February 2007 archive

Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God – Book Review

I came across a love of moving water kneeling in the current of Caudel Run, the small creek behind our home in Kentucky, whose waters were as clear and cold as my fear, falling over black ledges of slate, gatheing in white sluices of anguish, numbing my feet, blueing the skin. I could hold the water in my hands and bring it to my mouth. From Beachcoming for a Shipwrecked God, page 8 –

When Charlotte’s husband dies suddenly, she flees from her home in Kentucky to New Hampshire to escape her memories and her overbearing in-laws. There she meets Grace – an elderly woman with a sharp wit and an uncanny ability to fool others with her realistic paintings – and Chloe, a seventeen year old girl who battles a weight problem and an abusive boyfriend. It doesn’t take Charlotte long to join an archeological dig and begin to uncover secrets from the past.

Coomer combines a love of the water with archeological details to establish a setting which draws the reader in. He creates characters who thrum with life. Weaving through the story line is the idea of creating a life – past, present and future. Charlotte wishes to escape her memories and bury her past; for Grace going “to Heaven without my memory” is unthinkable; for Chloe, just starting out, the future is full of memories to be made.

At times, the novel stumbles and becomes too predictable, but Coomer rights it quickly and takes the reader to a satisfying conclusion.


Zelda – A Biography – Book Review

Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald were international sensations during the Jazz age of the 20s. They traveled the world on a wave of excitement and romance. But beneath their carefree public personas lurked alcoholism, madness and tragedy.

Nancy Milford has done her homework. She draws from Zelda’s scrapbooks and love letters; mines information from old friends; and even delves into both the Fitzgerald’s writings, which were autobiographical stories masquerading as fiction.

The book is dark and brooding at times, and difficult to read as Zelda’s life spirals out of control. Morose and intense, I found myself having to take frequent breaks to take a breath and recover. Milford portrays Scott Fizgerald as a man consumed by his writing, drinking to excess, and using his wife’s words (from her diary and letters) as fodder for his novels. Disturbingly, many of Zelda’s work was published under Scott’s name. As a writer myself, I found this unforgivable.

In the end, I was overwhelmed with sympathy for Zelda. She was a highly intelligent, gifted woman who could not overcome the demons of schizophrenia which haunted her. Milford leaves the reader feeling exhausted by the tragedy of Zelda’s life and death. The book is worth reading for the breadth and depth of the information provided; but it is hardly a “light” or enjoyable read.

Paying Attention

I don’t believe in coincidence. Coincidence is God nudging you and saying “Sit up, take notice, this is IMPORTANT.” We have themes which run through our lives like the tiny stitches of an elaborate quilt. We don’t often notice them until the quilt gets bigger and we start to see a pattern.

I have struggled with infertility and cried the tears of a vacant womb. And yet, children keep stepping into my life.

– My first job out of college in 1983 was to work with abused and neglected children in residential care.
– My friend’s kids all call me “auntie.”  
– I have a wonderful relationship with my biological nieces and nephews.
– Three years ago I happened across a therapeutic horseback riding ranch that services not only adults, but children with disability.
– I keep stumbling across websites about children in need.

And so it goes…

In the last week three things have happened:
1. I met a woman in her 50s who just adopted a four year old foster child (who had been in her care since he was a year old).
2. One of the book groups I belong to began discussing Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the subject of child abuse and foster care came up. One very vocal lady expressed that “foster kids are crazy” and wondered why we no longer had orphanages in the United States. I instantly felt outrage at her statements and my first thought was to defend these children.
3. Triple Creek Ranch Inc. (the therapeutic horseback riding program I volunteer at) began discussing what we (the Ranch) can offer to foster kids…and a rush of adrenaline surged through me. This sounded “right”…I wanted to help with a special program like this.

So, what does it mean? Coincidence? I think not.

I’m sitting up. I’m paying attention. It seems to be important.

Catching up on Short Stories

One of the book groups to which I belong (Mostly Books) suggested we all try to read some short stories this month. I enjoy short stories very much, but rarely take the time to read them…so this was an excellent opportunity for me to do some “little” reads. Perusing my bookshelf, I found an old Glimmer Train Magazine from 2004 (Issue #51). Thumbing through the pages, I realized I had only read four of the 17 stories in this collection. Perfect! So I challenged myself to read at least five more stories which are summarized below. Not a bad one in the bunch.

1. Hot House, by Jeni Lapidus

Rated: 4/5
Finished on February 4, 2007
An intensely disturbing short that gives us a glimpse into the world of depression. Not a terribly hopeful story, but beautifully written. A favorite passage: ‘What can any of us do for the breaking-up and breaking-down but witness them and wait it out – even when the broken ones are us?’

2.  The Words Honey and Moon, by Jennifer Tseng

Rated: 3/5
Finished on February 4, 2007
Interesting little story about an older Chinese man marrying a younger American woman. My problem with this story was there were too many unanswered questions about the characters. They both seem deeply flawed, but the reader is never given insight into why.
3.  Multiple Listings, by Lucy Honig
Rated: 4.5/5
Finished on Febuary 4, 2007
I really enjoyed this short about a group of potential home buyers being shown a listing in Boston. The story has a surprising ending. Tenderly written with exceptional character development.

4.  Say to the Waves, by Paul Michel

Rated: 4.5/5
Finished on February 6, 2007
At three o’clock in the afternoon of February 26, Gerta Olsen’s husband, Shorty dove headfirst off the twelfth-floor balcony of the Norview Senior Center.
Thus begins this engrossing short. The story is about the collision of two strangers connected by death and the simple beauty of a black orca bench. Michel has a firm grasp on setting, and uses the imagery of the sea to pull the reader into this well wrought tale. Despite the grim subject matter, the story leaves the reader with a sense of hope that life does, indeed, go on…even after tragedy.

5.  Among the Living Amidst the Trees, by Bruce Machart

Rated: 5/5
James Byrd Jr. was dragged to his death by bigots on a rural road in Texas. This is true. The story that Machart weaves around this real life event is complete fiction, but due to the authors skill at character development, one gets the feeling that his characters actually exist. Machart creates vivid imagery (‘With the windows down, the forest smells akin to what you might get if you boiled Pine-Sol on the stovetop while raosting a sack of rain-soaked soil in the oven.‘) and true to life characters who blow apart the stereotype of the “redneck” (‘Six months back, after Tricky’s first couple chemo sessions, all the boys of the pipefitters’ local shaved their heads. It was a hard man’s brand of brotherhood, and the night they did it Tricky walked into the bar, and when he saw them his eyes filled with a liquid look of something like love. These are rough-hewn and heavy men, men with calluses thick as rawhide, men who aren’t afraid to keep something tender beneath their ribcages, and to expose it to the elements when occasion calls for it, no matter how it hurts.‘). Machart uncovers the people beneath a headline, and leaves the reader aching for more.

New York Times (NYT) Most Notable Fiction Challenge

WRAP UP for this Challenge:

I am almost embarrassed, as the host of this challenge, to admit that I didn’t complete it! That said, however, I think I was probably a bit over zealous in thinking I could read 20 books from the list given all the other challenges and group reads I also committed to!

The books I read for this challenge (links to reviews below):
1. Half Of A Yellow Sun, by Chimanada Ngozi Adichie
2. Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky
3. The Translator, by Leila Aboulela
4. Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes
5. Only Revolutions, by Mark Z. Danielewski (DNF)
6. The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai
7. Old Filth, by Jane Gardam
8. Beasts of No Nation, by Uzodinma Iweala
9. The Emperor’s Children, by Claire Messud
10.The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers
11.Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell
12.The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
13.Eat the Document, by Dana Spiotta

Several of these books will make my list for top ten of 2007. I would not have read most of these without this challenge – and I discovered that the NYT Most Notable List is something I need to pay more attention to if I want to read great literature. I plan on reading more books (unofficially) from this list into 2008.

Thank you to all participants who helped make this challenge stimulating and fun! For those of you interested in reading notable books from the NYT Most Notable List, and other lists of notable books, the challenge for 2008 has been moved to here. Hope to see you there!!


**UPDATE for those doing this challenge: 
Sycorax Pine (Ariel) has graciously set up a “team blog” for all participants here.  Please join us in posting and cross posting our reviews of the books we are reading for this challenge. We are linking directly to Library Thing and Amazon, as well as individual blogs!!!

This year (2007) I am challenging myself to read 20 books from the NYT Most Notable Fiction of 2006 list. I’ve decided so simply pick them “as I go” and as the mood strikes! Anyone who would like to join me is welcome…please leave me a comment and a link to your site so we can encourage each other.

This is the list from which I will select my books:

Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (completed January 7, 2007. Rated 5/5. Read my review here.)
Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky (Completed February 17, 2007. Rated 5/5. Read my review here.)
The Translator, by Leila Aboulela (Completed March 23, 2007. Rated 4.5/5. Read my review here.)
Alentjo Blue, by Monica Ali
One Good Turn, by Kate Atkinson
Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes (Completed April 30, 2007. Rated 4/5. Read my review here).
Brookland, by Emily Barton
Last Evenings on Earth, by Roberto Bolano
Only Revolutions, by Mark Z. Danielewski (DNF)
The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai (Completed March 16,  2007. Rated 4.25/5. Read my review here.)
The Dead Fish Museum, by Charles D’Ambrosio
The Keep, by Jennifer Eagan
Twilight of the Superheroes, by Deborah Eisenberg
The Lay of the Land, by Richard Ford
The Dissident, by Nell Freudenberger
Skinner’s Drift, by Lisa Fugard
Old Filth, by Jane Gardam (Completed May 29,  2007. Rated 3.75/5. Read my review here.)
Golden Country, by Jennifer Gilmore
Intuition, by Allegra Goodman
The Stories of Mary Gordon, by Mary Gordon
The Dream Life of Sukhanov, by Olga Grushin
The Possibility of an Island, by Michel Houellebecq
Beasts of No Nation, by Uzodinma Iweala (Completed March 5, 2007. Rated 3.75/5. Read my review here.)
All Aunt Hagar’s Children, by Edward P. Jones
The Uses of Enchantment, by Heidi Julavits
Forgetfulness, by Ward Just
Gate of the Sun, by Elias Khoury
Lisey’s Story, by Stephen King
The Inhabited World, by David Long
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (Completed May 17, 2007. Rated 5/5. Read my review here.)
After This, by Alice McDermott
Gallatin Canyon: Stories, by Thomas McGuane
The Emperor’s Children, by Claire Messud (Completed December 12, 2007; Rated 4/5; Read my review here)
Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell (Completed March 26, 2007. Rated 5/5. Read my review here)
High Lonesome: New and Selected Stories, by Joyce Carol Oates
Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl
The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers (Completed September 6, 2007. Rated 4.5/5. Read my review here)
Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon
Everyman, by Phillip Roth
Absurditan, by Gary Shteyngart
Eat the Document, by Dana Spiotta (Completed May 22, 2007. Rated 3.5/5. Read my review here)
Digging to America, by Anne Tyler
Terrorist, by John Updike
Apex Hides the Hurt, by Colson Whitehead
A Woman in Jerusalem, by A.B. Yehoshua

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