Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Once again, Geraldine Brooks takes a remarkable shard of history and brings it to vivid life. In 1665, a young man from Martha's Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. Upon this slender factual scaffold, Brooks has created a luminous tale of love and faith, magic and adventure.

The narrator of Caleb's Crossing is Bethia Mayfield, growing up in the tiny settlement of Great Harbor amid a small band of pioneers and Puritans. Restless and curious, she yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. As often as she can, she slips away to explore the island's glistening beaches and observe its native Wampanoag inhabitants. At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that draws each into the alien world of the other. Bethia's minister father tries to convert the Wampanoag, awakening the wrath of the tribe's shaman, against whose magic he must test his own beliefs. One of his projects becomes the education of Caleb, and a year later, Caleb is in Cambridge, studying Latin and Greek among the colonial elite. There, Bethia finds herself reluctantly indentured as a housekeeper and can closely observe Caleb's crossing of cultures.

Like Brooks's beloved narrator Anna in Year of Wonders, Bethia proves an emotionally irresistible guide to the wilds of Martha's Vineyard and the intimate spaces of the human heart. Evocative and utterly absorbing, Caleb's Crossing further establishes Brooks's place as one of our most acclaimed novelists.

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
In stores Tuesday, May 3

Friday, April 8, 2011

Where You'll Find Me

Time again for the annual escape weekend in Rockport.  Lots of reading, some shopping on Bear Skin Neck, relaxing on the verandah, eating a lobster roll, enjoying fish chowder, spending time with my best friend.  Ahhhhhhhhh....

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

March 2011

AUNT DIMITY AND THE FAMILY TREE by Nancy Atherton (3.5/5 Mystery Scale)
"If one lives in Finch, one learns to expect the unexpected." So says the Epilogue in this latest installment of the Aunt Dimity series from Nancy Atherton. This was a playful village romp with all of the usual Aunt Dimity characters (with one mysterious stranger thrown into the mix) who, as usual, fall prey to that most tittilating talk--gossip. Quibble: A book put out by Viking and they don't catch "accomodate"?

WATER BOUND by Christine Feehan (2.5/5 Romance Scale)
This was the March selection for the B&N (Burlington, MA) romance readers group. A heroine with a special gift to control the element of water; a broken hero who cannot remember who he is or what he was. An intriguing romance somewhat spoiled by the author's unwillingness to trust her readers to recognize the basis of the heroine's problems. The repetition of character development in the first 200 pages was unnecessary, resulting in the low rating.

AND FURTHERMORE by Dame Judi Dench (3.5/5 Non-fiction Scale)
As an avid fan of As Time Goes By and the movie Mrs. Brown, I happily read the story behind the actress, Dame Judi Dench, as a follow-up to James Miller's Scenes from My Life, which I read last year.

THE NOMINATION by William G. Tapply (4/5 Fiction Scale)
This fast-paced suspense novel weaves together the lives, history, and fates of many people after Thomas Larrigan is nominated to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. The Nomination (not part of Tapply's Brady Coyne series) was the last novel from this popular New England author who sadly passed away in July 2009.

A KILLER PLOT by Ellery Adams (3/5 Mystery Scale)
This is the first in the Books by the Bay mystery series. It was a good first installment given that I definitely want to learn more about Olivia Limoges (a kinder, gentler Agatha Raisin) and her dog, Captain Haviland. Despite a few "huh?" moments in story inconsistencies (mostly descriptions that didn't match up), the mystery held true. And, as always, I didn't guess whodunit.

THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain (4.5/5 Fiction Scale)
You know going in how this book ends, but you go in anyway. Then you leave, angry at the hubris of this literary giant and breathless with the strength of his Paris wife. In the end, I cried for these incredibly fascinating lovers who were "beautifully blurred and happy."

TO HAVE AND TO KILL by Mary Jane Clark (3/5 Mystery Scale)
First in a new series/new direction for Mary Jane Clark, author of the KEY News mystery series. It fell somewhere between a cozy cozy and a cozy crime mystery, and I wasn't sure which direction the author really wanted to take me. Will read 2nd in series when it comes out just to see if Piper Donovan, her family, and friends are taking me somewhere I want to go.

THE PEACH KEEPER by Sarah Addison Allen (3/5 Fiction Scale)
Perhaps I'm missing something. I've read all of SAA's books, and she does write a good story; but it's just that for me--a good story. She's a library request author for me; not at all (IMHO) in a league with Alice Hoffman, an author with whom she is often compared. The theme that did resonate for me in The Peach Keeper was the aspects of friendship--how it begins, how it changes, and how it renews.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

There have been two books this year that took my reading breath away. The first was Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland, and I will post separately about this. The second, and most recent, was The Paris Wife by Paula McClain.

From Booklist (via Amazon)
History is sadly neglectful of the supporting players in the lives of great artists. Fortunately, fiction provides ample opportunity to bring these often fascinating personalities out into the limelight. Gaynor Arnold successfully resurrected the much-maligned Mrs. Charles Dickens in Girl in a Blue Dress (2009), now Paula McLain brings Hadley Richardson Hemingway out from the formidable shadow cast by her famous husband. Though doomed, the Hemingway marriage had its giddy high points, including a whirlwind courtship and a few fast and furious years of the expatriate lifestyle in 1920s Paris. Hadley and Ernest traveled in heady company during this gin-soaked and jazz-infused time, and readers are treated to intimate glimpses of many of the literary giants of the era, including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But the real star of the story is Hadley, as this time around, Ernest is firmly relegated to the background as he almost never was during their years together. Though eventually a woman scorned, Hadley is able to acknowledge without rancor or bitterness that "Hem" had "helped me to see what I really was and what I could do."  Much more than a "woman-behind-the-man" homage, this beautifully crafted tale is an unsentimental tribute to a woman who acted with grace and strength as her marriage crumbled.

Hadley viewing narcissus
The Rhone Valley was in top form just then, with narcissus blooming in every bare patch of meadow and in the jagged crevices of rock. The first time I saw a narcissus pushing through ice and thriving, I thought it was perfect and wanted that kind of determination for myself.

On laughter
Everyone laughed, and it was one of those domino moments. That laugh would eventually set off an entire series of events, but not yet. It just stood there in the room, tipping and tipping, but not falling. Not falling yet. Not quite.

Hadley on Ernest’s The Torrents of Spring
It wasn't until that moment that I fully understood how hurt he'd been when everyone, including me, had disparaged the book and shut it down. He loved and needed praise. He loved and needed to be loved, and even adored.

On Ernest’s hubris
I knew Ernest's bravado was almost entirely invented, but I hated to think of all the good friends we'd lost because of his pride and volatile temper, starting in Chicago with Kenley. Lewis Galantiere, our first friend in Paris, had stopped speaking to Ernest when he'd called Lewis's fiancee a despicable shrew. Bob McAlmon had finally had enough of Ernest's bragging and rudeness and now crossed the street to avoid us in Paris. Harold Loeb had never recovered from Pamplona, and Sherwood and Gertrude, two of Ernest's biggest champions, now topped the long and painful list.

Bicycles as metaphor
On the crushed rock path along the windward side of the hotel, three bicycles stood on their stands. If you looked at the bicycles one way, they looked very solid, like sculpture, with afternoon light glinting cleanly off the chrome handlebars--one, two, three, all in a row. If you looked at them another way, you could see just how thin each kickstand was under the weight of the heavy frame, and how they were poised to fall like dominoes or the skeletons of elephants or like love itself.

On believing
People belong to each other only as long as they both believe. He's stopped believing.

Hadley & Ernest
A summing up
In the end, Ernest didn't have the luck I did in love. He had two more sons, both with Pauline, and then left her for another. And left that one for another, too. He had four wives altogether and many lovers as well. It was sometimes painful for me to think that to those who followed his life with interest, I was just the early wife, the Paris wife. But that was probably vanity, wanting to stand out in a long line of women. In truth it didn't matter what others saw. We knew what we had and what it meant, and though so much had happened since for both of us, there was nothing like those years in Paris, after the war. Life was painfully pure and simple and good, and I believe Ernest was his best self then. I got the very best of him. We got the best of each other.

There was always this picture of Ernest Hemingway in my mind—the older, bearded literary giant. Here in The Paris Wife, the picture sharpened with the details of the younger, insecure struggling author. This fictional rendering expanded and enhanced my mind picture of Hemingway and urged the taking up of The Moveable Feast as well as revisiting The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Perhaps there are clues there that will add nuance to the picture of Papa Hemingway.