Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Flesh Bone Water

This book is definitely one for the TBR pile. The cover caught my eye and the description makes it sound like a big, juicy, summer read:

From an exciting new voice in literary fiction, a seductive, dazzling, atmospheric story of family, class, and deception set against the mesmerizing backdrops of Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon River, and London.

André is a listless Brazilian teenager and the son of a successful plastic surgeon who lives a life of wealth and privilege, shuttling between the hot sands of Ipanema beach and his family’s luxurious penthouse apartment. In 1985, when he is just sixteen, André’s mother is killed in a car accident. Clouded with grief, André, his younger brother Thiago, and his father travel with their domestic help to Belem, a jungle city on the mouth of the Amazon, where the intense heat of the rainforest only serves to heighten their volatile emotions. After they arrive back in Rio, André’s father loses himself in his work, while André spends his evenings in the family apartment with Luana, the beautiful daughter of the family’s maid.

Three decades later, and now a successful surgeon himself, André is a middle-aged father, living in London, and recently separated from his British wife. He drinks too much wine and is plagued by recurring dreams. One day he receives an unexpected letter from Luana, which begins to reveal the other side of their story, a story André has long repressed.

In deeply affecting prose, debut novelist Luiza Sauma transports readers to a dramatic place where natural wonder and human desire collide. Cutting across race and class, time and place, from London to Rio to the dense humidity of the Amazon, Flesh and Bone and Water straddles two worlds with haunting meditations on race, sex, and power in a deftly plotted coming-of-age story about the nature of identity, the vicissitudes of memory, and how both can bend to protect us from the truth.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Thank you Patrick Farley

Artist Patrick Farley is making his awesome Science March posters available for free download. And if you're looking for more posters, click here.

Unicorn Books

Unicorns are suddenly everywhere, from Starbucks' color-changing drinks, to Coachella couture. I started thinking about unicorns and realized the only book about unicorns I could name was Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn. (The unicorn ponies of My Little Pony don't count.)

 I knew there had to be more so I turned, as I often to, to Good Reads, which did not disappoint with a list of 68 unicorn books.

I'm probably the only fantasy geek on the planet who never read The Chronicles of Narnia, so I didn't know that the seventh book in the series, The Last Battle, has unicorns. They're also in A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third book in Madeleine L'Engle's classic A Wrinkle in Time series. (I never warmed to that series either.)

But as I browsed the list, I found one I'd read and forgotten, Tanith Lee's Black Unicorn. Terru Brooks also wrote a unicorn book as part of his "Magic Kingdom" series but I find combinations of fantasy and  humor a bit hard to take. I don't mind comic relief, but I tend to like my fantasy taken seriously.

Writer Fuyumi Ono has an epic series ("The Twelve Kingdoms") that features unicorns heavily, and Mary Stanton has a multi-part Middle Grade series ("The Unicorns of Balinor") that sounds interesting. Other than that, I really wasn't tempted by what I saw on offer. but I kept Googling around and eventually I ran into Kathleen Duey's "Unicorn's Secret" books. Duey is a friend of a friend, and somewhere along the way, I'd read the first in the series, Moonsilver.  I went back and read it again and then I read on.

This series is a classic fantasy and very satisfying. It's also listed as MG (ages 7-10) but like the best fairy tales, it's timeless.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A personal reading list for Earth Day

If you Google "best books to read for Earth Day," the first hits that come up are for children's books (including The Lorax by Dr. Seuss). That's great, because environmental education needs to start early before the habits of careless consumerism become ingrained and careless disregard of Mother Earth becomes a way of life. t's the adults who are okay with the dismantling of the EPA, or are okay with rollbacks of protections on clean water, and clean air who honestly believe that "global warming" is a hoax invented by China. The people who dismissed Al Gore's thoughtful documentary An Inconvenient Truth are not going to pay attention to True Activist's list of "Worst Man-Made Disasters of 2016 You've Probably Never Heard Of."

The thing is, climate change deniers really aren't going to be persuaded by logic or argument. But there are subversive ways to send a message. And books are the best delivery system for this message. Here are the books I recommend recommending to anyone who's still not onboard with saving the planet. (See the Atlantic Monthly's article on "Climate Fiction," which asks the question, Can books save the planet?

1.  Zodiac by Neal Stephenson. This was his secondnovel and it's the story of a charismatic jerk of an environmental activist who discovers that something has gone terribly wrong in Boston Harbor. It's laugh-out loud funny (and also short, which most of his more recent books have not been), and there's a sobering message about meddling with Mother Nature underpinning the hijinks. (You can read a synopsis of it here.)

2. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. This steampunk/science fiction story takes place in an alternate, 19th century  Seattle where a massive industrial accident (think Bhopal) has poisoned the air in the city's center and turned people into zombies. The novel was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards and won the Locus Award for best science fiction novel.

3.  Lilith's Brood by Octavia Butler. This is actually a trilogy--Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago. In the book, the environmental disaster is nuclear, the result of an all-out war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The book was published 30 years ago and remains a frightening cautionary tale while also delivering a thrilling science fiction epic.

4.  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  Two words:  Dust Bowl. Most people are introduced to Steinbeck via his novella, Of Mice and Men, but this book, which won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer, is his masterpiece. My parents were born into the Depression and it shaped their lives. They collected scrap metal for the war effort in the 40s and even in the country's post-war boom, they lived frugally. (My maternal grandmother cross-stitched a sampler with her motto:  Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without.)

5. The World in Winter by John Christopher. In this "new ice age" of a book (think Day After Tomorrow), a winter no one predicted coming just never ends after a very long and harsh season. For those who have lived through increasingly savage winters of "Polar Express" weather and snowfalls that last well into spring, this story will be particularly frightening.

6.  The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. Give this book to horror fans because that's exactly what it is--a brilliant examination of just how badly humans have messed up. They will WISH it was fiction when they're done. This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 and it should be on the bookshelf of anyone who cares about environmental issues. Donate a copy of this book to your library. Send it to your relatives. If nothing else, it might motivate a few donations to some environmental causes. And God knows, they can use all the private help they can get right now.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

An Eccentric Easter Reading List

I've always wondered why Shakespeare didn't take a crack at writing a play about Jesus. Perhaps because it would have been seen as heretical. After all, D.H. Lawrence got plenty of criticism for his short work, The Man Who Died some three hundred years later. (If you've never read that, it's available from Project Gutenberg online.) Imagine the fallout there would have been had he kept the book's original title, The Escaped Cock.

 Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (1990).  I'm not a huge Terry Pratchett fan. I tend to think his whimsical humor is heavy-handed. I do like Neil Gaiman's work, though, and this novel--about two angels trying to prevent the apocalypse--is a romp through pop culture and religion and you name it.

Good Omens makes a good companion piece to Christopher Moore's Lamb. I loved, loved, loved christopher Moore's Practical Demonkeeping and also liked Coyote Blue quite a bit. I've read pretty much everything he's written and while Lamb is not my favorite, it's a lunatic piece of work detailing Jesus "lost years" as told by his friend Biff.

The Gospel, According to the Son by Norman Mailer (1997). One of my English professors, Reynolds Price, was a biblical scholar and he was pretty scathing in his review of Mailer's novel, which he didn't think was "inventive" 'enugh. (One of my other professors, Buford Jones, used to make fun of Price for his heavy-handed allegory in the novel A Long and Happy Life.)

King Jesus by Robert Graves (1946). Graves is  the man who gave us I, Claudius and Claudius the
God. He also wrote The White Goddess, a book on poetic mythmaking that was required reading, along with Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces when I was just starting out as a writer. The book views its title character as a philosopher rather than a messiah.

The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain (1953). I read this book when I was in high school and liked it a lot. (I also loved the author picture, which depicted Costain and his very fluffy white cat.)
It's about a Greek artisan named Basil who crafts a silver chalice to house the Holy Grail. I don't remember it being a "prequel" to the Arthurian legends of the Holy Grail, though, so I may re-read it.

reading Road Trip...Illinois

You could probably read one Illinois-related book a day and go for years. for poetry, you've got Carl Sandburg and next to his line about "the fog coming in on little cat feet," the poem every school kid in America had to learn was "Chicago." Who could ever forget the first lines?

    Hog Butcher for the World,
   Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
   Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
   Stormy, husky, brawling,
   City of the Big Shoulders.

"City of Big Shoulders."   That's such an elegant line. And then there's Chicago-born John Dos Pasos, whose monumental USA Trilogy really is "the great American novel" times three. (And he also infuenced E. L. Doctorow, whose books I devoured in high school.)

Illinois is a complicated state and the three books I most associate with it are Richard Wright's Native Son, Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street, and Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. It is also the setting for Erik Larson's brilliant book about H.H. Holmes, America's answer to Jack the Ripper--The Devil in the White City. Anyone who has trouble wrapping his/her head around #BlackLivesMatter needs to read Wright's novel, which is a searing character portrait and a time capsule of life in Chicago in the 1930s. "Bigger Thomas " is one of the most compelling characters ever created.

Cisneros' novel is a coming-of-age story that should be as widely read as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. (Am I the only person who never really liked that book? Maybe I read it when I was too old.) The heroine and narrator of The House on Mango Street is Esperanza Cordero, and she is a sympathetic and believable girl.

Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury's semi-autobiographical novel, is an idyllic portrait of the same sort of America that painter Norman Rockwell chronicled. It's a book that evokes a childhood so (mostly) happy that it almost seems like a fairy tale.

I read The Devil in the White City for a client and loved Erik Larson's writing. What really entranced me about the story was not the true crime it detailed, though. I fell in love with the idea of the Chicago World's Fair that was its backdrop. The World Columbian Exposition of 1893 was well-documented in photographs and drawings and I was fascinated by the temporary buildings and wonders put up for the occasion. I so wish some of them had been left behind, the way the Seattle Space Needle is a permanent reminder of the 1962 World's Fair.)  If time travel were possible, that's a place I would have loved to go.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Reading Road Trip ... Idaho

I drove to Sun Valley once with my roommate, a former professional ice skater. We were going there to see an ice skating competition. The mountains were lovely, but I chiefly remember that trip because we stopped to get gas along the highway and a couple of yahoos tried to convince us that some random part of the car was so worn down it was a danger. 'I wouldn't let my daughter get on the road with a car in that shape." We chose to ignore the warning but I was completely paranoid that the guys had done something to the car that would cause it to break down. (I know, I've seen too many horror movies.) But as it turned out, we were fine and there was no problem with the car. I haven't been back to Idaho since, although a friend of mine used to live in Boise and loved it there, despite the extreme weather both summer and winter. (Idaho's a red state but it Boise mayor Dave Bieter sounds pretty progressive. But somehow Idaho is a state that feels like it has a dark underbelly. The Boise Weekly used to have a Historical True Crime feature and the stories in it were fascinating.

The best book I've read set in Idaho is C.J. Box's taut thriller Blue Heaven. (You can read the first chapter here.) Blue Heaven was a stand-alone novel--Box writes the popular "Joe Pickett" series, and won the Edgar in 2009. The story revolves around two kids who have seen four retired cops commit murder. They're on the run in the Idaho wilderness and their only hope for safety is a rancher on the brink of losing everything. Good characters. Great local color. A smart plot (if somewhat farfetched) plot. Blue Heaven is a great read.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Reading Road Trip...Hawaii

Aloha!  You can't really take a road trip to the Hawaiian islands, but let's not be too literal here. I lived in Honolulu for a year in my twenties, sharing a one-bedroom condo that belonged to my roommate's uncle in a place called Nuuanu Towers. We had a view of Diamond Head in the distance and the Iolani Palace (aka,the headquarters of the classic Hawaii 5-O starring Jack Lord). The year I lived there, everyone my rooomate and I had ever met wanted to come visit us and they always wanted to go to the Iolani Palace. Because the show was still in production, tourists would often get to catch glimpses of the show's stars. James MacArthur was known to be particularly gracious and would often mingle on his lunch breaks. (And because life takes strange detours, one of my former landlordes is now the producer of the reboot of the show.)
I actually started one of my first crime stories while living there. It started with the word "Pau," which is Hawaiian for "finished" but pronounced as in "pow" like the gunshot.  I still have that story somnewhere although I'm pretty sure I'm never going to finish it.
Myster writer Toby Neal has a whole series of "Lei Mysteries" set in Hawaii (well into the double-digts by now) as well as a grittier series called "Paradise Crime." She also has a couple of one-offs.
The books cover topics as trendy as the "farm to table" movement and as classic as artifact looting. There's a real "island feel" to the books--not something you could pull off after taking a cruise and then watching a lot of YouTube videos. Toby is currently living in Northern California due to family obligations, but you can tell her heart belongs to Hawaii. (In my stay in Honolulu, I learned just enough Hawaiian to be able to say, "My heart belongs to Hawaii."  Ko'u naau no i Hawaii. Pronounce every letter and you'll get it right.

When I was living in Hawaii, there were a number of issues that were starting to bubble up, including the rights of people with Hansen's Disease (more commonly known as leprosy) to be "mainstreamed." (My roomate attended the church where Father Damien first preached in Hawaii, before he went to the island of Molokai (one of the most beautiful of the islands) to serve at the leper colony there.)
There were also tensions among the native Hawaiians and the military population stationed there, among them the Marines and Navy men on the island of Oahu. That's nothing new, one of the most crimes in Hawaii history, the Massie case, occurred in 1931 and involved the rape of a white woman and the lynching of one suspect, Joseph Kahahawai by the victim's husband, mother, and two sailors. the case was fictionalized in the novel Blood and Orchids, which was made into a television movie.
To my mind, the best book about Hawaii is probably The Shark Dialogues, written by Kiana Davenport, who traces her ancestry back to the first Polynesian settlers on the islands. It's a richly layered family saga-type book (much like James Michener's book Hawaii), and  though set in contemporary Hawaii, it's filled with myth and legend. IN some ways, it reminded me a lot of Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, although Kingston's book is a very different genre.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Reading Road Trip ... Georgia

John Berendt is a terrific writer. His book, The City of Falling Angels, is so seductive in its story of the destruction of the city's famed opera house that you almost feel like you're there (with side trips to some glass-blowing factories. The book that made his name, though, was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Not only was the book a runaway best-seller, spending four years at the top of the New York Times bestseller list (longer than any work of fiction or nonfiction before), but the photo used on the cover sent so many tourists to the Bonaventure cemetery in Savannah where "the bird girl" statue was located that the family had it removed. (Ironically, the photographer who took th iconic shot used on the cover is buried in the same cemetery where the sculpture used to stand.)

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is true crime of the very best sort. It reads like fiction, full of quirky and multi-faceted chraacters, with a brooding sensibility that is dripping with Southern Gothic trappings. It's a great read.

If you're looking for a great crime fiction set in Georgia, check out Karin Slaughter's Undone. Set in Atlanta, the book is number three in her series about Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Will Trent. It's paced like a movie thriller and it just does not stop. I like Slaughter's work a lot, and this is one of my favorite of her novels.

And finally, there's Melissa Fay Greene's Praying For Sheetrock, a finalist for the 1991 National Book Award and a New York Times "Notable Book." The story of how one black man took on the racist power structure and prevailed is as timely now as it was two decades ago.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Reading Road Trip ... Florida

Florida...long before Portland, Oregon embraced the mantle of weird, Florida seemed to be the source of all the weird news. For me Florida means the Space Coast and the home owned by my parents' friends, Les and Mary Gross, Miami Vice, and Disney World.

I'm not a fan of the Disney brand and I share that opinion with my favorite Florida-based writer, Carl Hiaasen. I've been a fan since Tourist Season (after living in Honolulu for a year, I'm not that fond of tourists) and particularly loved Native Tongue.  I also highly recommend the fantastical novel Swamplandia, tom Dorsey's Florida Roadkill, which I picked up because of the flamingo on the cover. (Flamingos say "Florida" to me, whether it's the actual birds of plastic pink flamingos in a trailer park.)

Other great books set in Florida include Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch,  Jennine Capo Crucet's collection of short stories, How to Leave Hialeah, Charles Willeford's Miami Blues, Joan Didion's Miami, and Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie.

I know that everybody always mentions The Yearling in lists of books set in Florida, but I never read that. Nor did I ever read Where the Red Fern Grows. I read enough sad animal stories as a kid to last me a lifetime. Old Yeller???? I bawled for days. And I wasn't the only one. My grandfather had to kill a dog when he turned on my father and it put my dad off pets for life.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Reading Road Trip ... Delaware

For most people, the state of Delaware is mostly famous for being the birthplace of everybody's favorite ex-VP and current meme star, Joe Biden. Delaware is a small state, located on the Delmarva Peninsula (Delaware/Maryland/Virginia) and unless you have a destination in mind--like heading for Rehobeth Beach, it's mostly a drive-through state. (The top ten attractions are mostly museums housed in stately buildings that were formerly private homes.)

I've read two books set in Delaware (that I know of), Ann Rule's And Never Let Her Go, the chronicle of Thomas Capano, who killed Anne Marie Fahey, who was secretary to the Governor. "Tommy" is a mesmerizing figure--a wealthy attorney (and former state prosecutor) with a very dark side. This book isn't as well known as Rule's book about Ted Bundy, The Stranger Beside Me, but it's a fine example of her style and substance.

The other book I've read couldn't have been more different. The Saint of Lost Things is an immigrant story, a family story, a woman's story. The characters in the novel are particularly well-drawn, and the central character, an Italian woman named Maddalena who has been trnsplanted to Wilmington, Delaware in the early 50s, is a memorable woman. There's a sequel to the novel, All This Talk About Love and a prequel, A Kiss from Maddalena, but I haven't read either of them.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Reading Road Trip ... Connecticut

Speaking of Columbine, Wally Lamb's book inspired by the event, The Hour I First Believed, is set in Connecticut.  I have not read that book although I have read She's Come Undone and I Know This Much is True. (The latter also takes place in Connecticut.) The last two books were featured on Oprah's Book Club and sold a bajillion copies. I found Lamb's books well-written but damn depressing.

Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives (set in Connecticut0 was much more to my taste. I saw the movie before I read the book and the virtual lobotomizing of the Paula Prentiss character scared the bejezus out of me. According to Wikipedia, Levin based the town of Stepford on Wilton, Connecticut, where he'd lived in the 60s. This is my favorite of Levin's books. I like it more than his most popular work, Rosemary's Baby.

Probably my favorite book set in Connecticut is The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Witch was my gateway to the historical romances by Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney, which I devoured as a teenager.
Speare. It was written in 1958 and I don't think it's been out of print since. It was probably the first "historical novel" I ever read, and i loved the heroine Kit Tyler, a smart and independent young woman who triumphs in love and life. I loved that her full name was "Katherine," like mine. (I have a cousin Katherine who goes by Kit, which I always thought was sooooo cool.) I'm pretty sure that Witch was the gateway book that led me to the historical romances of Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney and Mary Stewart, which I devoured when I was a teenager. (And they in turn led me to historical mysteris and after that, there was no turning back.

A Weekend Drabble

 I misread a "call for submissions" notice and created this Drabble (a story in exactly 100 words) for a market that doesn't actually exist. But I kind of like it anyway. So here it is. SHATTERED GLASS

 This is why you can’t have nice things, Alice scolded herself as she picked up the shards of the vase she’d just broken. She knew the voice in her head was not her own but belonged to her stepmother, but even so, it hurt.

Alice was a big girl and her bulk made her clumsy. She knew that. Her stepmother didn’t need to be such a bitch about it. But then, she was a bitch about everything. Even about the color of the tulips Alice had brought her. So, Alice had whacked her over the head with the vase.


Reading Road Trip ... Colorado

I have never been to Colorado except in movies and books. I read Isabella Bird's wonderful A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains when I was in middle school and it sent me off on a binge of reading 
about women explorers. And of course, since Stephen King is one of my favorite authors, I checked into the Overlook Hotel in Sidewinder, Colorado when I read The Shining, and later, Doctor Sleep.
Isabella Bird
But most of what I've read about Colorado has to do with the Columbine high school shooting. (Interestingly, the high school massacre is not the first massacre in Columbine's history. In 1927, a union action went bad when police and coal miners clashed in what's become known as the Columbine Mine Massacre.)

I don't read a lot of true crime books. I'm not an avis follower of lurid criminal cases on TV. I will admit that the JonBenet Ramsey case intrigues me and I wish someone would explain how she got that strange first name.) I like watching homicide hunter because I enjoy Joe Kenda's character but also because I know that the crimes depicted on the show were solved and the person (or persons) responsible were brought to justice. As Kenda would say, "Justice. It works for me."

But Columbine was a whole new level of crime and at the time, the narrative around it seemed familiar. Misfit kids. Outcsts. Yadda-yadda-yadda. Except...that's not how it happened. Dave Cullen's book Columbine (see an excellent review by Jesse Kornbluth here) tells the real story and it will chill you. Dylan Klebold's mother Sue has done a TED talk about her son and his friend Eric, and watching that in conjunction with reading Columbine will make you want to weep. She. Had. No. Idea.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Brotherhood of the Wheel...something different in Urban Fantasy

I love urban fantasy, but lately it's felt pretty stale. How many leather-clad women in katanas can one genre support? And even as someone who writes the occasional vampire story I'm starting to get a little tired of bloodsuckers. And then I read R. S. Belcher's Brotherhood of the Wheel. It's got a really ugly cover that doesn't really convey "urban fantasy" but look past that and what you get is unexpected, original, satisfying and--I really hope--the beginning of a series.
Brotherhood of the Wheel sets up a world in which the tradition of the Templars is alive and well with a group of men and women who "live on the asphalt." They are protectors of the innocent, and they can "see" the signs of evil that others cannot. And from the exciting opening when a trucker and a gypsy cab driver help capture a serial killer and save his latest victim, the book is filled with action and myth and genuine emotion and actual horror. It also has tremendous world-building and humor. (Some of the humor is a tad whimsical for my taste but overall, I think this is a terrific book.)

Reading Road Trip ... Arkansas

I have seen some photographs of the Ozarks that make the state look breathtakingly beautiful. Unfortunately, I have never been to the Ozarks but I have driven though Little Rock. My sister and I were driving to California one December and we stopped there one night, not in the scenic part of town. We were so ready to leave the city that we got up before dawn the next day and headed out.
Charlaine Harris (author of the Sookie Stackhouse "True Blood" books) set her Lily Bard series in Shakeseare, Arkansas and they sound like a lot of fun. John Grisham's novel A Painted House (set in 1952 with a secret that involves migrant workers) takes place in Arkansas. So does Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Reading Road Trip...California

There is no one California when it comes to literary depictions of the state. The San Joaquin Valley was immortalized by John Steinbeck's books, including his masterwork The Grapes of Wrath) but Jack Finney's The Body-Snatchers was also set there, as was T. Jefferson Parker's Summer of Fear, and John Lescroart's Hard Evidence, and James Patterson's Third Degree.

Los Angeles is the city that spawned hard-boiled detective fiction, a sub-genre that's alive and well with writers like James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential) and others who inhreited the mantle from Raymond Chandler. Further south, you find Don Winslow's Dawn Patrol, and om Wolfe's The Pump House Gang, and Vernor Vinge's Rainbow's End. The first truly "Califonia" book I ever read was Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays, and then later, her books of essays about the place, The White Album and Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Reading Road Trip ... Arizona

I've spent a lot of time in Arizona. I've been to the Tuscon Gem and Mineral show, I've been to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, which is an amazing place, especially if you're their for thier "Raptor Show." I've toured Biosphere 2 in Oracle, AZ and generally soaked up the sun in Phoenix. It's a red state, so I don't think I could live there, but I do like to visit it.

Three Arizona books stand out for me. one is Navajos Wear Nikes, a memoir by Jim Kristofic, who grew up on the reservation after his mother took a job working at a hospital there. He's an outsider--a white kid--but it's still an intriguing look at life on the reservation.

There's also Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead, a nonlinear, multi-character novel that meanders from the US to Central America. The book was published in the 90s and the writer's treatment of gay characters (way too many of her villains are gay), but that sadly reflected the tenor of the times.

The book that's stayed with me the longest, though, is The Quartzite Trip, a novel about a school trip that goes very, very wrong that really gets teenage feelings right. There's a scene where a guy looks at a girl who's plagued by acne and as he sees her in the moonlight, he realizes what a beauty she is. It's incredibly tender. I can't believe this book is out of print. It's one I read, along with Red Sky at Morning, that made a deep impression on me and 36 years later, I can still remember the way it made me feel.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane ... a review

The Physic Book of Deliverence DaneThe Physic Book of Deliverence Dane by Katherine Howe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A historian doing her mother a favor stumbles across a secret that changes her life.

Deliverance Dane was a “cunning woman” in the 17th century who failed to heal a child and became the subject of vicious gossip and accusations of witchcraft. Connie Goodwin is a Harvard-trained historian whose mother Grace sends her to Marblehead to clean out her grandmother’s house. While doing so, Connie runs across a reference to Deliverance that sends her on a quest to find the woman’s missing “book of physick,” her recipe of spells.

This dual time-frame story offers a somewhat different perspective on the Salem witch trials is much more interesting than the contemporary story. Connie isn’t as engaging a protagonist as Deliverance, and her academic search for the book of physick and the truth about Deliverance pales beside Deliverance’s own narrative. ture about some aspect of colonial life), but the stories being told here do not draw us in as much as they should.

View all my reviews

reading Road Trip...Alaska

When I was little, I was fascinated by the Iditarod race. (I even had a t-shirt that said, "Alaska, where men are men and women win the Iditarod.") So when I came across a mystery called Murder on the Iditarod Trail, I snapped it up. The author was Sue Henry, one of several women who have well-established Alaska-set mysteries. (Probably the best known is Diana Stabenow who writes the long-running Kate Sugak books.) Turns out there are a couple of other mystery writers who have made Alaska their stomping grounds. I'm a fan of John Straley (particularly his The Woman Who Married a Bear), and I intend to check out Christopher Lane's Inupiat mystery series.

For me, though, the quintessential Alaska book is John McPhee's Coming Into the Country. McPhee is widely known as a pioneer of "creative nonfiction" and I've been a fan of his since I read Oranges. His prose is cut-glass sharp but never pretentious. He's got books with titles so odd they suck you in, like The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed or The Curve of Binding Energy (a brilliant book about nukes) and his topics range from the geology of the West to a farmer's market (the title essay in Giving Good Weight).  One of his best books is La Place de la Concorde Swiss, which is about the Swiss Army and its role in society.Seriously. He will make you care about that.

Coming Into the Country is about both the land and the people on it and it's a grand colletion of personalities and observations. It made me want to visit Alaska more than ever before. Don't let that cover fool you (it looks like it was designed more for graphic impact than to give readers an idea of what's inside) and check it out if you're a fan of elegant writing and interesting subjects.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

A Millennial Voice

For my generation, Joyce Maynard's Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing Up Old in the Sixties pretty much summed things up. The author, an elfin, barefoot figure in jeans and a yellow sweater stared solemnly at the reader from the cover, and you got the picture. This is an "old soul." Maynard's book was highly praised at the time and since its publication in 1973, she has written about the various stages of her life. She was born in 1953, so she's gracefully aging into her middle years now.)

I don't really know who spoke for Gen X or Gen Y but when Marina Keegan first burst onto the scene, it was clear that she was a talent to be reckoned with. The Opposite of Lonelness is a collection of her essays and short stories and a showcase for a writer already confident and accomplished. Sadly, it is a posthumous collection, and unlike Joyce Maynard, we will never have the pleasure of seeing the writer mature. She died in a car accident just after she graduated from college.

If you want to write, write. Life is not a dress rehearsal.

Reading Road Trip...Alabama

Robert McCammon's Boy's Life and Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe are both set in Alabama and they couldn't be more different. McCammon's book (a Bram Stoker award winning fantasy/horor) is set in Zephyr, Alabama in 1964 and it opens with a chilling scene as a car plunges into a lake some say are bottomless. A milkman who witnesses the accident while makings his rounds with his son, dives down to see if he can rescue the driver and discovers...this was no accident. Flagg's book, the basis for the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, is set in the fictional town of Whistle Stop, Alabama and tells the story of a friendship between two women and plays out against various timelines. I highly recommend both books.

And then there's This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijcamp. Set in Opportunity, Alabama, it's the story of a school shooting told through multiple points of view. I have a fondness for that kind of storytelling (Ryan Gattis' All Involved is probably my favorite) and the writer does a fantastic job here. The book is tagged as YA but it is in the vein of Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give than John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.

the shooter in Nijcamp's book, Tyler Browne, is an outcast whose rage is fueled by the mantra, "I will make sure you remember me." In some ways it will remind readers of Todd Strasser's Give a Boy a Gun, a novel based on the 1999 Columbine school shooting.