Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tuesday Intro: The Summer Without Men

Sometime after he said the word pause, I went mad and landed in the hospital. He did not say I don't ever want to see you again or It's over, but after thirty years of marriage pause was enough to turn me into a lunatic whose thoughts burst, ricocheted, and careened into one another like popcorn kernels in a microwave bag. I made this sorry observation as I lay on my bed in the South Unit, so heavy with Haldol I hated to move. The nasty rhythmical voices had grown softer, but they hadn't disappeared, and when I closed my eyes I saw cartoon characters racing across pink hills and disappearing into blue forests. In the end, Dr. P. diagnosed me with Brief Psychotic Disorder, also known as Brief Reactive Psychosis, which means that you are genuinely crazy but not for long. If it goes on for more than one month, you need another label. Apparently, there's often a trigger or, in psychiatric parlance, "a stressor," for this particular form of derangement. In my case, it was Boris or, rather, that Boris was having his pause. They kept me locked up for a week and a half, and then they let me go. I was an outpatient for a while before I found Dr. S., with her low musical voice, restrained smile, and good ear for poetry. She propped me up - still props me up, in fact.
The Summer Without Men
by Siri Hustvedt

On Sunday evening, I planned to sample a few pages of several books on my kindle before deciding what to read next. I began with The Summer Without Men, and those few pages somehow turned into forty.

Hustvedt's writing style was immediately engaging and I felt drawn to the main character (we are close in age, although far apart in circumstances). I have high hopes for the women with who will become Mia's summer companions, too.

Summary (from goodread)s:
Mia Fredrickson, the wry, vituperative, tragicomic poet narrator of The Summer Without Men, has been forced to reexamine her own life. One day, out of the blue, after thirty years of marriage, Mia’s husband, a renowned neuroscientist, asks her for a “pause.” This abrupt request sends her reeling and lands her in a psychiatric ward. The June following Mia’s release from the hospital, she returns to the prairie town of her childhood, where her mother lives in an old people’s home. Alone in a rented house, she rages and fumes and bemoans her sorry fate. Slowly, however, she is drawn into the lives of those around her—her mother and her close friends,“the Five Swans,” and her young neighbor with two small children and a loud angry husband—and the adolescent girls in her poetry workshop whose scheming and petty cruelty carry a threat all their own. 
From the internationally bestselling author of What I Loved comes a provocative, witty, and revelatory novel about women and girls, love and marriage, and the age-old question of sameness and difference between the sexes.
Have you read Siri Hustvedt? I have a feeling I'll be reading much more of her work.

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.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Boys in the Boat by David James Brown

The Boys in the Boat 
by David James Brown
narrated by Edward Herrmann
Penguin Audio, 2013
14 hours and 25 minutes
source: library

Publisher's summary:
Daniel James Brown's robust book tells the story of the University of Washington's 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.

The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together - a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.

Drawing on the boys' own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times - the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant.

My thoughts:

Who would guess a book about crew could be so exciting?  Before beginning, despite living on a lake where local college crew trains and the coxswain's voice is frequently heard drifting across the water, I knew next to nothing about rowing. In addition, I wasn't especially interested in learning more. So when I received an audio review copy, I promptly donated it to the library. Glowing reviews began to appear soon afterwards and lingering suspicions that I'd made a mistake grew.

When my book club decided to read The Boys in the Boat, I borrowed my previously donated copy, began to listen, and found myself completely enthralled by the end of the prologue. As the blurb notes, one of the rowers, Joe Rantz, is at the emotional heart of this story, but the book includes so much more. The reader/listener gets to know the coaches and the other men in the boat. We witness their hard work, dedication, determination, and, most importantly, learn what it means to function as a team.

I also enjoyed the book's strong feeling of time and place - from the economic hardships of the 1930's and pre-war tensions, to the college crew scene with its historic traditions and rivalries. The descriptions of the actual races, whether on New York's Hudson River or for Olympic gold in Berlin, are among the most exciting passages I've experienced on audio. At times, it felt like I could scarcely breathe! I must mention my delight at the passing mention of Louis Zamproini (from Unbroken), too.

This book would be a great fit for fans of crew or the Olympics, of course, but I think it has a much broader appeal and would encourage anyone interested in adding more nonfiction to their reading mix to give The Boys in the Boat a try!

A note on the audio production:
Edward Herrmann has an excellent voice for nonfiction. I found his performance here, as in Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand, to be perfectly paced, engaging, and exciting, without being overly dramatic.

As always with audio nonfiction, be sure to take a look at the print edition, too. You won't want to miss the photographs.

My rating:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday Intro: Defending Jacob

1 | In the Grand Jury 
Mr. Logiudice:  State your name, please.
Witness:  Andrew Barber
Mr. Logiudice:  What do you do for work, Mr. Barber?
Witness:  I was an assistant district attorney in this county for 22 years.
Mr. Logiudice:  "Was." What do you do for work now?
Witness:  I suppose you'd say I'm unemployed. 
In April 2008, Neal Logiudice finally subpoenaed me to appear before the grand jury. By then it was too late. Too late for his case, certainly, but also too late for Logiudice. His reputation was already damaged beyond repair, and his career along with it. A prosecutor can limp along with a damaged reputation for a while, but his colleagues will watch him like wolves and eventually he will be forced out, for the good of the pack. I have seen it many times: an ADA is irreplaceable one day, forgotten the next.
Defending Jacob
by William Landay

I haven't read a good mystery in ages, but already suspect this will be a real page-turner. I also can't remember the last time my book club chose to read one (surely we must have once or twice), but Defending Jacob is our next selection. I'm hopeful we'll find enough to discuss.

Does the intro make you want to keep reading? If you've read this one already, do you think it will lead to a good book club discussion?

Summary from Goodreads:
Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student. 
Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive. 
Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis—a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spin out of control.

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, April 13, 2014

The Sunday Salon: Palm Sunday Edition

The scene//  8:00 AM... and home again! We left three week ago in the dead of winter and returned yesterday evening to find that spring is finally here. Sure we still have a few lingering snow banks, but the ice on the lake was breaking up and this morning it's entirely gone. I'm celebrating with a cup of hazelnut coffee.

Reading//  I finished The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman and The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon. Both were wonderful. Yesterday I started our next book club selection, Defending Jacob by William Landay.

Listening//  You guessed it - Middlemarch, still. I'm over 80% done and loving it... but it's one long book, folks.

Watching//  Foyle's War. I borrowed the first season from the library in Florida, watched a couple of episodes with my father-in-law, and am totally hooked. I'll continue watching via Netfllix.

In the kitchen//  After three weeks away, there isn't much of anything in the refrigerator or on the pantry shelves. A trip to Wegmans is my highest priority today!

Blogging//  I've missed you all and can't wait to get started again! With plenty of reviews to write and countless blogs to visit, it may take all week to catch up.

Planning//  A remodeling project in Florida. I spent much of the last week meeting with contractors, selecting cabinets, tiles, granite, etc.  One more trip in early May and we'll be ready to get started, but I'm a little nervous about not being on site while the work is done.

Loving//  Spring in Central New York. I opened the windows last evening for the first time since November.

Later today//  We'll have Palm Sunday dinner with my parents and siblings. I can't wait to see everyone!

It's finally time to change the blog header again. Happy Spring!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Sunday Salon: Still on Vacation

Good morning and Happy Sunday!

The scene//  Sunday, noonish. Drinking a tall glass of cold water and relaxing on the lanai after a long walk. I’m still in Florida and will bike to the library to publish this post later today.

Reading//  Not much, but it will be a higher priority this week. I started The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman last night and loved the opening chapters. It could be a real winner!

Listening//  I’m listening to Middlemarch on my walks, but only when I'm alone... and that didn't happen much last week. Still, I’ve past the 65% mark and am really enjoying this classic.

Watching//  In anticipation of yesterday’s rain (and without access to Netflix), I borrowed the Foyle’s War series from the library. It looks like we’ll have beautiful weather for the rest of the week, so I might not make much more progress. We’ll see…

I’m still watching basketball, too, but March Madness isn’t quite as exciting after your team has been eliminated.

Blogging//  The TBR Triple Dog Dare ends tomorrow and it looks  like I’m going to make it! That is, if you forget about the special one-day dispensation graciously granted last month. Thank you, James, for hosting this event again and for being so generous with exceptions ;-)

With limited internet access, I haven’t been able to read blogs or respond to your comments. I have read and appreciate all of your comments, and hope to spend a couple of hours at the library for some serious blog-hopping this week!

Planning//  A quiet afternoon of reading before my father-in-law comes over for dinner. I’m not quite sure of the menu yet, but a grill will definitely be involved!

What are you up to today?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

TSS: Warmth, at Last

What a difference a day makes. The view from my window Friday morning featured gray skies and a fresh inch or two of snow. We arrived in Florida around midnight and by Saturday morning I was ready for my first walk on the beach.

The scene//   8 AM, on the lanai, drinking coffee, and listening to the birds

Reading//  Middlemarch, but  without much progress this past week.

Listening//  Same as above ;-)

Watching//  March Madness.  Some of you will already know that my Syracuse Orangemen crashed, burned, and made their exit from the Big Dance last night. They also busted a lot f brackets in the process. For whatever reason, it seems this team checked out a few weeks ago. The only upside of this development is that I don’t need to but a new television for the condo today!

Wondering//  If Middlemarch is really appropriate beach reading…

Hoping//  This beautiful weather continues for our entire visit.

Looking forward to//  A bike ride to the Farmer’s Market and some peel & eat shrimp.

Blogging//  As we head into the final week of The TBR Triple Dog Dare, it looks like I’m going to make it... at least if you ignore that one special Sunday-afternoon dispensation ;-)

I'm sure how much internet access I’ll have this week, but I will catch up with all of you as soon as I can. Have a great week!

Friday, March 21, 2014

We Are Water by Wally Lamb

We Are Water
by Wally Lamb
Harper, 2013
576 pages
source: purchased

Publisher's summary:
We Are Water  is a disquieting and ultimately uplifting novel about a marriage, a family, and human resilience in the face of tragedy, from Wally Lamb, the New York Times bestselling author of The Hour I First Believed  and I Know This Much Is True.

After 27 years of marriage and three children, Anna Oh—wife, mother, outsider artist—has fallen in love with Viveca, the wealthy Manhattan art dealer who orchestrated her success. They plan to wed in the Oh family’s hometown of Three Rivers in Connecticut. But the wedding provokes some very mixed reactions and opens a Pandora’s Box of toxic secrets—dark and painful truths that have festered below the surface of the Ohs’ lives.

We Are Water is a layered portrait of marriage, family, and the inexorable need for understanding and connection, told in the alternating voices of the Ohs—nonconformist, Anna; her ex-husband, Orion, a psychologist; Ariane, the do-gooder daughter, and her twin, Andrew, the rebellious only son; and free-spirited Marissa, the youngest. It is also a portrait of modern America, exploring issues of class, changing social mores, the legacy of racial violence, and the nature of creativity and art.

With humor and compassion, Wally Lamb brilliantly captures the essence of human experience and the ways in which we search for love and meaning in our lives.

My thoughts:

Wally Lamb is one of my favorite authors. When he writes a novel, it's always a "must read". This time I purchased the kindle edition because we were going on vacation and I didn't feel like lugging around a nearly 600 page hardcover.

As it turned out, We Are Water lead me on a different kind of journey. It is populated by typical Lamb characters - very real, but flawed. As usual, I delighted in the mention of familiar landmarks - Claire's in New Haven, CT and Syracuse University. And, as always, I loved Lamb's storytelling.

Yet somehow, this novel didn't have quite the same impact as his earlier works. I shed no tears, nor did I laugh out loud. Maybe the dark underbelly of humanity played too prominent a role this time. I found the pedophilia and abuse to be repulsive... and felt like I needed a shower after spending time with those characters. {However, as I type, it occurs to me that the revulsion is actually a different sort of impact.}

Despite hints of redemption, this was all a bit too much for me - too many story lines, too much dysfunction, too many pages. I am quite certain another excellent Lamb novel was in there but, with so much to wade through, I never quite found it.

Don't get me wrong. We Are Water  is still a good book with marvelous storytelling and I'm glad to have read it. Even though it will not be a favorite, it made me want to reread The Hour I First Believed or I Know This Much is True.

I love Wally Lamb's style.

My rating:


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