Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What's on Your Nightstand Pre-Halloween edition

Had I known part of this story would have an hopelessly PC part to it's story, I'd have thrown it back. [To spell this out more would be major spoiler time so I won't!] So, it's good I didn't know because instead of making me mad it made me remember conversations with my Grandmother (who was 16 in 1920) that occurred as I discovered various "facts" of life while growing up. I also remember the kindness my Great Aunt showed friends who "passed" all their adult lives as "cousins." So the "other" story in this book (not the one about silent film star Louise Brooks) left me only mildly annoyed at the PC overtones of the "intent" of the story. You see, Cora's view ended up mirroring my own relatives' views on the subject. I enjoyed this book so much--wishing I was brave enough to take a chance on something new again. Wishing, like Cora, I'd stumble across a Joseph worth having (and who would think the same of me). I'm afraid silent star Louise Brooks reminds me of all of today's spoiled, never-told-no, always-entertained-because-life-must-be- fun-fun-fun kids. And she reminded me of many of the troubled teens I've encountered (for good reason if you read the story) with their "consequences don't matter" mindset. This book WILL trouble some readers, but there is nothing truly "shocking" and only a few instances of story-appropriate language or tame descriptions of sexual activity. Plus, if you get it on audio, you get Lady Grantham of Downton Abbey herself (i.e. Elizabeth McGovern) reading it! The Chaperone: A Novel by Laura Moriarty

One thing my parents promised, and which I, in turn, have promised my own children, is that we would not/will not move during High School. This book is a delightful example of what CAN happen when that unthinkable event happens. A.J. has been uprooted by her family from her home, her beloved dog, the boy she likes and all that is familiar and dumped in Tuscany where her extended family lives and where her parents want to run a b & b. She is lonely, culturally adrift, but does not turn to cutting or drugs, does not get pregnant, instead she finds adults and decent friends to support her. I did not know this was a Christian book (Catholic book some would clarify), but it is so genuine and so typical of the age that I enjoyed it so much. It didn't hurt that it is set in the early 70s when I was A.J.' s age  and would have given anything to have an adult let me ride his horse when I was down! Taking Tuscany: A Novel by Renee Riva.

This is one of two books this month that "spoke" to me so strongly I sort-of "live tweeted" reading them. I say sort of because I used Facebook. While there ARE reasons to snark on this one--her self- centeredness, her certain knowledge that a fulfilling, authentic, oh- don't-you-wish-you-were-me-?-life can only be lived in NYC, I have chosen to ignore those. I understood her longing for food, for the scents of food. I can still bring back to my mind the exact scent of my grandmother's spice cabinet, can still taste her cheese "stuff" [trust me, you do NOT want to know how this was made! Or that I was allowed to eat it, but it was the BEST EVER.] And while Luisa does make too much of herself, she also loves her family, respects her parents and "parent friends" and gets over herself long-enough to admit she's a Berliner and not really a New Yorker. Many, many young adults, on the cusp of marriage and parenthood (or soon there after) realize that East, West, Home's Best. The stories about the Berlin foods were worth it, though the story of her discarded boyfriend really wasn't, but hey! I'm 50 not 25 and reading about how many notches someone puts on their bedpost isn't that thrilling. The pickled herring brought back memories of every Christmas at my grandmother's, happily stuffing myself with it when not stuffing myself with the cheese stuff. The Mexican Meatballs are a must-try ASAP. Several other recipes sound wonderful, but might be a tad difficult to source. So, if you love food, if you've made big changes to be happy, you'll like this one. My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss.

The second book that resonated with me this month was the Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I also posted meaningful quotes from this one--having to sometimes stop the car and scribble on the side of the rode since this, too, was an audio book. While I did find passages that could have been whittled down a few hundred words, about 80% of this book was tremendous. My soul mate was not the reclusive author who has never told the truth about herself in an interview, but rather the would-be biographer finally chosen to tell the story. Part Grimm's Fairy Tales, part life of a book loving, perfect-vacation-is-a-trip-to-an-archive biographer's story of writing the story of the author's life, this book has the feel of Daphane De Maurier's classic Rebecca. There's no Mrs. Danvers but that lurking "someone" is always present. It also presents the dark gloom of Heathcliff's moors in Jane Eyre--in fact that book is almost a "character" in this story.  This is not a book for someone who doesn't love research and doesn't love books. It's not for someone wanting a cheery happy families story. The family part is more Glass Castle than Elizabeth Enright, but that was ok to me.

Maine was tiresome. No real character development--all seemed cardboardish. This book also meets another of my pet peeves [which is apparently one of those of the "author" in Thirteenth Tale who said "my books sell because they have a beginning, middle and end]. It seems today that you send in your completed manuscript and then a college intern drops the chapters on the floor and reassembles them in any order. This book jumps around and might have been better told with fewer attempts to be so "[whatever the word is here--hip? with-it? unique? artsy-fartsy?]. This is a blah book. Don't bother. Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan.

This is a typical member of the chic-lit genre! Girl meets perfect guy, gets done wrong, meets him again, gets done right, yada yada yada, but with a few minor twists. She manages the impossible--supporting herself on her knitting hobby. Naturally it's set in New York--where else could you find people wanting to pay thousands for bespoke knitted gowns? And, like nearly every successful business person she finds both a mentor and venture capital. The characters beyond the knitting person and the mentor are very stereotypical--the smart Asian, the loud-mouth with moxie and a heart of gold, etc.

Here are a few more random thoughts on this one: Could she say "MY DAUGHTER" just once and not the insipid "my little girl" ad nausea? And, has the author ever been around 12 year olds--they aren't three!! Isn't 12 1/2 a little old to be called a "little girl" all the time?? Loved the line "Cammilla-style" headgear.... Seriously? She actually wrote "between Uncle Les and Uncle Paul...." Please..... and "Serial Monogamist" is from "Four Weddings and A Funeral." Try something else. Laughing over the serious video prep--this must pre-date YouTube!! Everyone with a phone can post a how-to video these days!

Snark aside this was a nice novel about nice people doing nice stuff and I enjoyed it enough to finish it and think back over it several times. I'd love to have a "group" like that in my life!

Need something to read? Find great suggestions on other nightstands at What's on Your Nightstand over at 5 Minutes for Books.

What if Charles HAD married Camilla in the 70's? A fun look at what might have been....


Cassandra said...

My Berlin Kitchen is on my to-read list. It looks like it will make me hungry!

I have to admit that I have no idea what it's like to stay in the same high school for four years. My family moved TWICE. I spent my freshman year in Wyoming, my sophomore and junior years in Prescott Valley AZ, and my senior year in Phoenix AZ. My brother, on the other hand, went to the same school all four years... :) I didn't really get to know anyone my senior year and thus have no interest in high school reunions! My husband thanks me for that. ;)

Carrie said...

I read the Thirteenth Tale when it was all the rage and I recall even liking it (something of a stretch for me)! I've long wondered if I would enjoy it just as much - or maybe more - if I went back and read it again.

I love how a good book can challenge and resonate with you.

Jen E @ mommablogsalot said...

Great list, I really enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale also , really good book!

planetnomad said...

Ok, several of your books look really good AND I haven't even heard of them. Sigh. Great. Just what I need right now, when my own stack of TBR is out of control! :)

I moved during high school. My kids, so far...well, the twins haven't moved yet. They're sophomores. Did/do you move a lot, that you promised your kids you wouldn't move during HS? I made no such promise, but I did promise we would try not to. :) I tend to think it's most important to do 11-12th in the same school.

Elizabeth from 5MFB

Hopewell said...

Cassandra--I went to the same school from 5th--h.s. graduation. I don't have any interest in Reunions either! lol...

My Dad had his life destroyed by a selfish Mom who moved 6 months before he graduated from a school where he was in football and track and had a life. He promised us we wouldn't move in high school. My kids had to change schools 3 times in 2 school years and I knew it was too hard for them. When we landed here I decided I'd make that promise

Susan said...

Our former neighbors had moved approx. every 18 months for mom's mega career throughout the 3 daughters' lives. I always felt sorry for the girls, although they seemed quite resilient. I love your thoughts on all these books and the tips on which are good as well as those that are bad. I started FNKClub but it just didn't appeal to me at all. Thirteenth Tale sounds like my kind of book, and I've never heard of it. I have Saving Sailor on my kindle and need to read it -- same author as Taking Tuscany.

Hopewell said...

I'm hoping to find Saving Sailor cheap for kindle sometime as well as the sequel to Tuscany. I really enjoyed it.
FNKC--I didn't have anything else to listen to--I doubt I'd have made it thru a print version, but that's my way with fiction.

Trish said...

Love your reviews - so honest! Looks like there are some fascinating reads here. :)