Monday, August 14, 2017

The Zookeeper's Wife

Because Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death is really a collection of six short mysteries, and because book group 2 is not scheduled to discuss Pride and Prejudice until late September, I took a break and slipped in another book from the great and growing to-be-read pile.  

In 1939 during the German occupation of Poland, Jan and Antonina ran a zoo.  Eventually, the Nazis extended their unthinkable experimentation to animals, and confiscated the best of the Zabinski's stock.  As tensions heightened and Jews were being rounded up, killed or transported to death camps, a small community came together the risk their own lives to hide as many people as they could.

A complex operation of secrecy led to at least 300 people being housed at the abandoned zoo which served as a sort of way-station until the next leg of their protected journey could be put into action.

Heading the operation, putting their lives on the line and at times compromising personal values for the good of others were Jan and Antonina.  They are among the many unsung heroes of the German occupation, like Corrie Tenboom and others whose stories only come to light for most of us through writers like Diane Ackerman.  Critics say that Ackerman wanders too far from the central story here;  for me, the side trips she took were needed to fill in gaps in my history knowledge.  

Stylistically, Ackerman is a good as ever in this offering.  She moves with ease from the dark side of war to tender depictions of the many, many persons whose lives and journeys she shares.  And the animals!  They are character as well, and the author offers them the same care and respect given to the humans.  

Worth taking a chance on.

As far a Sidney Chambers is concerned, I am totally enjoying this breezy look at the life of a vicar who works both sides of the altar.  On one hand, he deals with saving souls, finding the good in people.  In detective mode, he looks beneath the surface, considering how and why criminals turn to evil.  Fun stuff.  I have always like mysteries set in small town, be it an English village or a secluded western ranching town. No big city crime stories for me.

Pride is moving along nicely as well.  Since beginning this dance with Austen, many Austen-ites have appeared in my life to offer advice on how to conquer this book.  While I appreciate the advice, I think I am beyond the need to conquer - it really is quite a simple book.  But yes, Kris, I do know that I can look up "odd" words in a dictionary, and Kevin, I have seen the movies and know the basic plot, but will most likely watch it again.....oh, Michelle, I won't be cutting down my reading "obligation" by skipping every other chapter, but thanks for the suggestion...

...and, thanks for stopping by....

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Hit and Some Misses

As you know from last week's post, I am working my way through Pride and Prejudice.  Last week's image shows my edition held together with rubber bands; I have progressed to duct tape - evidence to all of you who doubted that I have the tenacity to finish this book that I am indeed opening it.  So far, so good...more to come next week.

Book group #1 met on Friday to discuss Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.  This was Stephanie's choice and she was a little nervous about it.  However, we had one of our best discussions ever and it got me thinking about the reading preferences of those in our group.  Since it's summer, there has been a lot of casual reading, popular picks and mysteries.  One member collects suggestions from friends and family and adds them to an impressively long Want-to-Read list. Preferences include dialogue over narrative, narrative over dialogue, unambiguous endings, reality over fantasy, gritty plot and character....I love that we're not on the same page, so to speak.

I have lost count on how many years this group has been together.  It has taken a couple different formations, but we are now a stable group.  Finally, in 2007, we began recording what we read.  At each meeting, everyone jots a thought or two on our title in a notebook.  Looking back, we have had many books that we all enjoyed.  Sadly, there have been misses...books that have just tanked and have had more than one reader fuming over the perceived wasted time.  Also sadly, many of the disliked books were my choices.  

These are some of the books that haven't flown....*'d titles were my selections

  • *West with the Night....I will forever be a champion of this book, Markham took me away with her storytelling
  • The Art of Hearing Heartbeats...framed story, predictable
  • *Vampires in the Lemon Grove....short stories each paying homage to a significant piece of literature ranging from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Communist Manifesto
  • The Life List..pretty obvious book, hits you over the head with lessons
  • *A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar..even I hated this one
  • The Lonely Polygamist and The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint - introduced me to Brady Udall. Layered. Intense.  Provocative...great characters and intelligent plots
  • *The Life of Pi - maybe being a philosophy minor helped;  first half was enlightening, the second half put all the ideas from part 1 into action.  Captivating.
  • *Valley of the Dolls - satisfying period piece
  • *The Family Fang - dark comedy, could be helpful to understand theatre people
  • Mennonite in a Little Black Dress
  • *A Reliable Wife
  • *Olive Kitteridge
  • *Star Lake Saloon and Housekeeping Cottages
  • *Chronicle of a Death Foretold
There are more, but I'm giving myself a complex and so this is where it ends.
Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Pride and Prejudice Take Three

People give me things.  Valerie gifted LaDeDa a flat screen TV and Shelly gave us the piano that frequently fills our space with offerings by little fingers curious about the sounds they can create, as well as from gifted, experienced pianists.  I have a chaise lounge with quite a theatrical history - well, I'm actually storing it for Heart-A-Rama (with full use rights).  Last week a beaded curtain was deposited here (anyone want it?) and before that several huge boxes of unwanted, used books arrived. 

 Among them was an old, barely together volume of Pride and Prejudice. Not the one you see to the left - don't recall where that one came from but it is stamped with the name of a long closed, local department store.  I also have a set of Dickens with a stamp from the same store.  The store, as far as I know, never sold books, so that got me thinking about why they had these.  I believe that some posh clothing stores (info source: years of watching Sex in the City) have comfy areas where friends and.or spouses sip wine and read European editions of magazines  while they wait while companions try on and try on and try on.  Maybe these books occupied such a space in the lovely downtown Manitowoc shop.  Or maybe they were props for a back to school display.  Better yet, perhaps the business owner, concerned not only with the financial well-being of his./her employees, offered a lending library of quality material so clerks could slip in a few comments about the Bennet sisters between discussing the differences between seamed and seamless nylons.  
At any rate, how curious is it, that my #2 book group has chosen Pride and Prejudice for our September read?  And yes, I am reading the copy held together with rubber bands.  My friend Connie is reading my most recently acquired edition, with falling out pages, and pencil notes decorating the pages, some of which appear to be in a foreign language (the notes, not the pages).  Sure, I know where to get a fresh copy, fully intact with a font size that won't blur my vision, but there is something wonderful about reading an old story from an old book. 

 To be honest, this is my third attempt at P & P.  I have faked reading it twice before - once for a library book discussion meeting, and once when #1 book group selected it.  Years of teaching speech and theatre helped me polish a variety of facial expressions indicating that I am; interested, fascinated, puzzled, annoyed, name it. The affirmative head bob - you know, just like those little dog bobbers people for some reason still have in their cars - works wonders at convincing people of so very much.

But, this time, I will read the book, cover to cover; I have already on page twenty-two.  Careful and plodding at first - needed to get used to Austen's style, which in the past I have found stuffy.  Perhaps I chose not to deal with it long enough to get into the rhythm.  My twenty-two page commitment has revealed two layered character - the parents.  What fun.  Witless and clueless mom,  a dad with lots of fancy chess moves waiting to be played.  So far, I have only met the two oldest daughter, Jane and Lizzie, and if truth be told, after watching numerous movie adaptations, I can find little use of the the three younger Bennet girls.  I realize that somewhere there lurks a zealous Janite who, having written multiple dissertations on the function of the later three, would be horrified by that statement.    Ho hum.

There's not much more to say at this point, except that, since it is now in print....I will finish this time. No faking.   I will not go to my discussion group unprepared.  

On another note...BAH HUMBUG Hallmark channel.  We do not need to be seeing promos for your week of multiple, original Christmas movies or 2017.  Shut up and let us enjoy summer.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

I remain  perched upon the fence about this book.  Don't know how many more of these essays I will read, if any.  My ambivalence stems not from any negative feeling about Megan Stienstra's work, but just the opposite.  This book hits at every little moment that catches us unaware ,filling us with fear and near immobility. 

Fear.  That's the theme.  That's the word that travels through each essay - sometimes shooting like a bullet, triggering deep seated memories - other times the word crawls along and you don't notice the fear until it it too late to move out of it's way.  I'm not talking huge scary moments here.  Let me give you an example.  Last week I stopped into a local communications franchise (not naming cuz they did nothing wrong).  After forty-five minutes of trying to understand what a very patient customer service person attempted to explain, a man walked in with a fully exposed gun in a holster at his hip.  Believe or not, I have never seen a handgun before and my reaction frightened me as much as the gun itself. Nothing happened,  He just stood there looking like someone who should not have a fun.   I had to leave.

Stielstra masterfully takes us into similar experiences from her own life, paralyzing and -thank goodness - sometimes funny.  "10, Or the Little Girl Character" reveals child fears and shows us how little moments embed and may never be fully flushed.  I never thought about children's dreams before.  Now I wonder about them a lot.  Do they dream with the same intensity that adults sometime do?  Do they puzzle over them?  Can kids even determine if what they experienced was a dream or do they think it was some sort of out of sync reality?  Making a mistake.  Tornado drills.  Throwing up in school.  All small, yet we don't really understand their impact, do we?

For me, this book is more about questions than answers.  Sure, I am fearful of the same things that you all fear, but can the source of my many quirks be traced back to simple, unaddressed fears?  Not sure I want to know.  Really, I am lucky to be living in a safe, blissful spot and don't want Stielstra or anyone else digging around an untethering weird memories like that parade of goofiness midway though Macbeth.  Meta cognition,  prompted by Carlos Castaneda , and by Ira Progroff -in a beyond crazy college course where the professor expected (wanted?) to see us dramatically dissolve into tears were enough for me.  For the record, I never cried, and it was the only grad class I didn't not ace.  Instructor said I appeared distracted most days. In reality, I was trying to control my inappropriate eye rolls as she ruminated on the mistakes she made in her broken marriage, the biggest being not writing a mission statement for their relationship. Egads.  

Anyway, I guess this is one of those journey stories and hopefully by the end, after the author has dissected several deer hearts (hence the cover) dealt with poverty, motherhood, and the current White House residents, perhaps she will fell better.  As for me, I feel pretty good right now and find that my perch upon the fence suits me just fine.  However, this is work worth reading even in small bites.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Once in a Blue Moon Lodge

Even when Lorna Lanvik writes a book that doesn't quite measure up to her other offerings, I still enjoy it.  This book is sort of choppy - let's call it episodic - and I find it hard to follow.  Three plots are in motion right now, and perhaps once I get farther into the story, they will begin to merge and all will be right with the world.

This sequel to Patty Jane's House of Curl plays with ideas of transition, uncertainty and generational secrets.  Patty Jane plans to close her business. leaving her daughter, Nora, unsure of her next move.  Nora's solution?  Road trip!  This begins the stampede of colorful characters that pop up randomly in individual episodes.

So far, the most colorful of all, grandma Ione, appears to be the catalyst for what should be an examination of past adventures - or perhaps past sins.  See, that's the thing about Lorna Landvik - her novels have light hearted titles, her characters are exploded versions of funny folks we all know, there are grin worthy moments on each page, and yet, beneath it all lies a wealth of truths about fear, loss, sadness, challenge and resilience.

I always finish her books having re-lived moments of my own life, only with a different backdrop, perhaps different music, and certainly fresh perspectives.  Some people categorize her work as chick-lit.  I would disagree. She gives us no pathetic protagonist wrestling with romance, careers, or some form of paralyzing hyper-anxiety.  Yes, she does focus on female characters, but when we meet them, they are fully realized, living in the real world, not a fictionalized jungle populated by beautiful people searching for the next big thing.

Anyway, I haven't read enough to comment fully.  Grandma Ione and Nora are about to leave for Sweden where  Ione will be reunited (for some mysterious reason) with the great love of her life and the ex-best friend who married him.

On another note...I have never read a Nero Wolf mystery and ran across Murder by the Book at a rummage sale this past weekend.  Guess what I'll be reading on the deck on Sunday afternoon?

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, June 26, 2017

In Cold Blood

Sorry about missing a post last week.  I was busy feeling sorry for myself due to an emergency root canal followed by a crown.  Who could possibly type with a sore jaw?  The fuss and bother is over, excerpt for the embarrassing weeping each time I check my finances.  When I think about it, the trade off for the huge expenditure is vanquished pain.  Plus, I have a crown,  How wonderfully royal.

When it comes to reading - well, it has been two weeks of creepy for me.  Benjamin Percy's The Dark Net seemed like a good choice.  The deep net and the dark net have fascinated me for a while and I even logged on to Tor for about five minutes before chickening out.  If you're not sure what these nets are, here's a passage from the book that describes it nicely:

...Deep Net, which is hundreds of times the size of the surface Internet, all of the information that is unlisted, unsearchable, much of it legit, academic and government and military data bases.  The Dark Net is like the basement of the Deep Net.  Mail-order drugs, weapons trafficking, human smuggling, terrorist communications, spy communications, insider trading, intellectual property theft, death porn and kiddie pron. Anything nasty or forbidden.  Anything people don't want other people knowing about.  It's a red light district, it's a torture chamber, it's digital hell.

The book began with lots of intensity.  A young journalist begin investigating a building being re-purposed by an unidentifiable group of businessman believed to be setting up a work space for IT geniuses who control and hide paths on the dark net.  That was all well and good until a huge dog came into the picture and the plot turned to something out of a Dean Koontz novel.  The Koontz blurb on the cover should have been my first clue as to where this book was headed.  Needless to say, I did not persist.  I crashed after the blind girl put on her special sight enabling glasses and began to see phantoms.  

In Cold Blood, on the other hand - now that is holding my interest.  I read it when it was first released, when the intrigue for me was still with the crime and nothing else. Reading it again leaves me with only one descriptor - chilling.    Capote writes well.  Enough said about that.  What strikes me most is the normalcy that surrounds the horrific events.  People walk their dogs. They go to church.  Many gather in the cafe to share stories.  Four dead bodies in a farm house. Two guys fish in Mexico.  Students put on a production of "Tom Sawyer."  The world turns.  

Without a doubt, the book's impact is strengthened by the on-going drama connected with the murder of Theresa Halback.  So many lives shattered...changed forever. Most of us were only affected by the stain upon our community...yet we were affected.  Capote lets us in on the reactions of those both close to and those removed from the Clutter family.  Profound reaction, no matter the distance.  

My book group has chosen In Cold Blood for July, and some people have already expressed that they will skim the sections on the description of the crime itself.  The content here goes far beyond that and takes us into some fairly common yet complex moral issues.... nature vs nurture, death penalty, mental illness....oh, we will have plenty to discuss, I am sure. 

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

I read bits of this fun little rant on the demise of punctuation when it was first released, but decided to read it in full after opening a new book and discovering what I believed to be a grammar error in the first sentence.

If you have followed my blog for a while - and I know there are at least three of you who do - you would never call me a stickler for the rules that govern fine written communication.  In fact, my spelling is right down abysmal, my syntax wanting for tiding and sophistication, and my punctuation  - random at best.  

But, as Lynn Truss points out, its the school system's fault.  Grammar and mechanics were pounded into us from grades 1-8, often at a level that was far above what we could comprehend.  Come on, by 8th grade we had discovered the Beatles and Gidget and didn't really care if 16 Magazine used the oxford comma correctly.  

My high school bought into a canned learning program called English 2600.  We sat and our teacher sat. We read a page of explanations and examples and then took a test on what we had learned  Eventually, the book gave us a big test to see if we could move up to English 3200.  That's the only time I recall our teacher  actively doing anything, correcting the test and issuing us a pink book to replace the blue one.  

Did I learn grammar that way?  Sure.  I learned it long enough to take the tests.  Sometimes I gambled and skipped all the page turning and went right on to  the to test.  Worked most of the time.  To this day, my grammar skills consist partly of those I learned from the pretty colored learning system books, along with a good measure from reading and listening.  That served me well through college and through the writing of a boring, 175 page thesis comparing the effectiveness of traditional testing in literature classes to the more trendy authentic assessment.  No, I am not a stickler - my mantra being "If the sentence communicated something to you, then be quiet about the errors.  They are MY errors, not yours!"

Truss' book is funny.  And she has given me permission to do something I have done for most of my life - beginning sentences with "and".  "But" is OK with her as well, and so is ending a sentence with a preposition. After all, she asserts, language is alive.  It must change.  No more writing on walls for us.  No more stately constructs in novels burying colorful characters under the angst of accepted verbiage conventions.  We're freewheeling now.  Go ahead and put the period outside the quotation mark if it pleases you; just try to be consistent about it.  

About that perceived grammar error in the book that started this.  Not sure. The author is from New Zealand, so I guess I'll cut her some slack.  Rules vary from country to country and, no, I am not about to research accepted  subject-verb agreement rules in New Zealand. (Notice the effective use of commas, and the parenthetical comment ending this discussion,)  Period.  Full stop.  Dot.

Thanks for stopping by.

Metro Jam this weekend...Friday night and Saturday.  Oh those summer nights!

Monday, June 5, 2017

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry

Meet Elsa, a precocious almost eight your old, and her companion, the "wurse".  The wurse apparently occupies his own apartment and dines on chocolate, and sometimes on energy bars.  He is very old, howls a lot and seems to understand a secret language spoken by Elsa and her seventy-seven year old, juvenile delinquent granny. The language is Esperanto for those who read the book and  may be wondering.

Like Elsa, I was a wrong child.  She's wrong in that she is smart, insightful, outspoken and mostly right about everything.  I was just wrong because I didn't like fairy tales.  Stories about real people, living is real worlds, and doing read things were more my style.  Because of that, I had a tough time with this novel.

As Elsa faces the daily onslaught of dragons and other sorts that bully and harass, granny calms her fears with fairy tales - lands populated by characters suspiciously similar to the collection of adults that live in Elsa's building.  Oh, those metaphors didn't get  by me, no sirree.

For me, the fairy tales, which made up close to half the novel, distracted.  Just tell me about Granny, Elsa, the alcoholic psychiatrist, the lurker, the coffee maker and the rest.  Straightforward and undecorated.  Like Backman's first book, A Man Called Ove, the style borders on cute, again, just not for me.  Backman builds eccentric characters, but in my opinion, doesn't know what to do with them once they have been born.  I know plenty of people who rave about this book, and perhaps after book discussion group #2 takes it on next week, I will have better feelings.

Oh, one passage did move me.  (Spoiler)  The grown-up attempt to comfort Elsa about her grandmother's death saying that she was old and had used up all her life.  Elsa replies that she is only seven, almost eight, and she did experience grannys' seventy-seven years; to her, granny was not yet old.  Never thought of it that way.  Quite profound.

Anyway, I'll rummage through the new and used books to find one that speaks to me on more realistic level. Harlequin romance, perhaps.  Those are pretty realistic.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Mondo Barbie

Barbie - an icon.  A confusing, contradictory, silly, important and remarkable icon.  In fact, Mondo means something that is remarkable.  (I had to look up the definition). Over the past weeks, this book migrated several times from my purge pile back to the to-be-read pile.  I believe it made the journey without my help because I don't recall any significant contact with it since the select and purge process began last week.  Yet, there it obnoxiously rested on the save pile again last Saturday, so I gave in and began reading.

For starters,  all the poems and short stories in the bizarre and insightful collection are printed  on super-girly, hot pink paper. Like Barbie herself, pink has always been a problem for me.  Both are too showy, silly, and weird.  These works are anything but.  

When adult fantasies collide with childhood dreams, sparks fly.  The nine inches of shapely plastic come to life both as protagonist and antagonist, often as first person narrator.  Of course, we see Barbie as an unrealistic model placed in the hands of young girls who grow up feeling "less than" because of an inanimate object with a perfect figure, perfect friends, a perfect boyfriend,  the perfect pink convertible and the inviting Malibu beach house. 

If you developed a complex due to the near mystical power of Barbie which could literally suck hours out of your life each day, then these stories and poems are for you.  You'll see the behind the scenes world, the life with Ken who did not always respect her...the frustration of the couple as they discover they don't  have the proper anatomy to do the boom boom wompa wompa.....and the pathetic young woman who, only in death finally looks like the doll she so admired.

These pages hold a lot of grit, and a lot of anger.  But there is also humor.  My favorite poem title is "Barbie Hunts Through Medical Books for What is Wrong with Her When She Sees Her Birth Date in a Book, Knows She is Over 30".  Too funny.  The age crisis makes her feel unaccomplished and, as the poet tells us "hollow."  Maybe, as happened in one story,  if she traded heads with stewardess Barbie, or tennis champ Barbie, or maybe with Ken, she would feel worthy.. 

Sadly, this offbeat, irreverent little book is out of print, but you never know when  it might make it's way from someone's discard pile to a resale shop near you.

Memorial day next week.  No post.  Take some time to remember and respect those who have fought for our freedom.