Monday, December 28, 2009

Better Late Than Never...

The whole camera to computer thing boggles my all honesty, the camera boggles my mind. I never have it when I need it; when I do have it, I can't push the various buttons fast enough to get the picture I want. Point and shoot? I don't think so. Anyway, here are the boys wishing you a Merry Christmas!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Prime Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Prime Time is the first in the Charlotte McNally series by Hank Phillippi Ryan, a Boston investigative television reporter. Coincidentally, Charlotte is a 40-something investigative TV reporter for "Channel 3" in Boston; and in Charlotte’s character, Ryan has struck a perfect balance between a too-smart-for-her-own-good and too-ditsy-to-be-believable crime solving protagonist.

Product Description from Amazon
In the cutthroat world of television journalism, seasoned reporter Charlotte McNally knows that she'd better pull out all the stops or kiss her job goodbye. But it's her life that might be on the line when she learns that an innocent-looking e-mail offer resulted in murder, mayhem and a multimillion-dollar fraud ring.
All too soon her investigation leads her straight to Josh Gelston, who is a little too helpful and a lot too handsome. Charlie might have a nose for news, but men are a whole other matter. Now she has to decide whether she can trust Josh…before she ends up as the next lead story.

An opening that pulls you right nto Charlotte’s story:
Between the hot flashes, the hangover and all the spam on my computer, there’s no way I’ll get anything done before eight o’clock this morning. I came in early to get ahead, and already I’m behind.

Describing a co-worker:
Her real name is Margaret Isobel DeRosiers Green, but on the radio she’s Maysie Green, sports reporter extraordinaire. She can hold her own in any locker room, and amazingly for the news biz, doesn’t possess a backstabbing bone in her body. She doesn’t care if the glass is half-full or half-empty—she looks forward to the fun of drinking the rest of it, and then the fun of filling it up again.

The Universe IMs:
I put the mirror back on its pushpin holder, and give it a conspiratorial wink. “Wish me luck, magic mirror on the wall,” I implore. It falls and crashes to the floor, scattering jagged shards of glass all over the rug. Ha-ha. Breaking news. The universe now has instant messaging.

Prime Time was a great first in the series, and I’m looking forward to the next two installments: Face Time and Air Time.

Finished: September 6, 2009
Rating: 4 (Mystery Scale)
Pages: 288
Publisher: Mira
Copyright: 2009
Format: Kindle

Dune Road by Jane Green

Having read The Beach House by Jane Green last summer, I was eagerly looking forward to Dune Road. While it did have some interesting characters and plot lines (one of which could have been fleshed out a little more successfully), Dune Road didn’t live up to my expectations.

Publishers Weekly
In the latest inviting summer read from bestseller Green (The Beach House), divorced mom Kit Hargrove learns about family, love, and the price of secrets while rediscovering passion for life and her small Connecticut beach town. As the off-season begins, Kit is still recovering from the breakup of her marriage (to solicitous but work-obsessed Adam), working for famously reclusive author Robert McClore, and practicing yoga with her new friend Tracy. Upheaval soon arrives in the form of a mysterious new boyfriend and a long-lost sister, as well as a scandalous secret regarding Kit's much-desired employer. Green's newest has all the right elements for a sun-baked afternoon of reading: sandy locales, hints of sex and scandal, and lots of strong female characters. With three main plots, however, Green tries to pack in too much story, ultimately shortchanging her characters and her readers.

Edie on her colorful house (haven’t we all passed by one of these and wondered???):
“I’m Edie,” she said. “I live next door in the purple house.” Tory caught Buckley’s eye and suppressed a grin—they had been wondering who lived in the bright purple eyesore next door. “And before you ask, no, I won’t paint it. I love the color purple and you’ll get used to it.”

I agree with Publishers Weekly. Kit’s story was strong enough to stand on its own without distracting me by giving equal plot weight to what should have been background stories. But then, perhaps I’m just miffed that I totally missed an obvious twist which, when revealed, made me wonder, “Why?”

Finished on September 5, 2009
Rating: 3.5 (Fiction Scale)
Pages: 341
Publisher: Viking
Copyright: 2009
Format: Hardcover
Dedication: For Heidi With blessings and love

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Filling in the Gap

About a year ago, the company I work for closed its brick and mortar home office. Many of my co-workers were dispersed into little used corners of store locations. Because of the nature of the work I do, I ended up in a little used room in my home where I happily set up my office. The plus is the commute is easy--the only traffic back-up is the cat stretched out in her morning sunny spot which just happens to be between my "office" and the coffee pot in the kitchen. The downside is that there is no commute--no official separation between the work day computer time and personal computer time. Thus, the huge gaps in posting on Owl's Feathers and lack of consistency in posting about what I have read. So, in summary...

Over the past few months, I've read several good stories--Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani; The Diary by Eileen Goudge; The Wildwater Walking Club by Claire Cook; Water, Stone Heart by Will North; Summer House by Nancy Thayer; Driftwood Summer by Patti Callahan Henry. Several mysteries caught my reading attention: Bleeding Hearts by Susan Witting Albert; Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon by Nancy Atherton; A Spoonful of Poison by M. C. Beaton. There was even a Danielle Steele (One Day at a Time) thrown in for good measure. All of these were good and rated 3.5's or 4's on my subjective reading scales.

I also went on a Robyn Carr binge and read the last four of her Virgin River books: Whispering Rock, Second Chance Pass, Temptation Ridge, and Paradise Valley. All good romances with the requisite too-good-t0-be-true men, predictable predicaments, and the guaranteed from page one Happily Ever After endings.

There were a few standouts on which I hope to write individual posts in due time: The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister; Laura Rider's Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton; The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand; Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg.

So while I haven't been posting, I have been reading...and working. Now I'm thinking that a late afternoon walk around the block might just be the perfect commute substitute!

Friday, August 14, 2009

That Old Cape Magic

Much like memories of Cape Cod, Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic played with my mind as I travelled up and down Routes 6/6A and 28 with Jack Griffin. There’s something about the Cape that can do that. Are these the bright, cloudless days with hydrangeas a color of blue that can’t be described or the gray, misty days with everything hidden in rolling fog banks? Were the vacations there as happy and carefree as I remember them?

Book Description from Amazon
Griffin has been tooling around for nearly a year with his father’s ashes in the trunk, but his mother is very much alive and not shy about calling on his cell phone. She does so as he drives down to Cape Cod, where he and his wife, Joy, will celebrate the marriage of their daughter Laura’s best friend. For Griffin this is akin to driving into the past, since he took his childhood summer vacations here, his parents’ respite from the hated Midwest. And the Cape is where he and Joy honeymooned, in the course of which they drafted the Great Truro Accord, a plan for their lives together that’s now thirty years old and has largely come true. He’d left screenwriting and Los Angeles behind for the sort of New England college his snobby academic parents had always aspired to in vain; they’d moved into an old house full of character; and they’d started a family. Check, check and check.

But be careful what you pray for, especially if you manage to achieve it. By the end of this perfectly lovely weekend, the past has so thoroughly swamped the present that the future suddenly hangs in the balance. And when, a year later, a far more important wedding takes place, their beloved Laura’s, on the coast of Maine, Griffin’s chauffeuring two urns of ashes as he contends once more with Joy and her large, unruly family, and both he and she have brought dates along. How in the world could this have happened?

That Old Cape Magic is a novel of deep introspection and every family feeling imaginable, with a middle-aged man confronting his parents and their failed marriage, his own troubled one, his daughter’s new life and, finally, what it was he thought he wanted and what in fact he has. The storytelling is flawless throughout, moments of great comedy and even hilarity alternating with others of rueful understanding and heart-stopping sadness, and its ending is at once surprising, uplifting and unlike anything this Pulitzer Prize winner has ever written.

On happiness (real or perceived): …he’d tried but failed to keep his parents out. Right from the start (of the story, of his marriage), despite his best efforts, they’d managed to insinuate themselves. When Joy suggested they honeymoon on the Maine coast, Griffin convinced her that what they needed was a dose of the old Cape magic, that weakest of marital spells. In Truro they’d made plans for a life based on what they foolishly thought were their own terms, Joy articulating what she wanted, Griffin, tellingly, what he didn’t want (a marriage that even remotely resembled his partnes’, as if this negative were a nifty substitute for an unimagined positive). Even as he rejected their values, he’d allowed many of their bedrock assumptions—that happiness was a place you could visit but never own, for instance—to burrow deep.
Cape Cod vs. Coastal Maine: The rugged maine coastline was stunning, Griffin had to admit, the light so pure it almost hurt. He couldn’t help wondering what would have happened if his parents had fallen in love with this part of the world instead of the Cape. Certainly it would have been more affordable, but that begged an obvious question: would they really have wanted something they could afford? After all, much of the Cape’s allure was its shimmering elusiveness, the magical way it receded before them year after year, the stuff of dreams. Coastal Maine, by contrast, seemed not just real but battered by reality. Where Cape Cod somehow managed to vie the impression that July lasted all year, Maine reminded you, even in lush late spring, of its long, harsh winters, of snowdrifts that rotted baseboards and splintered latticework, of relentless winds that howled in the eaves and scoured the paint, leaving gutters rusted white with salt.

The perfect Christmas tree: Griffin came to understand that the perfect Christmas tree was a lot like the perfect house on the Cape, first because it didn’t exist in the real world, and second because all the imperfect trees fell into two categories. The first was the all-too-familiar Wouldn’t have It As a Gift, and the second applied to just one tree: Well, I Guess It’ll Have to Do.

Predictability: Late middle age, he [Griffin] was coming to understand, was a time of life when everything was predictable and yet somehow you failed to see any of it coming.
Being Plumb: …he became aware of an unfamiliar but extremely pleasurable feeling. How to describe it? Plumb. He was feeling plumb. Okay, may not completely, but no more than half bubble off. Plum some. As good as could be expected. He wondered if plumb might be another word for happy.

I struggled through parts of That Old Cape Magic I thought tedious. In retrospect, I realized that my reading of Griffin’s travels needed to be tedious while waiting patiently for him to sort everything out—the ties of parents, in-laws, friends, and career. In the end, it’s not the perfect Christmas tree, the perfect vacation destination, or perfection itself. It’s a "moment of grace" that comes unexpectly and demands that you sieze it.

Finished on August 14, 2009
Rating: 4/5 (Fiction Scale)
Pages: 261
Publisher: Knopf
Copyright: 2009
Format: Hardcover
Dedication: For Barbara, always


While reading That Old Cape Magic, I spent a day with the GrandDogs. Louie (while he has learned to be very quiet) does not yet differentiate between good things to chew on vs. bad things to chew on. As Groucho Marx said, "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

No, Really, Where Are We?

Local Knowledge by Liza Gyllenhaal had it all. A cover that sang out to me with its inviting blue bench on a weathered shingled porch; a back cover blurb offering up a novel about “three friends who are haunted by the tragic mistakes of their past—and who are heading into a future that may have no place for them;” and an opening paragraph that invited you into the story. By page 67, I had met the three friends, each character flatter than the other, and tried to place in my mind a setting that belied its opening description as a “beautiful part of the world.”

Knowing that I shouldn’t judge the characters on first impressions, I might have stuck with Local Knowledge; however, it was the setting that was upsetting. Many of us are tracking where our reading travels take us this year, and I never have been a reader who quibbles with every deviation from the geography of a place in a book. If I’m enjoying the journey, the liberties an author might take with what streets intersect or where a particular restaurant is never bother me. With Local Knowledge, however, I just couldn’t get my bearings. Local Knowledge emphasizes, well, local knowledge (a Paxton Mountain Road versus a Paxton Hill Road) but left me as a reader with no grounding in setting. Characters hail from Manhattan and are looking for a weekend house in the country. Western Connecticut? Western Massachusetts? North and east of New York City? I had finally decided on the last given the many references to “upstate” and the reference to the movie theater in Albany. Then I was knocked off these bearings with reference to one of the main characters (in his teenage years in the middle 80s) eschewing the obligatory “backward-facing Red Sox cap.” Well, there went CT and NY and there I was—reader in search of a setting.

I left my bookmark at page 67. Maybe when I’ve whittled down the TBR hills a bit I’ll grab a compass and revisit Maddie Alden and friends to see if I can regain my bearings and agree with all of the five-star ratings this book has received.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

The cover flap of Little Bee by Chris Cleave reads
We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again—the story starts there…

My husband does not drive; therefore, I am always happy when I have to drop him off where there’s bookstore and cup of coffee nearby. Such was my happiness on Saturday, February 21, and I had almost an hour to spend in Barnes & Noble. On my way in, a cover caught my eye: Bright, almost neon organge with two heads in silhouette, and the title in an old script type style. I picked it up, ordered my coffee, and started reading…and stopped just long enough to pay for the book, pick up my husband, and head home to finish the book that same day.

Page 1; we hear Little BeeMost days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming. Maybe I would visit with you for the weekend and then suddenly, because I am fickle like that, I would visit with the man from the corner shop instead—but you would not be sad because you would be eating a cinnamon bun, or drinking a cold Coca-Cola from the can, and you would never think of me again. We would be happy like lovers who met on holiday and forgot each other’s names.

A pound coin can go wherever it thinks it will be safest. It can cross deserts and oceans and leave the sound of gunfire and the bitter smell of burning thatch behind. When it feels warm and secure, it will turn around and smile at you, the way my big sister Nkiruka used to smile at the men in our village in the short summer after she was a girl but before she was really a woman, and certainly before the evening my mother took her to a quiet place for a serious talk.

Of course a pound coin can be serious too. It can disguise itself as power, or property, and there is nothing more serious when you are a girl who has neither. You must try to catch the pound, and trap it in your pocket, so that it cannot reach a safe country unless it takes you with it. But a pound has all the tricks of a sorcerer. When persued I have seen it shed its tail like a lizard so that you are left holding only pence. And when you finally go to seize it, the British pound can perform the greatest magic of all, and this is to transform itself into not one, but two, identical green American dollar bills. Your fingers will close on empty air, I am telling you.

How I would love to be a British pound. A pound is free to travel to safety, and we are free to watch it go. This is the human triumph. This is call, globalization. A girl like me gets stopped at immigration, but a pound can lep the turnstiles, and dodge the tackles of those big men with their uniform caps, and jump straight into a waiting airport taxi. Where to, sir? Western Civilization, my good man, and make it snappy.

Globalization, immigration detention centers, Nigerian oil deposits—political realities in the abstract made real in the story that unfolds with dignity through the voices of Little Bee, a teenager from a small Nigerian village, and Sarah O’Rourke, editor of a high style British women’s magazine.

Little Bee“Take it from me,” she says at the outset, “a scar does not form from dying. A scar means, I survived.”

Started & Finished on February 21, 2009
Rating: 5/5 (Fiction Scale)
Pages: 266
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Copyright: 2008
Format: Hardcover

Dedication: For Joseph

Epigraph: Britain is proud of its tradition of providing a safe haven for people fleeting [sic] persecution and conflict. –from Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship (UK Home Office, 2005)

April 20, 2009: Les has just posted a wonderful review of Little Bee!

June 20, 2010:  Kristen at BookNAround posted a less enthusiastic review here!

The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O'Neal

Several years ago I read a romance entitled In the Midnight Rain by Ruth Wind. It was for Wind a breakout “big book” after a series of Harlequin romances, and break out she did. Mention the title to anyone else who has read it, and In the Midnight Rain conjures up echoes of the blues and that hot, humid orchid greenhouse….mmmm…but I digress. Then I read and enjoyed many books written by Barbara Samuel (a/k/a Ruth Wind) including Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas, No Place Like Home, and The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue (a favorite). Now I have read and somewhat enjoyed The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O’Neal (a/k/a Barbara Samuel a/k/a Ruth Wind).
From Publishers WeeklyTwenty years ago, Elena Alvarez, the chef heroine of O'Neal's bland kitchen romance, was the sole survivor of a car accident that left her badly scarred and haunted by the sister and boyfriend she lost in the crash. Attempting to escape the specter of the accident and buoyed by her love of cooking, Elena drifted to culinary school in Europe and eventually ends up at an upscale Vancouver restaurant, where her passion and skills capture the attention of celebrity restaurateur Julian Liswood, who hires her as the executive chef of a new restaurant he is opening in Aspen, Colo. Elena relishes the opportunity, even as she recognizes the potential disasters, both romantic and job-related, inherent in the feelings she has for her boss. As the new endeavor finds its footing in Aspen's restaurant scene, she, too, begins to find a home.

It took me some time to settle in to The Lost Recipe for Happiness. For many pages, I couldn’t figure out why. The characters were engaging; their situations, intriguing; the dog Alvin, more than loveable. Finally, it hit me: Frame of reference. I love books where recipes add their special flavor to the story; however, southwestern cuisine just doesn’t do it for me. So, there was a huge sensorial gap in this reading experience for me.

If I were to attach a prior persona to the author and The Lost Recipe for Happiness, I would definitely say more Ruth Wind than Barbara Samuel. The heat in the kitchen rivaled that southern greenhouse. Oh, my, yes.
Finished on February 28, 2009
Rating: 3/5 (Fiction Scale)
Pages: 447
Publisher: Bantam (Discovery)
Copyright: 2008
Format: Trade Paperback

Dedication: For Christopher Robin (aka Neal Barlow), with love. You know why.

Epigraph: None

Awards:  2010 Rita Award - Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements

Shelter Me by Juliette Fay

Shelter Me by Juliette Fay has received a lot of publicity in and around Boston not only because it’s a Target Bookmarked and Indie Next pick but also because Fay is a local author and local bookstores have the book featured in displays. Here is the back cover plot recap:

Four months after her husband’s death, Janie LaMarche remains undone by grief and anger. Her mourning is disrupted, however, by the unexpected arrival of a builder with a contract to add a porch onto her house. Stunned, Janie realizes the porch was meant to be a surprise from her husband—now his last gift to her. As she reluctantly allows construction to begin, Janie clings to the familiar outposts of her sorrow—mothering her two small children with fierce protectiveness, avoiding friends and family, and stewing in a rage she can’t release. Yet Janie’s self-imposed isolation is breached by a cast of unlikely interventionists: her chattering, ipecac-toting aunt; her bossy, overmanicured neighbor; her muffin-bearing cousin; and even Tug, the contractor with a private grief all his own. As the porch takes shape, Janie discovers that the unknowable terrain of the future is best navigated with the help of others—even those we least expect to call on, much less learn to love.


On letter writing:
Janie offered to scribe a letter for Beryl, who politely declined. “I’m very old-fashioned,” explained Beryl. “A typed letter is so cold and impersonal. It can be sent to so many people at once! Only a handwritten letter can convey the sense that the writer is actually with you, saying the words to you alone. When you write a letter with your own hand, you give a tiny piece of yourself.”

Janie, on recognizing her feelings:
It took a moment for Janie to realize that she was in the picture, too, standing to the side and a little behind Tug, her gaze directed toward him. She was smiling, but there was more than that. There as a look of…what? …’Gratitude’, she realized, studying the picture. ‘That’s me being grateful.’

On bridging emotional gaps:
Aunt Jude finished typing and glanced over at Janie. A look passed between the two women that, Janie realized, had never been transmitted before. It wasn’t about either of them or their struggles with each other. It wasn’t anger or disappointment or dismissal. It was a simple recognition of the real world in which they lived, both of them, together.

And for those of us who have traveled to the Cape with small children eager to get to Nana and Grandfather’s house:
“Pretty soon we’re gong to see a huge bridge, the Sagamore. When we cross over, we’ll be on Cape Cod. Can you watch for the bridge?” …When the Sagamore Bridge rose up in front of them like a metal giant looming out of the scrub pines, Dylan screamed in Janie’s ear, “I SEE IT!”

Marisa de los Santos has a blurb on the front cover of Shelter Me; and if you are a fan of her Love Walked In and Belong to Me, you’ll find much of the same satisfaction in Janie LaMarche’s story. Emotionally wounded and distant characters carefully and slowly come together; the children of the story do real kid things; friendship bonds disparate characters and makes other characters become stronger in their life journey; and mothers, daughters, aunts, cousins each grow in their knowledge and love for the other. One quibble: Some editing down from its 415-page length would have made this a 4/5 book for me.

Finished on February 11, 2009
Rating: 3.5/5 (Fiction Scale)
Pages: 415
Publisher: Avon
Copyright: 2009
Format: Trade Paperback

Dedication: For Tom, with great love.

Epigraph: None

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Laurie Colwin

Nan recently posted on More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin, and that post reminded me how much I enjoy this author. With so many new books waiting patiently to be read, it's easy to forget the great reading pleasures of an author read and enjoyed many years ago. My first introduction to Laurie Colwin was her book Home Cooking. A couple of years ago, I read and posted my thoughts on Happy All the Time, which I repeat here. If you're at all enamoured of what I call "interior" books--books rich with descriptions of rooms, dishes, and pleasant vignettes--I urge you to pick up one of Ms. Colwin's reading escapes.

Happy All by Time by Laurie Colwin was essentially a book about nothing and everything, and I really enjoyed the experience of reading about Guido, Holly, Vincent and Misty—how they met, how they married, and how they lived and loved. This was also a book about interiors…like reading an issue of my all time favorite magazine Victoria (sadly, no longer published). Happily, since this post was originally written, Victoria has started publishing again!!

From the Publisher:
This delightful comedy of manners and morals is about romantic friendship, romantic marriage, and romantic love—about four people who are good hearted and sane, lucky and gifted, and who find one another. Knowing that happiness is an art form that requires energy, discipline, and talent, Guido, Holly, Vincent and Misty deal with jealousy, estrangement, and other perils involved in the search for love.

Regarding Guido’s first breakfast with Holly...
She liked to have tea on a tray and she was fond of unmatched china. The tray she brought to Guido held cups that bore forget-me-nots, a lily-of-the-valley sugar dish, a cream pitcher with red poppies, and a teapot covered with red roses and cornflowers. This tray, when set on the bed, contributed to Guido’s sensory overload. He was touched to think that this effort had been made on his behalf, but when he got to know Holly better he learned that she made up identical trays for herself when she studied.

Holly’s view of education...
When they first met, she [Holly] had been writing her master’s thesis on the subject of Chinese export porcelain. She had been encouraged to publish it. When the subject was brought up, she yawned and said she might some day. Education, she said, was something that enriched your life—not something you did things with.

Guido has to hire a secretary to replace the departed “porcelain-like beauty” who had been his uncle’s secretary. As a white-gloved Katharine Gibbs graduate, I had no trouble picturing Jane Motherwell’s replacement...
…Guido had hired a secretary. The two temporaries had made appointments and then failed to show up. Five candidates had called. One was an actress who said she would be frequently on the road; one was a young man who said he was writing a novel with the aid of a computer; one did not know how to type; another could type but would not answer telephones; and the last did not speak very much English. A person named Betty Helen Carnhoops won hands down. She was a square girl with piano legs, short efficient hair of no particular color, and green harlequin glasses that sprouted in each corner a gold rose with a rhinestone in the center. She typed ninety-five words a minute, took shorthand, and answered the phone in a brisk, businesslike manner. When Uncle Giancarlo eventually met her, he said, with a sigh: “How could you replace my beautiful tiger of wrath with such a horse of instruction? This is an office the gives money away for the purpose of making things beautiful and now it is made efficient by a cardboard box.”

Laurie Colwin died of a heart attack in 1992 at age 48. One
tribute to her says:
None of us had ever met Colwin except through her writing. But we felt as if we knew her from those stories. We knew that she liked animals and small children, quilts and pretty plates, family and friends, men who were good dancers and good kissers. We knew that she loved music, from classical greats like Boccherini and Brahms, to rock 'n' roll legends like the Everly Brothers and Jerry Lee Lewis. She knew all the words to the Crystals' "He's a Rebel." She loved to read, and to cook.

I think I would have enjoyed sharing a tea tray with Laurie Colwin.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Still Alice

Months ago, Still Alice by Lisa Genova was featured in one of the Boston-focused magazines—Improper Bostonian, I think. I clipped the article and had been carrying it with me, haunting every bookstore in a 20-mile radius to try to get it. As I found out, this original version was self-published and not likely to be found on the shelves where I was looking. Happily, Simon and Schuster published this book, and it is now easily found everywhere.

Kirkus Reviews
First novel efficiently showcases the experience of developing early-onset Alzheimer's. In 24 months, 49-year-old Harvard psychology professor Alice Howland exchanges the role of high-achieving teacher, wife and mother of three for that of a disoriented, inarticulate, forgetful shell of her former self. Stricken much earlier than most by this progressive, degenerative disease for which there is no cure, Alice loses her profession, independence, clarity and contact with the world with shocking rapidity in a narrative that sometimes reads more like a dramatized documentary than three-dimensional fiction. Genova, an online columnist for the National Alzheimer's Association, has a brisk style and lays out the facts of the disease-statistics, tests, drugs, clinical trials-plainly, often rather technically. The responses to Alice of her three grown-up children, who are also at risk of the disease; the struggles of her equally high-flying husband, a Harvard biologist; and Alice's own emotional responses, including fear, suicidal thoughts, shame and panic, are offered in semi-educational fashion, sometimes movingly, sometimes mechanically. Alice's address to the Alzheimer's Association Annual Dementia Care Conference is an affecting final public statement before her descent into fog and the loving support of her children. Worthy, benign and readable, but not always lifelike.

Favorite Passages
Alice sums up how we feel about winter here in New England…
On the night of Eric Wellman’s holiday party, the sky felt low and thick, like it was going to snow. Alice hoped it would. Like most New Englanders, she’d never outgrown a childlike anticipation of the season’s first snow. Of course, also like most New Englanders, what she wished for in December she’d come to loathe by February, cursing her shovel and boots, desperate to replace the frigid, monochromatic tedium of winter with the milder pinks and yellow-greens of spring. But for tonight, snow would be lovely.

As we all do, Alice thought of the books she could get to later…
She looked at the rows of books and periodicals on her bookcase, the stack of final exams to be corrected on her desk, the emails in her inbox, the red, flashing voice-mail light on her phone. She thought about the books she’d always wanted to read, the ones adorning the top shelf in her bedroom, the ones she figured she’d have time for later.

A reflection on being at the beach…
Alice watched the tide coming in, erasing footprints, demolishing an elaborate sand castle decorated with shells, filling in a hole dug earlier that day with plastic shovels, ridding the shore of its daily history.

An image of shadows on a living room wall…
The late afternoon sun cast strange, Tim Burton shadows that slithered and undulated across the floor and up the walls.

And this of babies’ feet…
Alice imagined holding them in her arms, their warm bodies, their tiny, curled fingers and chunky, unused feet….

Reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly pointed out Genova’s sometimes clinical and “clumsy” (Publishers Weekly) writing style. I might have approached Still Alice differently had I read these reviews first. However, I was immediately drawn into Alice’s shrinking world and appreciated all of the clinical information about Alzheimer’s and did not find it distracted from the text. I appreciated the “dramatized documentary” feel to the novel and thought the emotion of Alice’s story was well balanced with information about Alzheimer’s.

This mother/daughter exchange is something we mothers all would hope for, and is none the less hoped forl when the mother is descending into the isolation of Alzheimer’s:

“Okay, what do you feel?”
“I feel love. It’s about love.”
The actress squealed, rushed over to Alice, kissed her on the cheek, and smiled, every crease of her face delighted.
“Did I get it right?” asked Alice.
“You did, Mom. You got it exactly right.”

Finished on January 30, 2009
Rating: 4.5/5 (Fiction Scale)
Pages: 262
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Copyright: 2008
Format: Trade Paperback

Dedication: Iin Memory of Angie, For Alena

Epigraph: None

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Granddog!

This is Louie!

Relaxing with big brothers Trot and Frankie...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Beach House

The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe had been languishing on Mt. TBR for some time, and a bookmark at page 32 marked an earlier attempt to read about Caretta Rutledge and her coming of age story. I say coming of age because despite the main character age in years one immediately thinks of when a book is described as such, I think we can come of age at any time in our lives when we shed what came before and look ahead with renewed purpose.
From Publishers Weekly

After losing her high-powered advertising job in Chicago, Caretta Rutledge grudgingly returns to her low-country roots at her mother's behest. Cara has long resented her mother, who focused her maternal efforts more on looking after the annual loggerhead turtle spawn than on protecting herself and her children from their abusive father. But when Cara learns that her mother is ill, she must lay her bitterness aside and try to make amends. Cara starts by restoring her mother's small beach house and joining the same turtle brigade she resented while growing up. In the process, she reconnects with an old friend and finds love in the arms of a local boat owner and naturalist. This poignant read won't disappoint fans of so-called "Southern Fiction;” the South, which represents both poison and tonic, is eloquently portrayed here, and its healing properties inevitably come to the fore. Just enough information about the loggerhead turtles and their spawning cycle opens each chapter, swiftly engaging the reader from the outset, and all of the integral characters are richly developed. With its evocative, often beautiful prose and keen insights into family relationships, Monroe's latest (following The Four Seasons) is an exceptional and heartwarming work of fiction that is bound to please fans of women's fiction and romances alike.

I finished The Beach House this morning after we’ve been through a week of the coldest weather in years and as another six inches of snow was blanketing the yard; however, I felt the warmth of the South Carolina sun, felt the sand between my toes, and heard the steady and true sounds of the ocean. The book opens with this passage:

It was twilight and a brilliant red sun lazily made its hazy descent off the South Carolina coast. Lovie Rutledge stood alone on a small, rolling sand dune and watched as two young children with hair the same sandy color as the beach squealed and cavorted, playing the age-old game of tag with the sea. A shaky half smile lifted the corners of her mouth. The boy couldn’t have been more than four years of age yet he was aggressively charging the water, the stick in his hand pointing outward like a sword. Then, turning on his heel, he ran back up the beach chased by wave. Poor fellow was tagged more often than not. But the girl… Was she seven or eight? Now there was a skilled player. She danced on tiptoe, getting daringly close to the foamy wave, instinctively knowing the second to back away, taunting the water with her high laugh.

What memories that stirred up for me. Has it really been twenty-five years since I stood and watched my son and daughter playing the same game on a Cape Cod beach?

This book stirred up many memories not because my mother and I were ever at loggerheads, but because on these cold wintery days I have read how Cara learns not to fight what her mother is going through but to help her through it. As daughters, our first instinct to fight the inevitable and it does take strength to step outside ourselves to help. Even after many years have passed, a turn of phrase in a book of fiction can pop the top on the box safely stored in our hearts, and the raw emotions claw their way back.

My family life and circumstances are and were nothing like Cara’s, but the exploration of the mother-daughter bond, that most dynamic of relationships fraught with loggerhead moments, made this a standout reading experience for me.

Prologue EpigraphLoggerhead. 1. Latin: Caretta caretta. A tropical sea turtle with a hard shell and a large head. 2. A stupid fellow; blockhead. 3. At loggerheads; in disagreement; in a quarrel.

DedicationThis book is dedicated to my fellow members of the Isle of Palms/Sullivan’s Island Turtle Team [list of names] and to all Turtle Volunteers here and elsewhere who walk the beaches every morning to help our beloved loggerheads.

EpigraphPerchance you have worried, despaired of the world, meditated the end of life, and all things seem rushing to destruction; but nature has steadily and serenely advanced with the turtle’s pace. The young turtle spends its infancy within its shell. It gets experience and learns the way of the world through that wall. While it rests warily on the edge of its hole, rash schemes are undertaken by men and fail. French empires rise or fall, but the turtle is developed only so fast. What’s a summer? Time for a turtle’s egg to hatch. So is the turtle developed, fitted to endure, for he outlives twenty French dynasties. One turtle knows several Napoleons. They have no worries, have no cares, yet has not the great world existed for them as much as for you?

-Henry David Thoreau Journal August 28, 1856

Finished January 18, 2009
Rating: 4 of 5 (General Fiction)
Pages: 477
Publisher: Mira
Copyright: 2002
Format: Trade Paperback

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tis The Season

Library Journal
Landvik's first holiday novel features her signature sense of humor and quirky characters. Young socialite Caroline Dixon gets out of rehab and attempts to live a more stable life. Having alienated everyone she knows, she goes into hiding and tries to reach out to people from her past.

Based on reviews on other blogs, I downloaded Tis the Season by Lorna Landvik in the early morning hours of Jaunary 1. While I like the format of the book (epistolary) and thought that some of the gosspi column snippets were clever, I was disappointed in this book. I enjoyed the epistolary format but think that this particular plot and the characters needed more development that the epistolary format allowed.

Finished on 1/2/2009
Rating: 3 of 5 (Romance Scale)
Pages: 240
Publisher: Ballantine
Copyright: 2008
Format: Kindle

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A New Year, A Blank Page, and Promises to Keep

Again, we are at the convergence of looking back and hoping forward. I did (for me) do a lot of reading in 2008 but for a number of reasons didn't keep things up to date here at Owlsfeathers. So, I begin anew.

My basic reading goal is the same as ever: To read what I want when I want. That said, I do feel the need (after trying to reconstruct my 2008 reading) to pay a little closer attention to what I am reading and have read during the year. There are many reading challenges out there on various blogs, and I've informally lised them in my pen and paper reading journal just to see where the books will land as they fall open to me.

OK...sounds like a plan.

Happy New Year!