years later, when Ray is again divorced and Meredith finds herself battling breast cancer, the two find themselves together again, more in love than ever.

As I was reading this story,  I didn't initially understand where the story of The Mermaid had played a part, beyond obvious references to the ocean plants and tank that Ray and Meredith had installed in their house to practice holding their breath under water. But as I read, I was able to see the influence. Ray allowed himself to be drawn from the woman he truly loved to marry the woman he thought was 'saving" him. As with the tale of The Mermaid, What The Conch Shell Sings is the story of a love triangle but also the story of eternal love.

As with all of the stories in My Mother She Killed Me, I very much enjoyed Vaz's explanation at the end of the story of how she came to write it. She had long been interested in the life of Annette Kellerman and even a walk through a perfume department in a store played a part in her story.

Next week, I'll be reading stories about The Little Match Girl, including the original tale and an adaptation from My Mother She Killed Me. I'll also be looking at how that one has been sanitized for children.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mermaid: A Twist On The Classic Tale by Carolyn Turgeon

Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale by Carolyn Turgeon
256 pages
Published March 2011 by Crown Publishing Group
Source: I bought this at the Omaha Lit Fest

In a convent, high on a mountain top, Princess Margrethe of the Northern Kingdom is being hidden from her kingdom's enemies. One cold morning, Margrethe is out walking in the gardens when she is startled to see a mermaid emerging from the sea with a nearly dead man in her arms, depositing him on the rocks, Margrethe is certain, even from as far away as she is  that she can hear the mermaid calling to her to save the man. Margrethe rushes to the man, covering him with furs and then goes for help, risking her own life in the process. Hours later, after she recovers, she makes her way to the man and the two are instantly drawn to each other. When the man rushes away from the convent the following day, it is then that Margrethe realizes that he is Prince Christopher of the Southern Kingdom, sworn enemy to her people.

Margrethe's father, King Erik, rushes to her "rescue" and uses the situation to convince his kingdom to go to war with the Southern Kingdom. But Margrethe is sure that the mermaid brought the man to her for  a reason and concocts a secret plot to unite the two kingdoms by marrying Christopher.

Lenia, the mermaid princess, who saved Christopher, also finds herself in love with this human. She has always longed to know more about humans and believes the stories her grandmother told her about humans living forever through their souls. Unable to shake the memory of Christopher from her mind, Lenia visits Sybil, a witch, who promises her that there's a way that Lenia can become human and join Christopher. The price is great and Lenia must convince Christopher to marry her or she will never have a soul and if he marries anther, she will die.

It's been a long time since I've read the original tale of the Little Mermaid, my comparison as I read being primarily with Disney's version of the classic fairy tale. As far as I could recall, there was much of Andersen's story retained in Turgeon's retelling, with the grittiness that is more authentic to classic fairy tales while retaining the magic that appeals to all ages (although this is definitely not a story to read to your children). The story could occasionally fall into sappiness and the characters a bit caricaturized (I know, I know it's not a word but you get my point).  Overall the book was fun and I found I couldn't put it down. There was, of course, the twist spoken of in the title and plenty of others that kept me guessing as to which woman would win the hand of the handsome prince. Sometimes, happily ever after means someone has to suffer.