Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Snippet

Latest additions to my restaurant pitchers collection....
I love the detail on the rim of the smaller pitcher...

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The split second between what was and what is, the far reaching impact of action and inaction, and the heartbreaking consequences of knowing or not knowing how the story ends—these, together with an exploration of the nature of love and war, are the background for The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.

Notes and Quotes
Wm. B. Yeats:
And bombs were falling on Coventry, London, and Kent. Sleek metal pellets shaped like the blunt-tipped ends of pencils aimed down upon hedgerow and thatch. What was a hedgerow? Where was Coventry? In History and Geography, Hitler’s army marched upon the school maps of Europe, while next door in English, the voices recited from singsong memory—I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made. Bombers flew above the wattles, over an England filled with the songs of linnets and thrush.

On time:
She wanted to push it all back. No time, no town. Nothing but each other’s hands and the tempo of their tread. The sky seemed to bowl up and away, curving like a cat. It was a mild morning, as can sometimes happen, as though May had slid in quietly for this January day. There was no wind at all. They walked along, and under the silent morning sky, she imagined she could pull Time like taffy, stretching it longer and longer between her hands until the finest point had been reached, the point just before breaking, and she could live there. A point at the center of time with no going forward, no looking back. Clasped in this way, without speaking, walking into no discernible ending, she could almost believe they tread on time.

Lucky Strikes:
And tonight, walking home from the hospital in the dark, not paying attention to where he was going, he had suddenly realized he was guiding his way forward by the single small lights of cigarettes, the sign of other people moving, disembodied, through the dark toward him: people whose faces he couldn’t see, but whose voices he heard, whose footsteps passed by. And he had nearly burst out crying on the street. Those tiny red lights in the dark going forward and moving away, those single Lucky Strikes, that’s what it was to be human. We lived and died, all of us—lucky strikes. Single lights and voices in the dark.

On reporting:
Long ago, I believed that, given a choice, people would turn to good as they would to the light. I believed that reporting-honest, unflinching pictures of the truth—could be a beacon to lead us to demand that wrongs be righted, injustices punished, and the weak and the innocent cared for. I must have believed, when I started out, that the shoulder of public opinion could be put up against the door of public indifference and would, when given the proper direction, shove it wide with the power of wanting to stand on the side of angels. But I have covered far too many wars—reporting how they were seeded, nourished, and let sprout—to believe in angels anymore, or, for that matter, in a single beam of truth to shine into the dark. Every story—love or war—is a story about looking left when we should have been looking right.

There are many more passages marked in my copy of The Postmistress, but I leave their discovery to you as you weave together for yourself the lives of Emma Fitch, the fragile bride of a small town doctor; Frankie Bard, a fearless “radio gal;” and Iris James, the Postmistress.

A small question, but a question nevertheless: Why, when every other location was accurately named and located, did the author decide to create Franklin as the small town on the tip of Cape Cod? There is a Franklin, MA, but it is not on the Cape. Every time I read Franklin, my mind’s map had to do a quick zig zag from its actual location to the fictional location of The Postmistress. Not a major quibble—just a curiosity.

Rating: 4.5/5 (Fiction Scale)

Dedication: For Josh, always.

Epigraph: War happens to people, one by one. That is really all I have to say, and it seems to me I have been saying it forever. –Martha Gellhorn, The Face of War

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Snippet

I heard Quincy Jones being interviewed on NPR.  He had a new recording out, a departure from his recent work.  The interviewer, rather tensely, "What would you tell people to listen for in this music?"

Jones:  "Don't listen for anything.  Listen to it."

From Alphabet Juice by Roy Blunt, Jr.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon

The cover was what first attracted me to Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon.  For some reason, I immediately thought of my mother and her signature lipstick, Cherries in the Snow.  Turns out, the author's grandmother and my mother (who were of an age) had something in common as they both advised, "Never go without lipstick; it only makes you look washed out."

From Cover Flap
When Suzan Colon was laid off from her dream job at a magazine during the economic downturn of 2008, she needed to cut her budget way, way back--and that meant home cooking.  Her mother suggested, "Why don't you look in Nana's recipe folder?"  In the basement, Suzan found the tattered treasure, full of handwritten and meticulously typed recipes, peppered with her grandmother Matilda's commentary in the margins.  Reading it, Suzan realized she had found something more than a collection of recipes--she had found the key to her family's survival through hard times.

Notes and Quotes
First reactions:
Put up soup; that's what my family says when times get tough. Some people batten down the hatches, others go to the mattresses--whatever your family's code phrase is, it means bracing yourself and doing whatever will sustain you through rough going until things get better. In my family, we put up soup.

When your known world is shaken:
Being in this recession feels like watching a nature film about the disintegration of a major polar ice shelf:  Huge chunks of everything we thought was solid keep breaking apart and disappearing into an abyss, the depth of which no one knows.  Fear is palpable, and worry about how much worse it's going to get is the main topic of conversation.

On Nana's love of words and writing:
Nana was in love with words.  In school she read the dictionary, a page a day, and she bought new, updated dictionaries the way some people buy novels.  In the box with the recipe file I find envelopes and folders full of papers--some related to her work as a secretary for the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and the Coliseum, a convention center in New York.  But most of it is her personal writing.  She didn't keep a diary but wrote about her life in a series of essays and articles she hoped to send to magazines, and her Everywoman subject matter was ahead of its time.

The cherries:
One night in the middle of December, the fruit vendor had the winter cherries.  They were pricey all right, but Matilda didn't hesitate.  It wasn't that cold out, so mother and daughter walked to the park and sat on a bench to enjoy their extravagance.  "Is there anything better in the world," Matilda said, "than being in Manhattan in Central Park and eating cherries in winter?"

The rationalization for the cherries:
The women in my family have certain traits:  height, prominent noses, and the ability to rationalize spending extra, just once in a while, when there is no extra to be spent.  Because.  I got some of their height and all of the nose, but I thought that last characteristic was missing in me.  It wasn't; I just didn't realize that it only wakes up when we begin to measure ourselves by money, or the lack of it.  It's not a reflexive kick of denial about having less.  It's a deep breath reminding us not to become miserly in spirit.  We may be broke, but we're not poor.

You're unemployed, you need a trip to the hairdresser (you no longer go to a "hair stylist"), you need to make decisions:
Of course, there's no decision to be made.  I'd give up my hair appointments forever and become the Wild Woman of Borneo before I'd let my cat be in pain or even have to forgo the cruncy kibble she likes so much.  Nor will I repurpose my monthly donations to the ASPCA and the local food bank for this expense.  I've have to cut down on the amount I give, but I refuse to cut charitable donations out completely.  There have been too many stories of pets left behid in abandoned homes and last year's food bank donors becoming this year's recipients.  Not giving while I still have something to give, no matter how little, is an inner beauty routine I won't do without.

I've never in my life had a $300 hair cut or shopped in stores as exclusive as those Ms. Colon frequented, so my adjustment to unemployment has been on a lesser scale.  However, the reality of unemployment is a blow to ego and psyche; and the adjustment, whether large- or small-scale, is daunting and a bit scary.  Many of the thoughts and fears expressed by Ms. Colon rang true.  I didn't put up soup, but there was a pot of beef stew to lend comfort on that first day of imposed leisure.

And--as my daughter reminded me--when you're feeling bad, there isn't a better picker-upper than a new tube of lipstick.  Do you think Revlon still sells Cherries in the Snow?

Rating:  3.5/5 (Non-fiction scale)

Dedication:  For Mom, Dad, and Nathan

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Teaser Tuesday/Cherries in Winter

Nana was in love with words. In school she read the dictionary, a page a day, and she bought new, updated dictionaries the way some people buy novels. In the box with the recipe file I find envelopes and folders full of papers--some related to her work as a secretary for the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and the Coliseum, a convention center in New York. But most of it is her personal writing. She didn't keep a diary but wrote about her life in a series of essays and articles she hope to send to magazines, and her Everywoman subject matter was ahead of its time.
Cherries in Winter by Suzan Colon.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two "teaser" sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (Make sure that what you share doesn't give too much away! You don't want to ruin the book for others.
  • Share the title and author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Brava, Valentine by Adriana Trigiani

Brava, Valentine: A Novel Brava, Valentine, the follow-up to Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani, continues the story of the Angelini family and shoemaker Valentine Roncalli. The story opened crisply and reminded me of how much I enjoyed Very Valentine. Unfortunately, a couple of the plot lines bogged down; however, the need to know how things turn out kept this reader slogging along. I believe I read somewhere that Valentine's story would be a trilogy, but I'm not sure how much more there is to tell about her and the Angelini Shoe company.

Notes & Quotes
Because I love all things pen and ink, this from page 67 made me smile:
His handwriting is artful, that glorious Italian script with the curlicue edges. He wrote it with a fountain pen in midnight blue ink. A fountain pen in 2010! Miraculous!

On page 154, a wonderful description of family traditions:
The Fitzpatricks and the Roncallis are people who gather in kitchens around a tray of homemade manicotti, not in fancy living rooms where silver trays of canapes are passed. Where we come from, champagne is for toasting, good china is for holidays, and silver place settings are heirlooms while love is given freely, not something exchanged in hopes of material gain or social status. There is something to be treasured about people who know instinctively when enough is enough.

On p. 226 about the art of letter writing:
A handwritten letter carries a lot of risk. It's a one-sided conversation that reveals the truth of the writer. Furthermore, the writer is not there to see the reaction of the person he writes to, so there's a great unknown to the process that requires a leap of faith. The writer has to choose the right words to express his sentiments, and then, once he has sealed the envelope, he has to place those thoughts in the hands of someone else, trusting that the feelings will be delivered, and that the recipient will understand the writer's intent.

Rating: 3.5/5 (Fiction Scale)

Dedication: For Pia

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

A Duty to the Dead (A Bess Crawford Mystery, #1) A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

The first in a new series about a WWI English army nurse, Bess Crawford. After narrowly escaping the sinking of her hospital ship off the coast of Greece, Bess sets out to deliver a message from a dying soldier to his family. Thus begins a tale of family intrigue and small village secrets. Bess is a compassionate, intelligent, and very persistent heroine. I will look forward to reading the next in this series.

Rating: 4/5 (Mystery Scale)

The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews

The Fixer Upper: A Novel The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews

A fun version of the young woman out of work with plenty of time to face and come to terms with her family's past plot. While nothing special, it was a pleasant way to pass a few reading hours.

Rating: 3.5/5 (Fiction Scale)

Forbidden Falls by Robin Carr

Forbidden Falls (Virgin River, #9) Forbidden Falls by Robyn Carr

February selection for B&N Romance Readers Group. The group felt this was the weakest in the Virgin River series to date. There was a lot of discussion about expectations when the main character (hero) is a minister.

For me, the main characters plot seemed a little too
perfect and not enough of the original VR residents to keep me updated; however, the Paul/Vanni subplot kept me turning the pages.

Rating: 3/5 (Romance Scale)

Just Another Statistic

You think that the day will never come--the day when an iconic New England retailer files for bankruptcy and the going out of business sale begins. And that day comes. Then you think, well, they will need me around a little longer as things wind down. Then you find out you should have just stopped thinking as you have the inevitable meeting with your boss where he "with regret" tells you that your services are no longer needed.

After brushing off the damage to your ego and psyche and making those first necessary steps to become another statistic in the unemployment numbers, you're back to thinking. You've been working since 1960 when you made $.10 an hour at the local public library, and now you have a chance to do whatever you want to do all day--and that isn't so bad.

Another chapter begins....

The Secret of Everything by Barbara O'Neal

The Secret of Everything: A Novel The Secret of Everything by Barbara O'Neal

Life, love, and history in a small New Mexico town. There were tiny glimmers of the author as Samuels/Ruth Wind, but not enough to push this one to the top of the list. I keep reading this author because when she hits it, you can't ask for more.

Rating: 3.5/5 (Fiction Scale)