Saturday, January 30, 2010

Colored Lights Can Hypnotize


I've been inspired by Howard's End Is On The Landing. Even thought I think that as a Reader I don't hold on to nearly as many books as my fellow Reader's do I still have too many. I have to have less to dust. I have to. So I have instituted a Read It Or Remove It policy. This policy will be strictly enforced unless I as benevolent Public Authority Chairwoman of Read Or Remove It I decide otherwise for reasons that may or may not be divulged.

The plan of attack? Act Casual. It's more insidious that way. As I come across the books that fall into R.I.O.R.I. category I will decide then and there if they move to the To Be Read (TBR) area or depart from chez Happy to some other chez. It's a kind of field operation. There will be no large scale sorting maneuvers. I must have the element of surprise on my side.

Any results yet? Yes indeed my friend. Two books were pulled out of a yarn only book case and immediate decisions were made. One, American Woman, I read and the other Nine Horses was dispatched. Why did I even have Nine Horses? I am not a poetry reader unless you count Dr Seuss.

American Woman is by Susan Choi and was published by HarperCollins about 5/6 years ago. I do remember bringing the book home, being excited to read it and then? It's all a blank. Now? Consider that blank filled and me wondering what took me so long to read such a good book. I'm also wondering about who my neighbors might really be after reading American Woman. That isn't a question that has ever occurred to me before. I've lived here forever. My neighbors have lived here a long time and a half. What could I not know by now, right?

Choi has taken one of our most famous kidnapping cases, transplanted it, explored it and turned it in to an achingly jarring novel. A young American terrorist is given 3 younger terrorists to care for while they hide out from authorities. The way love and loyalties get danced around within these characters lives is like looking at an Escher print. There is no way to find a place to land and then a way out. Normal life is the jumping off point in this novel and psychologically unsettling is where you're headed.

This is no sensationalized E True Hollywood Story in book form. This is a page turner where the action and the ideas vie for your attention. Choi does a magnificent job of keeping any moral judgments out of American Woman. You are left to either go with or re-examine your own prejudices. That makes this a great read and an excellent book club choice.

Happy and yet concerned about that guy who keeps to himself across the street.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

More TV To Love

Oh Flower!

Do you know that Jeffery Eugenides 2003 Pulitzer Prize winning and Oprah Book Club pick novel Middlesex is being adapted as a one hour series for television? Apparently Rita Wilson is in the process of doing just that for HBO. That seems like a good fit. A novel about a Greek family being handled by the producer of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Mama Mia. It's early days though so who knows when this (fingers crossed) will or won't come about.

What a fabulous book Middlesex is! The story of a girl and her gene. Calliope Stephanides and the gene that made her the man that she is today and the woman that she was yesterday. Calliope's story began in the 1960's. The gene's story began 40 years earlier when Calliope's grandparents fled the invading Turks. Together they carry the story backwards and forwards through the lives, gossip and myths of family history.

As impressed as I was by Eugenide's storytelling, it was really the warmth he brought to his characters that endeared the novel to me. Will that be something that they are able to duplicate on television? I hope so. I think it's rare to find an author who writes with real affection for his characters. Larry McMurtry does it. So does Carol Shields and Sarah Waters.

I remember thinking when I was reading Middlesex that reading it was like being in the room (but forgotten) when my Mom and her sisters would get together. I got to know everything I wasn't supposed to know and was entertained at the same time.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Howard's End Is On The Landing

Hello Flower!

I don't collect cat costumes or Pez dispensers. I don't collect doilies or door knobs and I certainly don't collect friends but there are two things that I do collect: books and knitting supplies. The knitting supplies consist of more yarn than I will use in 5 years of 24/7 knitting and needles in every size and every color in every size. Hey! Mock not. If I'm knitting a gray sweater I don't think that it's unreasonable to want bronze (thank you Susan Bates) needles to knit it on.

Anyway. The books?

I do not keep every book that makes it's way into my house. If I start it and don't like it, out it goes. Most times even if I loved it, it leaves. I keep a few much loved books, books that I want to pass onto a friend, books to give a niece or nephew when they reach the right age and any and all knitting books that I come in contact with. But. Those count as reference, right? We can take those out of the equation. And... I don't need to dust more and since love won't dust I have to have a might strong need to keep a book for longer than it takes to read it So bottom line you will not find rooms and rooms of books in my house.

At the starting point for Howards End Is On The Landing, British author Susan Hill is searching for a specific book in her house full of books. During her search she finds hundreds of books that she has purchased over the years that she hasn't yet read, books she's read and forgotten and the books that have touched her the most. She decides that for the next year she will forgo any new book purchases and instead re-read the best loved books she has. She is going to make a list. This list will be the 40 books she could survive on if she had to. Jealous? Me too. Her seemingly bottomless pit of coziness farmhouse is something to envy as well.

As Hill reads and offers up critical judgments On The Landing (Love the cover by the way) also becomes an autobiographical ramble. Hill's successful career as a writer and playwright has brought people like Auden, T.S. Eliot, Penelope Fitzgerald, Bruce Chatwin and Ian Fleming into her life. She shares stories of her famous acquaintances with as much down to Earth joy as she shares anecdotes about her childhood readings and musings on her student lodgings with mystery reading nuns. Most genres and fads come under her view and it can be quite amusing. There is no science here. This is not a doctorate on what makes a good book. Hill chattily shares a lifetime of firm ideas and taste about what she loves to read and why. She offers none to gentle persuasion about what you could be reading, but this is her list and the arbitrariness of it is what appeals to a reader the most.

Hill's opinions are fierce and fascinating. She unashamedly cannot abide Australian and Canadian writers. She finds Jane Austen's "porcelain veneer" boring. This is not, however a Negative Nellie rant on awful books and what is wrong with publishing today. On The Landing is a nonstop reader's love letter to reading. It is a celebratory re-examining of the events and people who have influenced Hill's book choices. There are many titles and authors that she is a passionate advocate for that are now on my list: Elizabeth Jane Howard, Mayor's The Rector's Wife, Wain's The Smaller Sky, etc. So while Hill is downsizing her library she is helping me create a shopping list.


P.S. Howards End Is On The Landing is not currently published in the U.S. Maybe it will be soon? I hope so because I don't think I'm going to share my copy.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Why Did I Ever Leave Ohio?

Hello Flower!

How do you pick your next book? You have a pile of To-Be-Reads staring you in the face, you've just finished Wonderful Book, what do you do? Are you wondering what I do? Are you afraid that I use some indiscernible, scientific technique involving calipers, Excel and a fresh, happy puppy? Fear not! I use the Natural Section process my friend. I spread out the To-Be-Read pile, grab the other to be reads that are randomly floating around the house and select. If there is a book waiting by an author I love that's next. If not? The prettiest cover wins of course.

 This cover won:

Isn't it lovely? It's quite simple. There are only 3 neutral colors with an ironwork feeling boarder and interesting typeface. It won over flowers, beautiful views, face to three quarter faces, angels, a kitten and what I think is a robot in a Victorian visiting frock. Will the novel live up to it's cover?

The Kingdom of Ohio is a historical, time travel love story. On the reality side it's 1901 Peter Force has come to NYC and is working on the subway tunnels. Some of the powerful of the day Thomas Edison, J.P. Morgan and Nicola Tesla make special guest star appearances in the book. The world seems to be on the cusp of all things are possible with technology. On the once upon a time side long lost Princess and math genius Cheri-Ann Toledo has just arrived in Peter's NYC from seven years ago in Ohio. In Cheri-Ann's day to day Ohio was/is a kingdom ruled by a minor European Prince. Naturally there will be a romance. I am not giving anything away by saying that. Time Travel novels run on romance. There will also be mystery, suspense, interesting historical detail and questions, questions, questions.

The author, Matthew Flaming does a good job of keeping the reality and science fiction (Sorry. Despite the scientific proof offered up by the wondrous writings of Diane Gabaldon, Audrey Niffenegger, Jack Finney and H.G. Wells I don't believe that time travel exists) elements of the novel under control. He also keeps the charm and character likability levels high which is essential for a love story.

Did Kingdom live up to it's cover? I would say it did.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You've Got Mail

Hello Flower!

Have you seen this book yet? The Postmistress? Pretty cover and a sort of Girl Power title don't you think? The Postmistress, a female, will be someone everyone in the town will have to deal with at some time, she will have authority over all things mail or will it turn out to be male? Hmmm... We shall see my floral chum.

The time is 1940-41 and the newly appointed Postmistress of Franklin, Cape Cod is 40 year old spinster Iris James. Iris sees herself as the very ethical bastion of order in a chaotic and disturbing world. Iris is not the only newcomer to this insulated and isolated town. There is also Emma Trask. An orphan, Emma is clinging to the hope that her marriage to Dr William Trask will bring her the family and sense of place and home that she has yearned for all her life.

Like most of the citizens in Franklin, Iris and Emma listen to the daily reports of Frankie Bard "somewhere in Europe" reporting on the war. A privileged child, the war is Frankie's schooling. She is living on adrenaline. Frankie's horrific reports seem to polarize the town. Just as it was all across the U.S. at that time, Franklin is divided into the people who are sure we will never enter the war and the people who expect U-boats to lining the beach any second. It is after one of Frankie's reports, this time about about an orphaned child, that Will Trask decides he must volunteer and he goes to London to join up.

As attractive as the characters are they are not the most original part of the novel. The characters are likeable, clearly drawn and viewed with out sentiment, but they are hardly new. Ultimately however that doesn't matter. What carries the day here is storytelling. The author, Sarah Blake, has done a wonderful job with the plot of Postmistress. It's a perfect balance of tantalizing soap opera and hard edge subtleties. There are secrets, confessions, moral choices, chance meetings and the minutia of everyday life set against the backdrop of a war a world away and a war outside the window. This novel is also about information; who has it, how they desimate it, who believes it and are we ever justified in not sharing it.

I had read Blake's earlier novel, Grange House and thought it was splendid. Grange is another historical novel this time set in Maine in the late 1800's. It's a coming of age story told with great attention to detail, atmosphere and suspence. Between  Grange House and The Postmisstress I think Blake is a novelist to watch and enjoy. And. Either of her novels would be excellent for book groups.


Monday, January 18, 2010

There Is No Place For Me Way Down Upon The Swanee River

Flower, y'all.

I finally read The Help. I have been passing it over in favor of other titles it since I got a reader's copy last year. It is the cover of the book that has kept it in the to be read pile. That cover is one of my favorites from last year but something held me back. It was the setting. I am really not the reader for Southern novels written in the last 30 years. The cutey-cute names annoy me, the colloquialisms annoy me and there is always, always, always some kind of wisdom spewing child, grandparent, hermit or dog ready to advise the hero/heroine or anyone else special enough to hear them. Actually I feel the same way about Irish novels of the last 1,000 years. Any other parts of the globe and I have an interest but those two areas? If I see that a book is set in the Southern U.S. or Ireland I put the book down immediately (as if it were on fire)and look elsewhere.

And so? So I finally succumbed to all the praise and read Help. And? I enjoyed chunks of The Help and I loved the idea of the book. The backstairs tales of the servants would appeal to me in any era and almost any setting. That's a good thing as there is sure to be many more novels with the same starting point since Help has done so well. That's okay. There will be a few good books and many craptastic books, but that's as it is at any time for any genre.

Help had all my dislikes for novels set in the South. I didn't heart this book but I liked it enough that I will be interested in the author, Kathryn Stockett's next book even if it is set in the South.


P. S. I am in the minority (by a lot) when it comes to not loving The Help. If you are thinking of buying a copy (and according to many other people who have read it you should) remember to get it at your fav, independent bookstore.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Kettle of Fish


There are a few cover images that I am a sucker for. One of them is a kettle. Not a Ma or Pa Kettle but a boil the water kettle. I will always, always examine a book with a kettle on the cover. There was always a kettle on my Mother's stove and I love the shape of them. I guess that's the appeal.  Plus I drink a lot of tea too if that counts.

Hence my chum, my picking up Madame Proust and the Kosher Kitchen by author Kate Taylor. Once again the power of the kettle (thank you mighty kettle) didn't let me down. This is also a first novel which is another favorite catagory for me. Madame Proust is a marvelous, thoughtful novel. This is the story of 3 women, 3 different time periods and the power of love and memory.

The Madame Proust of the title is the real Madame Proust. Marie, in Paris from Montreal, is working on a life of Proust but when she arrives at the Bibliotèque Nationale the files containing the uncatalogued diaries of Madame are all she's allowed to see. They are described disdainfully by the head librarian as "the natterings of a housewife". Marie begins the translation and is immediately absorbed in Jean Proust's writings. Jean's worries about her frail son and the management of her household are interesting but it is her writings on the headlines of the day and experiences as a Jewish woman in a Catholic family that bewitch Marie.

Interwoven into Madame's story are Marie's and Sophie's. Marie is burying herself in work in response to a bad love affair with Sophie's son, Max. Sophie is the child of French Jews who died in the Holocaust. She was sent to Canada as a child and adopted. Despite the love of her adoptive family, Sophie is unable to stop worrying and as adult is unable bond with her husband and son.

What binds the experiences of these woman into a novel and not a series of short stories is superior writting. Their need to protect what they love and yet not be able to get close to what they love is moving. The marriage of all the histories and the characters makes this a very successful first novel. That and how very readable it is. Taylor is able to fade in and out of these 3 lives as easily as clouds cover and uncover sunlight.


P.S. Confession time. The edition of Madame that I picked up is the one with the kettle, but the current edition is kettle-less and much less attractive, but pick it up anyway, ok?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Truly Remarkable

Hello Friend Flower!  

How do you feel about Tracy Chevalier? I well remember the great sales and customer love for Girl With the Pearl Earring. I thought it was terrific too. Between that book and Girl In Hyacinth Blue overnight it seemed there as a new sub-genre in fiction with a clamoring audience: Novels About Artists And/Or Models And/Or Vermeer.

Chevalier's subsequent novels have all been historical fiction and in some way have centered on the arts. Her latest book, Remarkable Creatures bucks that trend a bit. Remarkable Creatures is historical fiction but it retells the lives of fossil hunters and Darwin predecessors Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Anning. These women were two of the most successful fossil finders ever and as a result were directly responsible for the successful careers of many male

Elizabeth, the older of the two women by 20 years, was marshaled down to Lyme Regis from London by a married brother eager to find a cheaper way to support a spinster sister. She was 25 at the time. Mary grew up in Lyme. Her father was an unsuccessful cabinet maker who was once declined work by Jane Austen who wanted a lower estimate for mending a chest. Mary's skill at finding the strange rocks, "the curies" established her as the family bread winner and made her famous. The children's tongue twister "She sells seashells down by the seashore" was inspired by her. The two were tolerated by the scientists of the day but not allowed membership to any of the scientific societies of the day.

The primary backdrop to Elizabeth and Mary's findings are the religious reactions to the woman's findings. As often happens Mary, Elizabeth and the scientists of the day unearthing and studying the newly termed Dinosaurs were disordering God's work and plan for nature. There were plenty of clergymen and church goers of the day to nay say the science of the fossil discoveries. Not to worry, whatever was found it was all a part of God's plan. Life on Earth predating Adam and Eve? Couldn't be.

The lives of these two women were extraordinary and Chevalier does them justice. Their struggles, successes and their challenging friendship are spellbinding fodder for Chevalier's gifts. Chevalier puts them squarely in their time period and their place in scientific history with fascinating detail and compassion. There are times when secondary characters seem to be introduced only to expose more ways that the 1800's kept women down but that is my one very minor criticism. That aside Remarkable Creatures is right up there with Girl With A Pearl Earring. Meaning that it is a well researched, well written, great for book groups, satsifying novel. Good job Ms Chevalier!

So Happy.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Flavia Flav

When I first came across the book The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie the title reminded me of a fav movie, Mildred Pierce. In it Joan Crawford works her way out of marriages and poverty in order to give her daughter all that she never had. When one of the characters wants to cut Joan down to size he tells her, "You smell of pie." Seeing this movie for the first time as child and now many times as an adult my reaction remains the same--whats wrong with that? So how could a book with this wacky title not intrigue me?

My affair with Sweetness may have started as misplaced Mildred Pierce fascination but it quickly became full on love.  You loved it too Flower and now others must read it. This is a mystery novel that will completely capture you. That's funny because when you look at it critically it doesn't sound like much, but it has that old star quality. It has literary charisma. The detective is unique and seductive and the plot has enough Agatha Christie and quirkiness to delight readers of any genres.

Sweetness has all the classic mystery novel trappings: small English village, closets storing secrets, hidden rooms, dying utterances, tested loyalties and the single minded detective who carries the day. Like all mysteries it's the detective that makes the book work. In Sweetness the detective is Flavia de Luce an 11 year old chemistry fiend, youngest of 3 sisters living on a large, somewhat dilapidated estate with their grieving Father in the 1950's England. It's Flavia who finds the body, "I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life." Flavia the awesome then divides her time between solving the crime and working on poison lipstick to inflict on her sister.

I have established my adoration for Sweetness but there is one oddity here. Sweetness is more a young adult novel than an adult one. Generally teen books published as adult books annoy the #$*&@ out of me like, say The Secret Life of Bees. Obviously I got over that bugaboo and this was not the case here. However my 14 year old niece loved Sweetness as much as we did. The packaging of this novel feeds into the Young adult novel feel. It's an odd sized, smaller than average hardcover. There's no dust jacket and a definite classic Nancy Drew feel.

Read it. You'll be entranced just like we were and then you'll be happy to learn that the sequel comes out in March 2010! Hooray!


Monday, January 4, 2010

A Christmas Miracle No Matter What Anyone Says!

Hello Flower!

I had my own personal faux Christmas Miracle over the holidays and I couldn't be happier about it. I thought it was  real Christmas Miracle at the time but I have since found out that it wasn't. I'm not feeling sad or cheated though. I feel great about it. It still has all the glow of delight and wonderment about it for me.

It all started on a Wenesday. I was flipping around the channels---and, by the way my friend, isn't it fabulous that this miracle/non-miracle involves TV? The icing on the holy cake!---and I happened tostop on Bravo. It was that Actor's Studio show. This not a show I have watched often, but I have seen it enough to know the premise and who the host is. And therein begins the Miracle.

The host is James Lipton. Everytime I have seen Mr. Lipton he has been sitting down. Sitting down behind an oddly large (in my opinion) table discussing acting and celebrity stuff with anyone from a genuine acting legend to Kate Hudson. As far as moving parts I have only ever seen his lips move and eye lids blink. I have never seen any other part of his body in motion. I have always thought that Mr. Lipton was somehow handicapped. That he had some problem with his legs or spine or arms or something.

So. Imagine my joy, my thrill, my wordless ecstacy when I happened on Bravo and saw Mr. Lipton standing! I was so very happy for him. It did not occur to me that I have been wrong about him. No, not at all. I figured that he had gone through some kind of operation or something and that now he was cured! I could not have been happier for him and his family. I was a glow with bountiful love for all. It's true, imagine that if you will.

The next few days were a blur of Christmas preperations. I was making beds, cleaning, cooking, shopping and jacking up my heat for thin blooded relatives. But. I was also feeling an unsirpassed delight everytime I thought about Mr. Lipton. He was no longer the prisoner of a disabled body. He would have a golden holiday of dreams fulfilled.

When brother H arrived and we were spending time flipping channels because we both love TV and it's a family tradition, we happened on Mr. Lipton. I immediately told H about The Christmas Miracle. Isn't it wonderful I said. Imagine how over the moon he and his family must be. Aren't you so very, very happy for them? It's been filling me with good fellowship ever since I saw it.

Big Silence.

Then H disabused me of my stupid misconception in a most demeaning manner. I was shocked. Not by the demeaning-ness (it's another family tradition) but that I could have been so wrong. I never saw it coming.

So, what now? Well I'll tell you. In Happy World where I get to decide what's what I still believe in the miracle. Is a miracle any less real because it didn't really happen? Seemingly not to the religions of the world and their followers. I think I'm going to go with that too.