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Jane Has Her Say

ISBN: 
9780307958341

I love this new age of biography where not only famous people’s lives are examined but also everyman’s or in this case everywoman’s. Of course, Jane Franklin’s life would have faded into history were it not for her very famous older brother. But this compelling biography gives a very interesting account of the life of an ordinary, rather poor Boston woman during the time period of the Thirteen Colonies.

Jane grew up in a big family and Ben was six years her senior, and he taught her to read. They corresponded their whole lives, and were for many years the last two left from their nuclear family. Many of Jane’s letters have been lost, but can be somewhat reconstructed from her brother’s responses to them. Like her brother, she was very opinionated and thought of Benjamin as her “second self.”

At age fifteen, she married a saddler named Mecom, and for the next twenty plus years, she was either pregnant or nursing children. She had twelve children and all but one died before she did. Most, unfortunately, died as adults which was less common at that time. Her husband was not a good provider and eventually went crazy. So Jane and her children boiled and sold soap from home.

Her letters to her brother and his gifts of books, many of which he had printed himself, gave her an intellectual life that she otherwise would not have had.  They shared many secrets from the rest of the family, some of them jokes. Read more »

Emma Approved and Other Jane Austen Inspirations

Pride and PrejudiceLast year I blogged about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which was a really wonderful and Emmy winning video series that told the modern day story of Lizzie Bennet and her sisters based on the original characters from Pride and Prejudice.

Fans of that series now have something new to watch! Emma Approved is a video series from the same producers and again is a modern day retelling of a classic Austen work. I was able to get caught up on the first five episodes today during lunch. They might be harder to get into because Emma Woodhouse isn’t initially as likeable of a character as Elizabeth Bennet, but having read the book (both for school and leisure!) I am feeling confident that she will grow on me with time. It isn’t too late to get caught up with either story, no matter if you are an Austen super fan or just a casual admirer. Read more »

Award Nominatons and Literary Fiction

LowlandsIf we were to believe the media, summer reading is a time for light beachy reads. Thrillers, romance and other guilty pleasures seem to fall in this category. I fall strictly into the camp that you can read anything you want at any time, but one thing we can agree on? It isn’t summer anymore! So maybe it is the perfect time for a literary read. Literary fiction is often denser, more lyrical and the characters spend less time doing things and more time reflecting or reacting to things. They can be beautiful to read, have complex issues, but also sometimes dark and sad. Warning: literary fiction books often have open or ambigious endings! You will be in for a surprise if you normally read romance or mysteries.

Literary fiction fans often refer to awards lists – and two of my go-to lists have recently announced their nominees. The Man Booker prize is awarded to British authors and those from the Commonwealth of Nations. Their recently announced short list is very diverse – four of the six are women and are from the far reaches of Zimbabwe, New Zealand, India, and Canada. The entire list: Read more »

A Year of Loss

ISBN: 
9781400069439

Paul Harding’s second novel after his Pulitzer-prize winning Tinkers is heartbreak of a novel.  One Sunday in the lovely New England village of Enon, Charlie Crosby takes a solitary walk at a bird sanctuary. He had invited his 13 year-old daughter Kate but she chose to go swimming instead with her girlfriend.  That afternoon while she is biking home from the lake, a distracted mother runs over her.  Charlie’s life changes forever.

The first casualty of Kate’s death is Charlie’s marriage to Susan.  Apparently, Kate had been the glue holding their union together, and when he is so overcome with grief that he can do nothing but lie on the couch and cry, his wife first begs for his help then gets angry.

Then in an intense moment of grief, wanting to feel real physical pain, he pounds the stairway wall and breaks his wrist. Susan takes him to the emergency room but a few days later leaves for her parent’s house in Minnesota.

The novel is essentially focused on two characters, the village of Enon—it’s presence is almost human and palpable--and Charlie, who has long studied the village’s history.  Charlie, who starts to abuse prescription drugs and alcohol, wanders the village mostly under cover of night.  Read more »

The Garden of Evening Mists

ISBN: 
9781602861800

This beautiful historical novel is set in an exotic place, rural Malaya, after World War II before it became the country of Malaysia. It’s also one of the rare novels that is centered on a Japanese garden.

The narrator, Teoh Jun Ling, a woman of Straits Chinese heritage, has just retired from her career judging war criminal cases. Previous to that, she was a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp. In fact, she was the only person to survive; after being tortured there, she developed a great hatred for all things Japanese. Yet her dear sister, Yun Hong, who died at camp, always had a passion for Japanese gardens after she had visited the island nation as a child.

Yun Ling returns to the highlands to see old friends and also to visit the tea plantation of Yugiri where an ex-Japanese, Aritomo, has long worked a spectacular garden.  Although she is repulsed at asking a favor from someone Japanese, she requests that Aritomo build a Japanese garden in her sister’s memory.

He adamantly refuses. But then a few days later suggests an alternative. If she is willing to serve as his apprentice, he will teach her how to create her own. Read more »

Hippie Child: How a Young Boy Helped Parent his New-Age Mom

ISBN: 
9781401324605

Think your childhood was non-mainstream? A little kooky? Perhaps on the bizarre side? Well check out the hand Josh Safran was dealt being born in the early 70s in a commune in San Francisco during the height of Flower Power and the counter-culture.

Safran makes his childhood—first in city communes; later in remote cabins in the mountain wilderness actually sound happy.  Credit his mother, Claudia, for that.  Highly intelligent, emotionally warm, full of passion for political change and hope for a just world, Claudia imparted to Josh many values.  Yet, she also barely kept food on his plate and never gave him a beautiful home. In fact for one three month period, they lived in a visqueen shelter on tree stumps in a rain forest. Yet these are failings of poverty not intent. Much worse were allowing her lovers to abuse him and to threaten them both by driving under the influence of alcohol on icy mountain roads, often in the dark.

The book is sad, poignant, funny, and a surprising page turner from beginning to end. Check out this hook of an opening sentence “By the time I was ten, I had hitchhiked thousands of miles and befriended hundreds of remarkably strange people.”  Here’s a short list of them: Crazy John, Uncle Tony (no blood relation), conniving Bob, deal-making Read more »

While You’re Waiting For ….. Never Go Back by Lee Child

ISBN: 
9780385344340

In this 17th Jack Reacher novel, Child gives his antihero some things to think about. He is on his way to D. C. to take Major Susan Turner to dinner, a first. When he arrives, she is in the brig and he is arrested on trumped up charges. In Jack Reacher style, they break out and head cross country to clear their names. Meanwhile a woman from his past is suing him for child support for his alleged daughter.

Lee Child’s novels can be described as bleak, edgy, suspenseful, fast paced with complex plots and violent action. His hero, Jack Reacher, can be described as an introspective loner,  tough and macho, but with a strong moral code. The following authors have similar heroes. Try some of these series’ while you wait for Reacher.

James Lee Burke with hero Dave Robicheaux, Michael Connelly with hero Harry Bosch, Barry Eisler with hero John Rain, Vince Flynn with hero Mitch Rapp and Stephen Hunter with heroes Bob Lee Swagger and Ray Cruz.

Comedy Memoirs for the Boomer Generation

Still Foolin EmOctober seems like the perfect time of year for dark, mysterious and brooding books. But I am still holding on to September! Something light might just be the ticket before the dark fall reads.

New release Still Foolin’ 'em by Billy Crystal has cracked into the top of the New York Times best seller list. After recently turning 65, Crystal tries to relate to the other millions of baby boomers who are also at or near this milestone often by portraying physical ailments through the lens of appealing humor. He also explores his long career starting off with stand up in New York to some beloved movies and stints on Saturday Night Live and hosting the Oscars. Crystal isn’t afraid to tackle serious issues, but also presents us with a belly laugh at a life well lived. There are numerous holds on the Crystal book, so while you are waiting for this book to come in you might want to try these other humorous memoirs. Read more »

Bobcat and Other Stories

ISBN: 
9781616201739

If you like short stories don’t skip this new collection, Bobcat. Rebecca Lee’s stories about architects, matchmakers, academics, depressed children, a writer’s spouse, and student plagiarists are absorbing and continually offer fresh surprises. Lee writes fluid yet beautiful prose that cuts immediately to the chase.

In the story “Min,” the title character’s father, Albert, works in Hong Kong to resettle Vietnamese refugees for the UN. One summer Min invites his college friend to visit Asia with him for the summer.  Although they are close friends, Min and Sarah are not in love. 

While there, Sarah discovers that the promised job that Albert has chosen for her is to find Min a wife. Sarah’s only training is to read the notes Albert’s mother left when she selected her own son’s bride. Here are a couple examples: “Possibility—Midnight black hair, walk is like a leopard, carnal desires strong,” and “Monkey woman, scurries through the day, loves confusion.” Read more »

River Inside the River

ISBN: 
9780393239744

What a beautiful collection Gregory Orr’s tenth book of poetry is--moving, lyrical, concise, thought-provoking and full of a rich humanity. Orr has had a difficult life. As he describes in one poem, he accidentally shot his brother in a hunting accident as a child and his mother died a few months later. He doesn’t say from heartache but that is implied.

The book is divided into three sections. The first “Eden and After” offers an overabundance of infinitive titles including: “To Speak,” “To See,”  “To Write,” “To Embrace,” “To Stray,” and a couple I can’t mention here. The poems are much deeper and broader than the titles might imply.  And yes, they are about Adam and Eve’s time in the Garden of Eden and their later fall as these lines from “To Build” reveal: “No longer could they rest / Each night inside / God’s breath / As in a tent that kept / Them from the cold.”

The second section is more literary. It’s called “The City of Poetry.” Individual poets are mentioned including: Francois Villon, Coleridge, /Rimbaud, Sappho, etc. but it’s more a praise song to poetry itself: “There’s only one river / That flows / Through the city / But different poems / Call it different names.” Read more »

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