Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Sunday Salon: June 26, 2016


Good morning, friends. We're in the middle of a beautiful summer weekend... it just doesn't get much better! We spent much of yesterday out on the lake and plan to do the same today.

We have a four-legged houseguest for the rest of the month. Remember Angus the greyhound? We're "grey-b-sitting" him again while his family is away on vacation. Zelda seems happy to have company, at least most of the time, and now that he's stopped whimpering all night, I'm enjoying the two-dog life. My husband says "don't even think about it!"

It's a dog's life!
Zelda (left) and Angus


Finished this week//


This book features an unreliable narrator, unlikable characters with questionable moral values, and a gripping, twisted story that drew me in right away. I'll be posting a book brief soon. Koch has a new novel coming in September.


Current listening//


Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo
Ron McLarty's narration is so good that I've stopped reading and am exclusively listening. But this book is long... over 24 hours! I'm approaching the half-way mark, and am in no hurry for it to end. It's my favorite audiobook so far this year.


Up next//
I'll sample a few books tonight or tomorrow and then decide. Here are a few titles up for consideration. Have you read any of them?

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud


The Children Act by Ian McEwan


On the blog//

Book Brief: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Top Ten Tuesday: Midpoint Favorites 2016

The week ahead//
 Will revolve around preparations for our annual 4th of July celebration. My brother and his family will be visiting, other friends are coming up from Philadelphia for a few days. Menus must be planned, food prepared, and so much gardening and outdoor 'sprucing up'... I need to come up with a master schedule for the week!

How was your week? What have you been reading?


This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading? hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Book Brief: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell


Cranford
by Elizabeth Gaskell
originally published in installments, 1851-1853
Penuin Classics, 2005
257 pages

audio edition:
narrated by Prunella Scales
Audible Studios, 2007
6 hours and 45 minutes

Goodreads summary:
A portrait of the residents of an English country town in the mid nineteenth century, Cranford relates the adventures of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle-aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances. Through a series of vignettes, Elizabeth Gaskell portrays a community governed by old-fashioned habits and dominated by friendships between women. Her wry account of rural life is undercut, however, by tragedy in its depiction of such troubling events as Matty's bankruptcy, the violent death of Captain Brown or the unwitting cruelty of Peter Jenkyns. Written with acute observation, Cranford is by turns affectionate, moving and darkly satirical.

My Three Sentence Review:
Gentle, genteel, and oh so charming! I enjoyed my time in this small English village. Reading Mrs. Gaskell is always a pleasure.

A note on the audio production:
I chose a read/listen combination after my twitter conversation with Thomas. He praised Prunella Scales narration, but I wasn't familiar with her work. I now agree she is wonderful, but Juliet Stevenson remains my favorite female voice for British classics.

Now I must watch BBC series!


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Midpoint Favorites 2016


It's hard to believe 2016 is half over! The end of June is a good time to pause and reflect on how the year's reading is shaping up, and The Broke and the Bookish is here to help. This week's Top Ten Tuesday asks about our favorite 2016 releases, but I'm adjusting that slightly to my favorite books read in 2016. Each category is listen in the order read.

FICTION

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
I was so angry over the non-ending of this chunkster, but that feeling has faded. Now I only think about the excellent writing, gripping story, and memorable characters...and how it could have been 300 pages shorter.


Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen
A great story! I think it's Quindlen's best novel in 20 years.


The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
Maybe it doesn't live up to all the hype, but still a solid, entertaining summer read.


Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
Hands down my favorite novel of the year. Why have I waited so long to read Graham Swift?


The Children by Ann Leary
Maybe not quite a good as The Good House, but it still earns a spot on my list of favorites.



NONFICTION


A tough read, but so important.


When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My favorite nonfiction this year. Keep the tissues handy.


I was a rabid Mets fan back in the day... no apologies ;-)



AUDIOBOOKS

by Julia Claiborne Johnson, narrated by Tavia Gilbert
A good story made great by an outstanding narration.


by Richard Russo, narrated by Ron McLarty
My current listen. Russo is a favorite author and Ron McLarty is Sully... I'm loving this one!


Have you made a list of favorites?
More Top Ten Tuesday posts can be found here.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Sunday Salon: Father's Day Edition


Good morning and Happy Father's Day! There's time for a quick post before the twins serve a special breakfast for my husband. We'll celebrate with my father later today. He has requested lasagna and I'll make it... Who cares if the temperature tops 90?! Yesterday we took a day trip to visit my FIL. He's up from Florida and spending time with my SIL. The above photo was taken in her garden. Views from the "hill" are stunning. Vermont's Green Mountains are in the background, and to the right (not shown) is Mount Greylock in Massachusetts.

Now on to the books...

Current reading//



Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo
At the 25% mark, I'm loving this book! Russo is a master storyteller and has long been one of my favorite authors. In an effort to finish before book club on Friday, I've added in the audio, which is also outstanding. Ron McLarty nails Sully's voice...it's perfection!


Finished this week//


Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Reading Mrs. Gaskell is always a pleasure and I enjoyed my time in this small English village. I'll post a book brief soon.


Bailed on//


Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
I read 190 pages before deciding to move on. I don't usually wait that long to give up, but the writing is great and I loved the food, wine, and behind-the-scenes in a NYC restaurant sections. There was just a little too much "coming-of-age" for my taste ... especially since I have two twenty-something daughters living in Manhattan!


On the blog//

Review - Mothering Sunday  by Graham Swift
Tuesday Intro: Nobody's Fool  by Richard Russo
Circling the Sun, West With the Night, and my book club
Book Brief: The Children  by Ann Leary


In the kitchen//

I discovered the best turkey burger recipe ever! We had them for a second time last night... Grilled Pesto Turkey Burgers from The Lemon Bowl. Sun-dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese are mixed into the turkey. Top it with a slice of mozzarella, then add the arugula and pesto - YUM!



The week ahead//
... will not be as crazy as the one that just ended. Since my calendar is not overly crowded, I may have time to finish Nobody's Fool  by Friday. Fingers crossed...

How was your week? What are you reading today?


This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading? hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift


Mothering Sunday
by Graham Swift
Alfred A. Knopf, 2016
177 pages
source: borrowed from the library

Summary (from Goodreads):
Twenty-two year old Jane Fairchild, orphaned at birth, has worked as a maid at one English country estate since she was sixteen. And for almost all of those years she has been the secret lover to Paul Sheringham, the scion of the estate next door. On an unseasonably warm March afternoon, Jane and Paul will make love for the last time--though not, as Jane believes, because Paul is about to be married--and the events of the day will alter Jane's life forever. As the narrative moves back and forth from 1924 to the end of the century, what we know and understand about Jane--about the way she loves, thinks, feels, sees, remembers--deepens with every beautifully wrought moment. Her story is one of profound self-discovery and through her, Graham Swift has created an emotionally soaring and deeply affecting work of fiction.

My thoughts: 

Mothering Sunday  was a near perfect reading experience. I started it on a Friday evening while sipping a glass of wine by the lake. Within a few pages, the narrative cast a spell and it held me captive until I turned the final page Saturday morning.

Swift's writing is simply beautiful - every word carefully chosen, every sentence perfectly crafted - and it left me in awe of his talent.

The novel's action takes place on a single day (Mothering Sunday, May 1924), though the story actually weaves in and out of time over the course of Jane Fairchild's life... in a manner reminiscent of Mrs. Dalloway. I was also reminded of Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach and, though I can't explain precisely why, Julian Barne's The Sense of An Ending. Both of those were favorites the year I read them. The setting, time period, and upstairs/downstairs interactions were an added bonus for this Downton Abbey fan.

My one complaint about Mothering Sunday? It was too short. I would have relished another hundred pages of Jane.

It's always a thrill to discover a new author, but why did it take me so long to get around to Graham Swift? I plan to read his entire backlist now. Hopefully those previous novels are as good as Mothering Sunday.

A few quotes:

Jane thrills to words of all kinds, calling herself a gatherer... They’re never enough, as the book makes clear, but they’re the only tools we’ve got. Life is “about finding a language,” however ineffectual it may be...

It was called "relaxation," she thought, a word that did not commonly enter a maid's vocabulary. She had many words, by now, that did not enter a maid's vocabulary. Even the word "vocabulary."

...and the point of libraries, she sometimes though, was not the books themselves but that they preserved this hallowed atmosphere of not-to-be-disturbed male sanctuary.

The gathering evening, the apricot light, the gauzy green-gold world, was impossibly beautiful.

She was... put into service.... it made you an occupational observer of life, it put you on the outside looking in. Since those who served served, and those who were being served - lived. Though sometimes, to be honest, it felt at the time entirely the other way round. It was the servants who lived, and a hard life they had of it, and the ones who were served who seemed not to know exactly what to do with their lives. Proper lost souls, in fact...

My rating:

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Tuesday Intro: Nobody's Fool


WEDNESDAY
Upper Main Street in the village of North Bath, just above the town's two-block-long business district, was quietly residential for three more blocks, then became even more quietly rural along old Route 27A, a serpentine two-lane blacktop that snaked its way through the Adirondacks of northern New York, with their tiny down-at-the-heels resort towns, all the way to Montreal and prosperity. The houses that bordered Upper Main Street, as the locals referred to it - although Main, from its "lower" end by the IGA and Tastee Freeze through its upper end at the Sans Souci, was less than a quarter mile - were mostly dinosaurs, big, aging, clapboard Victorians and sprawling Greek Revivals that would have been worth some money if they were across the border in Vermont and if they had not been built as, or converted into two- and occasional three-family dwellings and rented out, over several decades, as slowly deteriorating flats.
Nobody's Fool
by Richard Russo

It's not the entire first paragraph, but those two sentences are enough to show Richard Russo hard at work setting a scene... and I already recognize the tiny upstate New York village. My book club will discuss Nobody's Fool  a week from Friday and, even though I'm still reading both Sweetbitter and Cranford, it's time to get started.

Empire Falls (a favorite in 2001) was my introduction to Russo and I've been reading him ever since. Somehow I never got around to this 1993 novel, but can't imagine not loving it. If time becomes an issue, there's always the movie. You can't go wrong with Paul Newman, right?

Here's the Goodreads summary:
Richard Russo's slyly funny and moving novel follows the unexpected operation of grace in a deadbeat town in upstate New York—and in the life of one of its unluckiest citizens, Sully, who has been doing the wrong thing triumphantly for fifty years. 
Divorced from his own wife and carrying on halfheartedly with another man's, saddled with a bum knee and friends who make enemies redundant, Sully now has one new problem to cope with: a long-estranged son who is in imminent danger of following in his father's footsteps. With its sly and uproarious humor and a heart that embraces humanity's follies as well as its triumphs, Nobody's Fool is storytelling at its most generous.
Would you keep reading?


Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Circling the Sun, West With the Night, and my book club


I was disappointed when my book club selected Circling the Sun by Paula McLain for our May discussion. I listened to McLain's earlier novel, The Paris Wifein 2011 and thought it was a good book, but not a great one. Still, I resolved to give her latest a try. After a winter in Florida, I missed my book club and wasn't about to go to the meeting without having read the book.

Basically, the novel is a fictionalized biography of Beryl Markham, who is perhaps best known as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. She was also an accomplished horse trainer and lived in Africa for most of her life.

I opted for a read/listen combination, borrowing the book from the library and using an audible credit to download the audiobook narrated by Katharine McEwan. McEwan's narration is excellent and easily pulled me into the story. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Markham's childhood in Africa, career as a horse trainer, friendship with Karen Blixen (Out of Africa author), and her many affairs.

Yet there was a good deal of frustration, too. Beryl Markham was a real person, so which parts were fact and which were products of the author's imagination? This is a problem I have with all fictionalized biographies... and why they usually end up sending me in search of the real thing.


In this case, the real thing is West With the Night by Beryl Markham. Again, I borrowed the book from the library and downloaded the audio version narrated by the late Anna Fields. It was a pleasure to hear Field's voice again, but I had a much harder time getting into this one.

Markham doesn't let the reader get as close as the fictional Beryl in Circling the Sun does. Her feelings seem to be wholly absent from the book. She obviously loves Africa and her work (horses and flying), but there is very little here about relationships. Her emotional self and personal life remain an enigma. When Denys Hatton-Finch dies in a plane crash, there is no hint of anything more than a working relationship between the two them. (Perhaps that was a fictional aspect of Circling the Sun?) Markham's mother and Karen Blixen are not even mentioned.

West With the Night does provide wonderful descriptions of Africa, as well as stories of Markham's work as a horse trainer and her experiences as a pilot. That is more than enough to make this an interesting memoir.

A couple of quotes:
"Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer's paradise, a hunter's Valhalla, an escapist's Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations."  
"You can live a lifetime and, at the end of it, know more about other people than you know about yourself. You learn to watch other people, but you never watch yourself because you strive against loneliness. If you read a book, or shuffle a deck of cards, or care for a dog, you are avoiding yourself. The abhorrence of loneliness is as natural as wanting to live at all. If it were otherwise, men would never have bothered to make an alphabet, nor to have fashioned words out of what were only animal sounds, nor to have crossed continents -- each man to see what the other looked like."

My final thoughts:

I enjoyed the Circling the Sun and rated it 4 stars. West With the Night  was a very good memoir, but not what I was expecting. For that reason, I ended up giving it 3 stars.

I'm certain I would have liked West With the Night  more if I'd read it before the novel. That way, the novel could have filled in the blanks left by the memoir. Instead, the memoir failed to provide the answers I sought. However, since Markham's personal account is so vague, I now understand the motivation for writing a novel.

Book club meeting:

Six of us met for coffee on a Friday morning, and five had read the entire book. I thought this would have been a very popular selection but, surprisingly, I enjoyed it more than most of the others. I was also the only one compelled to seek out the memoir.

We spent some time bemoaning the current popularity of fictionalized biographies, discussing our frustrations with that type of novel, and wondering how much longer the trend will continue. We also shared our experiences with the author's previous book (not a book club selection, but one most of us had read) and compared it to Circling the Sun.

We spent a great deal of time talking about Markham herself and how she was a woman ahead of her time. Her life was certainly remarkable, but not especially shocking by today's standards. We also discussed life in Africa, both during Markham's time and today, and even took a little detour into the world of "Glamping" and safaris.

Next month we will discuss Nobody's Fool  by Richard Russo.

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