Literary Quote of the Month

"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies," said Jojen. "The man who never reads lives only one." - George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons

Monday, August 28, 2017

Memoir Monday... Witness Tree by Lynda V. Mapes

Why is it that when fall approaches, the air seems a bit cleaner, the sky seems brighter and my thoughts turn to nature? It is in this vein that I offer Witness Tree by Lynda V. Mapes for today's Memoir Monday. I read a review in Kirkus Reviews that made me want to open this book up and indulge myself in a bit of nature. Maybe this book will strike a chord with you too... Here's the review...

A textured story of a rapidly changing natural world and our relationship to it, told through the lens of one tree over four seasons. Seattle Times environmental reporter Mapes (Breaking Ground: The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and the Unearthing of Tse-whit-zen Village, 2015, etc.) first encountered the Harvard Forest as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow, returning soon afterward for a yearlong stay in the woods. Renting a room in a historic farmhouse, she sought out a majestic century-old oak to serve as her lens from which to explore the past, situate the present, and grapple with an uncertain future. Aided by a colorful team of interdisciplinary experts, Mapes tells a dynamic story from multiple perspectives, including from a hammock in the canopy of the tree. Understanding trees simultaneously as utility and commodity, as ritual and relic, as beings with agency and sustainers of life, the author illustrates how they have found their ways into our homes and memories, our economies and language, and she reveals their places in our entangled future. Seamlessly blending elements of physics, ecology, biology, phenology, sociology, and philosophy, Mapes skillfully employs her oak as a human-scaled entry point for probing larger questions. Readers bear witness to indigenous histories and colonialism, to deforestation and extraction, to industrialization and urbanization, and to the story of carbon and the indisputable realities of human-caused climate change. Understanding these phenomena to be intricately interconnected, the author probes lines falsely drawn between objectivity and emotion and between science and wonder, all while examining the nature of knowledge and the possibilities, tensions, and limitations of science. Passionately discrediting the notion that humans and nature are separate, she links this flawed belief to the root of our current ecological crisis and calls for a reimagining of the ways of being together in the world.

A meticulously, beautifully layered portrayal of vulnerability and loss, renewal and hope, this extensively researched yet deeply personal book is a timely call to bear witness and to act in an age of climate-change denial.

What do you think? Does this review make you want to climb a tree? Or maybe just read this book?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Sunday Salon and Dial M for Murder... or 3 "Whodunnit's" of a Different Kind Worth Burning a Candle on Both Ends...

Welcome to The Sunday Salon! AND The Sunday Post (which is hosted by Kim at The Caffeinated Book Reviewer)! I've got so many great books in my TBR pile and on my library reserve list that I can't read them fast enough! I just finished The Lying Game by Ruth Ware and really enjoyed it! Look for my review this week, but just to let you know I would definitely give it 4 stars, almost 4 1/2. The last 50 pages or so I was holding my breath and feverishly turning the pages! After reading The Lying Game, which is a suspense thriller with a murder mystery at its' heart,  I was looking for more "murder mysteries" and found these three books. The first is a classic "Agatha Christie" type story, but the other two have elements of a whodunnit, but seem to have the whodunnit second to the story (and characters) surrounding the murders... Up for a good whodunnit with a twist? Read on...

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz... Here's the Kirkus Review, A preternaturally brainy novel within a novel that’s both a pastiche and a deconstruction of golden-age whodunits.

Magpie Murders, bestselling author Alan Conway’s ninth novel about Greek/German detective Atticus P√ľnd, kicks off with the funeral of Mary Elizabeth Blakiston, devoted housekeeper to Sir Magnus Pye, who’s been found at the bottom of a steep staircase she’d been vacuuming in Pye Hall, whose every external door was locked from the inside. Her demise has all the signs of an accident until Sir Magnus himself follows her in death, beheaded with a sword customarily displayed with a full suit of armor in Pye Hall. Conway's editor, Susan Ryeland, does her methodical best to figure out which of many guilty secrets Conway has provided the suspects in Saxby-on-Avon—Rev. Robin Osborne and his wife, Henrietta; Mary’s son, Robert, and his fiancee, Joy Sanderling; Joy’s boss, surgeon Emilia Redwing, and her elderly father; antiques dealers Johnny and Gemma Whitehead; Magnus’ twin sister, Clarissa; and Lady Frances Pye and her inevitable lover, investor Jack Dartford—is most likely to conceal a killer, but she’s still undecided when she comes to the end of the manuscript and realizes the last chapter is missing. Since Conway in inconveniently unavailable, Susan, in the second half of the book, attempts to solve the case herself, questioning Conway’s own associates—his sister, Claire; his ex-wife, Melissa; his ex-lover, James Taylor; his neighbor, hedge fund manager John White—and slowly comes to the realization that Conway has cast virtually all of them as fictional avatars in Magpie Murders and that the novel, and indeed Conway’s entire fictional oeuvre, is filled with a mind-boggling variety of games whose solutions cast new light on murders fictional and nonfictional.

Fans who still mourn the passing of Agatha Christie, the model who’s evoked here in dozens of telltale details, will welcome this wildly inventive homage/update/commentary as the most fiendishly clever puzzle—make that two puzzles—of the year. Stuffed with smarts and storytelling sorcery, this is a work of astonishing breadth and brilliance.

I use to love reading Agatha Christie when I was young! This sounds like it has all the elements of an Agatha Christie yarn and it is in my TBR pile now. Published by Harper Collins and available now!
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan... Here's the Kirkus Review, A woman must revisit a 20-year-old tragedy after a young man commits suicide in the bookstore where she works.

Lydia Smith loves her job at the Bright Ideas bookstore in Denver, puttering among the shelves and hovering over her gentle BookFrogs, the wanderers and dreamers who spend their days among the stacks. When one of her BookFrogs, Joey Molina, hangs himself in the store, she’s devastated and then shocked when she learns he’s bequeathed his meager possessions to her. When she discovers that he’s left messages to her in the pages of his books, she’s puzzled and begins trying to piece together his last days with the help of his friend Lyle. The reappearance of her childhood friend Raj Patel soon puts Joey on the back burner, however, as questions about her estranged father come to light. It all points back to the Hammerman, who, while Lydia was on a sleepover as a child, brutally killed her friend and her friend’s family with a hammer, leaving Lydia alive, hiding under the sink. The Hammerman was never caught, and Lydia seeks answers from the now-retired detective who handled the case, but she may not want to hear what he has to say. Turns out he always suspected her father was the killer but was stopped from pursuing that path, even in the face of some compelling evidence, and he’s never let go of his suspicion. After all, why did the killer let Lydia live after killing a 10-year-old girl and her parents, and could Joey somehow be connected? Debut author Sullivan presents a nicely paced tale about a horrifying incident with a woman at its core who must put aside her ordered life to find out what really happened all those years ago, where the truth, in the end, may be stranger than fiction.

An intriguingly dark, twisty story and eccentric characters make this book a standout.
Lots of buzz about this book. And how can you not like a story involving a bookstore?! But this looks to be more than a whodunnit, where the story of Lydia is in the forefront and the "murders" in question help create a worthwhile character. Published by Simon & Schuster and available now!

Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry... Here's the Kirkus Review, The unlikely friendship between a canny widow and a scholarly vicar sets the stage for this sweeping 19th-century saga of competing belief systems.

Widow Cora Seaborne knows she should mourn the death of her husband; instead, she finally feels free. Eschewing the advice of her friends, Cora retreats from London with her lady’s maid, Martha, and strange, prescient son, Francis. The curious party decamps to muddy Essex, where Cora dons an ugly men’s coat and goes tramping in the mud, looking for fossils. Soon she becomes captivated by the local rumor of a menacing presence that haunts the Blackwater estuary, a threat that locks children in their houses after dark and puts farmers on watch as the tide creeps in. Cora’s fascination with the fabled Essex Serpent leads her to the Rev. William Ransome, desperate to keep his flock from descending into outright hysteria. An unlikely pair, the two develop a fast intellectual friendship, curious to many but accepted by all, including Ransome’s ailing wife, Stella. Perry (After Me Comes the Flood, 2015) pulls out all the stops in her richly detailed Victorian yarn, weaving myth and local flavor with 19th-century debates about theology and evolution, medical science and social justice for the poor. Each of Perry’s characters receives his or her due, from the smallest Essex urchin to the devastating Stella, who suffers from tuberculosis and obsesses over the color blue throughout her decline. There are Katherine and Charles Ambrose, a good-natured but shallow society couple; the ambitious and radical Dr. Luke Garrett and his wealthier but less-talented friend George Spencer, who longs for Martha; Martha herself, who rattles off Marx with the best of them and longs to win Cora’s affection; not to mention a host of sailors, superstitious tenant farmers, and bewitched schoolgirls. The sumptuous twists and turns of Perry’s prose invite close reading, as deep and strange and full of narrative magic as the Blackwater itself. Fans of Sarah Waters, A.S. Byatt, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things should prepare to fall under Perry’s spell and into her very capable hands.

This book has gotten glowing reviews, and a "starred" review from Kirkus Review, but a few reviewers say that it's more a character driven victorian yarn that a murder mystery. Annalisa Quinn of NPR in her review of the book called the writing "so painfully lovely", that I just have to read it even if it's not such a "whodunnit" after all. She characterizes it as  a "historical novel". Published by Custom House, a division of Harper Collins, and available now.
And I Just Have to Mention...
The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss... Based on some of literature’s horror and science fiction classics, this is the story of a remarkable group of women who come together to solve the mystery of a series of gruesome murders—and the bigger mystery of their own origins.

Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.

But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherin Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.

I want to love this book because I love the idea of characters from other books making a story together. BUT, I have read mixed reviews. Some love it, one in particular not so much, in which the  reviewer thought that the author did not develop the characters enough. But that's the strange thing about reviews- we like to read what other people think of a book when considering to read it, but it is just the opinion of a particular person. So for my money, I'm giving it a chance and have it on my TBR list. I think if nothing else it will be a fun romp!
Are Book Reviews Important to You When Choosing a Book?
⭐The one book you don't want to miss this week...
The Burning Girl by Claire Messud... Trying to console her heartbroken daughter, Julia Robinson’s mother muses, “Everyone loses a best friend at some point.” Julia is the narrator of Messud’s beautiful novel about two young girls, inseparable since nursery school in a small Massachusetts town, who feel they’re “joined by an invisible thread,” but who drift apart as they come of age. For years, Julia and Cassie Burnes have shared adventures and dreams, but as they cross the pivotal threshold into seventh grade, Julia feels betrayed when Cassie is drawn to boys, alcohol, and drugs. To the reader, the split seems inevitable. Julia is the product of a stable household, but Cassie’s blowsy, unreliable mother transfers her affection to a brutally controlling lover who destroys Cassie’s sense of security. Desperately unhappy, Cassie sets out to find the father she has never known and begins a spiral of self-destruction that Julia, now no longer Cassie’s intimate friend, must hear about from the boy they both love. Messud shines a tender gaze on her protagonists and sustains an elegiac tone as she conveys the volatile emotions of adolescent behavior and the dawning of female vulnerability (“being a girl is about learning to be afraid”). Julia voices the novel’s leitmotif: that everyone’s life is essentially a mysterious story, distorted by myths. Although it reverberates with astute insights, in some ways this simple tale is less ambitious but more heartfelt than Messud’s previous work. The Emperor’s Children was a many-charactered, satiric study of Ivy League–educated, entitled young people making it in New York. The Woman Upstairs was a clever, audacious portrayal of an untrustworthy protagonist. Informed by the same sophisticated intelligence and elegant prose, but gaining new poignant depths, this novel is haunting and emotionally gripping.

Lot's of buzz about this book! I love these friendship stories. Published by Norton and arriving Tuesday, Aug. 29th at your favorite book seller. On my wish list!
What am I reading this week? I'm finishing up a memoir by Claire Dederer titled Love and Trouble. If you are a girl of "a certain age", growing up in the 70's or 80's, you too might enjoy this! It's about Claire's midlife crisis and reflecting upon "that girl" she'd hidden away 30 years before. Some of these reflections are just too true and too funny. After I put down Claire's book, I'll be picking up my library copy of The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland, a kind of time traveling scifi romp with a great female protagonist.

That's about it for books this week. Hope you were able to find something interesting here!

Happy reading... Suzanne

Friday, August 25, 2017

First Lines Friday...

"The Reach is wide and quiet this morning, the pale blue sky streaked with pink mackerel-belly clouds, the shallow sea barely rippling in the slight breeze, and so the sound of the dog barking breaks into the calm like gunshots, setting flocks of gulls crying and wheeling in the air..."
                                                                                                ...The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

Don't you just love the words rolling off your tongue as you say the pale blue sky streaked with pink mackerel-belly clouds? I do. And I love Ruth Ware's writing because I feel like I am sitting in a big comfy chair admiring all that's going on.

Hmmm... I wonder why that dog is barking... You are going to want to read this book and find out!

Does the first lines tempt you into reading more?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Memoir Monday... Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor

I don't remember how I came across this memoir, but I remember that I felt it was important. In what seems to be a rash of memoirs devoted to the art of dying, this one seemed different. Maybe it's because the author, Cory Taylor, is a writer. Maybe it was the interview of Cory I read that just made me to learn more about this interesting, brave, funny woman. Here's the Kirkus Review of Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor. Tell me what you think...

At the age of sixty, Cory Taylor is dying of melanoma-related brain cancer. Her illness is no longer treatable: she now weighs less than her neighbor’s retriever. As her body weakens, she describes the experience―the vulnerability and strength, the courage and humility, the anger and acceptance―of knowing she will soon die.

Written in the space of a few weeks, in a tremendous creative surge, this powerful and beautiful memoir is a clear-eyed account of what dying teaches: Taylor describes the tangle of her feelings, remembers the lives and deaths of her parents, and examines why she would like to be able to choose the circumstances of her death.

Taylor’s last words offer a vocabulary for readers to speak about the most difficult thing any of us will face. And while Dying: A Memoir is a deeply affecting meditation on death, it is also a funny and wise tribute to life.
Does the review make you want to read it?

Here's the link to the Cory Taylor interview with Richard Fidler, Dying for beginners: Cory Taylor on facing death with honesty

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Sunday Salon and 3 Thrilling Books to Read While You Wait for the Next Solar Eclipse...

Welcome to The Sunday Salon! Or instead of the SUNday Salon, maybe we should be talking about the SOLAR Eclipse Salon, because as everyone probably knows, tomorrow we will be experiencing a Solar Eclipse. Where are you going to be? Will you be able to see the full eclipse? Here's a link to see exactly what you'll be able to see...

When you get to the link, just enter YOUR city & state. The duration of the Solar Eclipse, from start to finish will be 2 hours and 36 minutes. And remember if you do want to "see" it, you'll need protective eyewear and/or protective filters for your cameras (you could ruin your camera by pointing it directly too). Want more Solar Eclipse knowledge? Click the link for NASA and learn about the Solar Eclipse and how to view it safetly.

In the blink of an eye, the  2017 Solar Eclipse will be over and the next North American total solar eclipse won't be here until 2024... So while you're waiting for that, let's talk great books! (Okay, that may have been a cheap seque to today's books

For the last few months, I've been reading, but haven't found "that book". You know that book that you don't want to end, and that you feverishly are glued to 24/7. I've also been busy with a lot of personal stuff, like planning to retire from "the day job" and starting "the great purge" to move. But I spent some time at my great local indie bookstore recently (Byrd's Books) and the great reading fire was lite once again! Yay! So here's what I picked up for that last hurrah of summer reading...

The Lying Game by Ruth Ware... On a cool June morning, a woman is walking her dog in the idyllic coastal village of Salten along a tidal estuary known as the Reach. Before she can stop him, the dog charges into the water to retrieve what first appears to be a wayward stick, but to her horror, turns out to be something much more sinister... The next morning, three women in and around London—Fatima, Thea, and Isabel—receive the text they had always hoped would NEVER come, from the fourth in their formerly inseparable clique, Kate, that says only, “I need you.” The four girls were best friends at Salten, a second rate boarding school set near the cliffs of the English Channel. Each different in their own way, the four became inseparable and were notorious for playing the Lying Game, telling lies at every turn to both fellow boarders and faculty, with varying states of serious and flippant nature that were disturbing enough to ensure that everyone steered clear of them. The myriad and complicated rules of the game are strict: no lying to each other—ever. Bail on the lie when it becomes clear it is about to be found out. But their little game had consequences, and the girls were all expelled in their final year of school under mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the school’s eccentric art teacher, Ambrose (who also happens to be Kate’s father). 

This is what I'm addicted to now. I walked into the bookstore originally intending to buy the Lizzie Borden story reimagined (See What I Have Done) and did, but this book caught my eye, and after reading a little bit, the writing just hooked me. Ruth Ware is laying the foundation for something OMG, and I can't wait to find out what it is! BTW, Ruth Ware has two other books that have hit home runs in the literary department (In A Dark Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10) and I'll be putting them on my reading list if this is keeps up the literary feast that I'm enjoying now. 
See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt...  Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell―of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence. As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

In the hands of a great writer, a historical event (or well known story) can be reimagined and be just wonderful. You know all the players and yet a different take can electrify the story once again. A GREAT example, and still one of my favorite reads, is Dracula in Love by Karen Essex. OMG, this story is told thru Mina's (Dracula's love interest) point of view and it is simply delicious! This seemed to start out a little slow, but interestingly, so I chose to read The Lying Game first, but will definitely be reading this next. This book has gotten rave reviews and I hope it lives up to the hype.
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka ... When a beloved high schooler named Lucinda Hayes is found murdered, no one in her sleepy Colorado suburb is untouched—not the boy who loved her too much; not the girl who wanted her perfect life; not the officer assigned to investigate her murder. In the aftermath of the tragedy, these three indelible characters—Cameron, Jade, and Russ—must each confront their darkest secrets in an effort to find solace, the truth, or both. In crystalline prose, Danya Kukafka offers a brilliant exploration of identity and of the razor-sharp line between love and obsession, between watching and seeing, between truth and memory.

This is characterized as "Suspense", but my first impressions as I was reading a bit of it were more like literary fiction with a sprinkling of suspense. I suppose when I hear suspense, I think of "thriller", which is not always the case. BUT, I really enjoyed the sample writing of Danya Kukafka and had to put the book down before I became totally absorbed. 
AND Coming Soon to a Bookstore near you... There are a few books that are on my radar... The Burning Girl by Claire Messud, "A bracing, hypnotic coming-of-age story about the bond of best friends" and a book by none other than Nancy Pearl, "America's Librarian, who can recommend a good book in a heartbeat, but now has written one herself. It's called George & Lizzie, "an intimate story of new and past loves, the scars of childhood, and an imperfect marriage at its defining moments". Will Nancy Pearl's novel writing live up to her review fame? I'm willing to give it a try, just because I'm a Nancy Pearl fan. May be more practical to borrow this one though, I've heard some mixed reviews. 

That about wraps up this weeks book finds... We'll be back with more great books next week, because there were definitely more books I could have talked about! I think this fall is going to be a great book reading season!

Happy reading... Suzanne
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