Thursday, May 19, 2022

Heartbreak: a personal and scientific journey

Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific JourneyHeartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey by Florence Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting exploration of physical and social ramifications of heartbreak in which the author explores advent of her own Type 1 diabetes diagnosis after her husband of 25 yrs leaves her. Skilled science writing entwined with personal experience make the story compelling.

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The Book of Difficult Fruit: Arguments for the tart, tender and unruly

The Book of Difficult Fruit: Arguments for the Tart, Tender, and Unruly (with Recipes)The Book of Difficult Fruit: Arguments for the Tart, Tender, and Unruly by Kate Lebo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Compelling essays, sometimes humorous, always helpful about the difficulty of preparing and growing fruit intertwined with rich tales of family and the author's own health challenges and how fruit might help, including a handful of delectable recipes. Love the title.

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A Room of One's Own

Amazed that I didn't read this earlier. My copy looks like I've had it since high school and that well may be true. Extant for almost 100 years, Woolf's signature ironic and wry skills heralding the need for a room with a locked door and an income is a classic. As is the tragic old ballad about Mary, Queen of Scots: Yest're'en the Queen had fower Marys The nicht she'll hae but three There was Mary Seton and Mary Beaton, And Mary Carmichael and me Woolf cleverly uses her narrator Mrs. Beton or Mrs. Seton to espouse her revolutionary ideas for women artists as the reader is escorted through colleges, libraries and dining halls (banished from some, welcomed in others) and wraps up with another of the old ballad's namesake's, Mary Carmichael, as example of a woman author. They showcase the centuries of difficulties women have had to endure to be creative. "...this pitting of sex against sex, of quality against quality; all this claiming of superiority and imputing of inferiority, belong to the private-school stage of human existence where there are 'sides'..." I was surprised at how prescient the book is and once again, I mean to read more of her work.

Mercy Street

Mercy StreetMercy Street by Jennifer Haigh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Highly recommended: Suspenseful, read-aloud writing, incredible characterizations, and as prescient as possible given its theme of a woman who works as a counselor in an abortion clinic. As Ron Charles wrote in the Washington Post, "Mercy Street carefully sketches out the geography of poverty, that invisible realm that lies just beyond the horizon of middle-class life. Without condescension or sentimentality, Jennifer Haigh describes people who aspire to live in a double-wide trailer, who must decide between paying the water bill and the cable bill, who feel the humiliation of using food stamps. Indeed, that life was Claudia’s adolescence, a background that makes her particularly attuned to the logic of the clinic’s poorer clients."

He goes on "Claudia’s mother, who had no particular interest in parenting, took in foster kids expressly to get extra cash from the state. Haigh never pushes on this theme, but she doesn’t need to: It’s clear that Claudia’s early exposure to the multitude of children unwanted by anyone and carelessly warehoused by the government has made her determined to present women with real reproductive choices."
The descriptions of snowy NE weather and roads, and conversations among the wildly varied cast of characters were on the mark, as, I imagine, were the strange mental meanderings of the gun freak haunting the Internet. Reminded me a bit of The Beans of Egypt, Maine Fine work.

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Real Estate: A Living AutobiographyReal Estate: A Living Autobiography by Deborah Levy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a worthy successor to Deborah Levy's last memoir, The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography as she attunes to her singlehood, considers the patriarchy, travels to France and Greece and Germany, converses with friends, reminisces about her South African childhood, and dreams of her un-real estate house, a rich imaginary figment she embellishes with objects throughout the book. Her writing is warm and familiar no matter the topic. Her characters lively and varied and useful challengers of her ideas. She writes beautifully of places, living spaces, reading matter, and her daily swims. Favorite quotes: (1)When a woman has to find a new way of living and breaks from the societal story that has erased her name, she is expected to be viciously self-hating, crazed with suffering, tearful with remorse. These are the jewels reserved for her in the patriarchy’s crown, always there for the taking. There are plenty of tears, but it is better to walk through the black and bluish darkness than reach for those worthless jewels. and (2) The line that means the most to me in the entire play is Hamlet’s reply when asked what it is he is reading. Words, words, words.

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Monday, May 2, 2022

Ride the Pink Horse

Ride the Pink HorseRide the Pink Horse by Dorothy B. Hughes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dorothy B. Hughes can turn a phrase and keep the tension at high ebb. The Chicago swell's visit to a Santa Fe-like town in the middle of Fiesta as he hunts down "the rat" is a treat and a fine writing model.

“He didn't pay any attention to anything but the white-and-silver girl down in front. She belonged here; she was like something holy, like one of the altar candles, like an angel. He didn't pay any attention to the altar. There were priests up there chanting the litany; their white-and-gold benediction vestments draped over the red velvet chairs. There was a choir of seminarians singing. Singing the responses. Their faces were foreign like the town; brown Mexican faces, somber, and their voices, unaccompanied were like a heaven choir. He didn't care about that. He hadn't come here to pray; he'd come with a gun to keep his eye on a rat. He wasn't going to be sucked in by holiness.”

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Saturday, April 23, 2022

The Vanished Collection

The Vanished CollectionThe Vanished Collection by Pauline Baer de Perignon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not sure how I came across this fascinating account of the author's painstaking research to track down her art collector great grandfather's looted works which disappeared in Paris under the WWII occupation of Paris. It hums right along like one of the Art and Crime series on TV ending with a cliffhanger climax.

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Thursday, March 31, 2022

Fates and Furies

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fates and Furies was completely satisfying. Dynamite writing, an elaborate yarn including plays and an opera within the story, mythology, love, family cacophony, and sex. Now that I've finished, I miss it. I would think the A Gentleman in Moscow fans might like it.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2022

What Strange Paradise

What Strange ParadiseWhat Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A beautifully penned, suspenseful story of a Syrian boy landing on a Greek island after a nightmare trip from Alexandria, jammed into a decrepit fishing boat. He meets a local girl named Vänna Hermes, who rescues the boy from pursuing soldiers. The point of view moves to the colonel who "ignores the hustler who walks the beach with a cigarette-girl tray hanging over his chest, selling watered-down sunscreen and sunflower seeds in violation of local ordinance. He simply stares out at the sea, lets it blur and double in his vision until it swallows the land and the sky, until there is nothing else. This arpeggio spring. April staircasing away. It used to feel smoother, the ending of winter, the island in rebirth." Those Greek tourist beaches are momentarily closed while men in hazmat suits clean up the dead and their debris after the sinking of the overloaded fishing boat offshore. The only survivor appears to be a nine-year-old boy. The book flies along with its alternating stories on board the boat and on the island with regard for these helpless fleeing children until its surprise ending. The climax troubled me, but what alternative could have contained this story?
As Ron Charles reviews this title in the Washington Post: " Nothing I’ve read before has given me such a visceral sense of the grisly predicament confronted by millions of people expelled from their homes by conflict and climate change. Though “What Strange Paradise” celebrates a few radical acts of compassion, it does so only by placing those moments of moral courage against a vast ocean of cruelty." https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...

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Wednesday, February 9, 2022

White on White

White on WhiteWhite on White by Aysegül Savas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An unnamed narrator in an anonymous city is a graduate student researching nudity in medieval sculptures for her thesis. She moves into an apartment and her older landlady, an artist married to an art historian, comes to town and moves into her studio upstairs. She assertively befriends the student with gifts, treats and conversation. The writing is restrained and beautiful representing the measured interest and elegant character of the protagonists. But the intensity of the relationship increases lending an air of suspense to a poetic journey through art and distress. I warmed to the book as I read.

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Monday, January 31, 2022

Fight Night

Fight NightFight Night by Miriam Toews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book. The characterizations leaped alive on the page. I could see the grandmother, the granddaughter and her mother. I want to read all of Miriam Toews's novels. Peppered with priceless humorous bits, sadness and trauma, this little family carries on its days including a singular trip to Fresno, Raisin Capital of the World.

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Things I Don't Want to Know

Things I Don't Want to KnowThings I Don't Want to Know by Deborah Levy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you appreciate Deborah Levy's meandering style and discerning philosophical associations, as I do, you will like this first volume of her memoir trilogy. The books are slim nuggets, perfect for the pocket, and a quick read. The story begins in Majorca on holiday, alternates between recollections of her childhood in Apartheid South Africa when her father is jailed for his politics, fleeing to England as a child, and her parents' separation shadowed by her own marriage end. She questions the way men and women coexist and the possibility, for a woman, of life as an artist.

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I Couldn't Love You More

I Couldn't Love You MoreI Couldn't Love You More by Esther Freud
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I Couldn't Love You More tells of three generations of women, their daughters, and their disappointing men. Alternating between characters and time periods, sometimes frustrating the reader when suspense builds (once or twice I skipped ahead), the middle woman is forced to go to the Catholic home for unwed mothers i.e. like the Irish Magdalen Laundries and gives up her baby for adoption. Once this child grows up, she seeks out the secret story of her mother and tries to find her. The writing is skilled and the story moves along at a good pace. Highly recommended.

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Sunday, January 2, 2022

2021 Reading List Recap

2021 on Goodreads2021 on Goodreads by Various
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In my dreamscape, I was assessing my 2021 year in books, thinking how many I shared with some of you (aha-that's how I came up with some of those unusual titles and new publishers like Dorothy). So many of the same titles Fionnuala read, I too could do a biographical pattern, yet I do enjoy biographies and memoirs. These Goodreads connections add much meat to my bibliophilism and I wish you all the best reading year yet in 2022. My 65 books list was better than past challenges, mostly due to insomnia over the pandemic. A Ghost in the Throat was my favorite novel. For once, my Read list exceeds my Want to Read List but not by many. I was most proud of reading and enjoying Moby-Dick or, the Whale, one of over a million on Goodreads who did. Other highlights and top ratings went to a reread of Housekeeping, and newer books: Hamnet Essential Ruth Stone, (poetry), The Waves, The Promise,Intimacies, and The Copenhagen Trilogy: Childhood; Youth; Dependency. Something New Under the Sun was not for me--dystopian stories rarely are and I felt Great Circle needed a tough editor. I particularly enjoyed the D H Lawrence non-fiction in tandem with Second Place and the memoirs of Abigail Thomas, Anatole Broyard, and Three Simple Lines: A Writer's Pilgrimage into the Heart and Homeland of Haiku and Mary Morris, plus biosThe Life She Wished to Live: A Biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling and Sybille Bedford: A Life. I got a kick out of the Backlist.fm title The Bloater. Secrets of Happiness,Unsettled Ground, A Lie Someone Told You about Yourself and Should We Stay or Should We Go All contributed to contented reading during the losses of 2021.

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