Monday, November 24, 2014

For the language of longing never had words.

I picked up an advanced copy of Ann Packer's new novel based solely on my love for The Dive From Clausen's Pier.

Her latest works tells the story of Bill Blair and his four children, now adults, and the lives they've settled into after a childhood influenced by their attentive, pediatrician father and their rather inattentive (that word may even be generous), artistic mother.

The Children's Crusade varies its point of view - you hear from all of the children at different times in their lives. There's no doubt that Packer does an amazing job of forming her characters. I could easily picture each Blair "child" - doctor Robert, psychiatrist Rebecca, free spirited Ryan, now a teacher, and then baby James, the troubled youngest child in the family. They all tell their tales at various highs and lows of the family's saga.

It's interesting, yes, and perhaps even a lovely examination into this family. I thought they'd focus more on their mother, but really, her absence both forms everything about them and nothing. I certainly found very little redeeming about her character, whereas her husband comes across practically saintly. Intentional? There is great focus on the land and family home that Bill found as a young man-- property that he buys before he's even married. The children are attached to the land and the house, and it's that house that really seems to form the center of the story, even if they no longer live there.

I liked the book, I really did, but I found myself wishing for a bit more at the end. I'm not sure what. I would definitely recommend it to others, but I wasn't dazzled by it.

Also of note, I just finished two extremely fun and interesting books -- Jodi Picoult's Leaving Time and Maggie Stiefvater's Blue Lily, Lily Blue  - the third book in her Raven Cycle series. Reviews to follow soon, I hope. (And if you haven't read anything by Maggie yet, you're missing out.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

And an open door was to a girl like the stars are to the sky.

I recently joined the website, Netgalley, which gives you a chance to read advanced copies of books, in return for offering unbiased reviews of those books. I was thrilled when approved to read Alan Bradley's latest Flavia de Luce novel, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust.

I can't help it. I just find Flavia de Luce absolutely delightful. I want to be her friend, her confidante, her laboratory buddy. I confess that the last Flavia novel, The Dead in their Vaulted Arches, was probably my least favorite of the series (though still a fun read), and I was a bit tentative about this one. And it's true, I missed Buckshaw a lot (though probably not as much as Flavia). This novel finds Flavia in Canada, navigating boarding school after discovery that she's to be inducted in the same secret society as her mother.

Perhaps I envisioned a bit more secret-spy training for Flavia than the book delivered - instead, immediately upon her arrival, a dead body falls out of a chimney, and Flavia sets upon her usual course - proving the adults wrong and finding out whodunnit. It's a formula that still hasn't gotten old, because Bradley simply writes Flavia so well. She is such an amazing character - so likable, so true to herself. I can just picture her in the situations in which she finds herself, and imagine the adults around her and their expressions. Flavia has some good interactions with both her fellow students and teachers at this new academy -- many of whom knew her mother. the late Harriet. She proves herself a worthy detective, again, of course, using her wits and chemistry.

The whole Nide business is still a bit odd and confusing to me. I suppose that's the point, but it's hard not to have some resolution - though I suppose we are supposed to be sharing Flavia's similar frustration at this point.

Nevertheless, I am amazed at Bradley's ability to continue to write books that so embody this character. I often try to envision a Flavia film and then find myself hoping it never happens, as I would hate to have the Flavia in my head ruined by the movies.

Definitely worth a read, as always, and now I'm left bereft that I'll have to wait over a year for the next installment of Flavia's adventures.  (4 out of 5 stars)

Monday, October 06, 2014

The truth's always been found in your life story.

I recently joined the website, Netgalley, which gives you a chance to read advanced copies of books, in return for offering unbiased reviews of those books.

I lucked out and was approved to read novels by two authors that I very much enjoy - Amanda Eyre Ward and Monica McInerney.

McInerney's new novel, Hello from the Gillespies, takes place in Australia, and focuses on Angela Gillespie, a displaced Londoner, living with her husband on a station in the Australian outback. Every year, Angela sends out a sunny Christmas card (now email) with the title "Hello from the Gillespies" chronicling life with her husband Nick, their three daughters, and young son. This year, though, her life has gone a bit awry and the typical happy words don't flow. She ends up writing a bitter (but true) diatribe (think way personal journal entry) and not sending it. When she's called away to tend to her injured son, she doesn't close down the computer. Her husband finds it later that evening--and knowing how much the Christmas letter means to his wife--sends her innermost personal thoughts out to a 100 of their closest family and friends without even reading it.

From there, the story unfolds in somewhat predictable ways - I mean, you sort of know how the tale will end. There's a little bit of an outlandish twist, as well. However, having read previous McInerney books, I think that's a bit of what you come for. Some comforting, family tales that are believable despite their craziness. The novel is completely engrossing. Personally, I was fascinated by the relationship of her older twin daughters (having two year-old twin daughters myself and wondering what they'll be like as adults - hopefully not as confused and wayward as Angela's girls, although they had good hearts!). McInerney is wonderful at creating completely different and believable characters that you can completely picture - each of the daughters and the son, "Ig" were perfectly drawn. Overall, I think McInerney captures the ups and downs of marriage and family life quite accurately and poignantly and reminds us never to take things (or our loved ones) for granted -- even if our day-to-day lives aren't quite as fantastical as the Gillespies. I'd rate this 3.5 stars on 5 star scale.

Amanda Eyre Ward's latest novel, however: is just a beautiful book. Ward's writing is simply lovely and magical. When I finished the book, I was left feeling a bit disappointed - not by the plot or the writing, but that it was over. It's one of those novels that I'll be recommending to everyone.

The Same Sky tells the story of two unique individuals. The first is Alice, a forty-year-old living in Texas, with her husband. Together, they run a successful BBQ restaurant and appear incredibly happy. But they've been through a long and sad string of infertility, and Alice is left empty by the latest episode - a birth-mother taking back a baby promised to her, after Alice spent the night with the baby she thought was going to be hers.

Alice's chapters alternate with those of Carla, a young girl in Honduras. Carla's mother leaves for America early in the story, leaving Carla with her grandmother and one of her younger twin brothers. Carla's voice is just amazing. Ward captures this young teenager perfectly. I'm not sure how you can read this book and not fall completely for Carla. There are times when I didn't completely love Alice, or when I wanted to shake her, but Carla - I just wanted to hug her and take her home.

As you read the novel, Alice and Carla's stories are completely separate, which is fascinating. They provide an intriguing commentary on our society and the American Dream -- Alice seems to have it all in America, but she feels empty due to her childless state. And Carla wants nothing more than to come to America with her mother.

I simply loved the book - I won't give away any more of the plot, but it was well-written and beautiful. This story also hit home to me -- reading about Alice's infertility struggles. And Carla and her little brothers reminded me of so many of the little ones my Mom had taught over the years.
I don't think you could be disappointed in reading The Same Sky - I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Multiply life by the power of two.

I haven't written in here in ages, but I wanted to update and pass along a link to a new blog, dedicated to my new baby twin daughters, who were born on July 16th. I'm truly hoping to do a better job of keeping that blog updated and maybe writing in this one from time to time here. You can find the new blog at: The Twins' Blog

Sunday, July 10, 2011

You got a good style.

It's been a while since I had a chance to brag about my boy, so here are a few pictures of my beloved Guster... who is nine now!

Guster highly recommends taking your vitamins.

Guster loves control of the remote.

Guster loves the t-shirt quilt (but not sharing it with his sister).

Guster on his 9th birthday

Guster loves watching the Mavericks beat the Heat.

Guster clearly loves looking cute!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

And she don't always say what she really means.

Already up to #5 on my "song a day" quest. I'm amazed I've made it this far; what does that say about my ability to stick with things?

Today's prompt: day 05 - a song that reminds you of someone

Many songs remind me of many people, but I chose Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown" because it is the one song that, no matter when I hear it, I'm instantly reminded of my dad. I can picture myself, around 5 or 6-years-old, in the tiny backseat of his Porsche, as this song played on the radio while he drove. It wasn't until years later that I heard it somewhere that I even knew who sang it, nor did I quite grasp the song's true meaning as a child. Probably for the best.

Per the rules, a video. This one is from 1974! Impressive.

I am not feeling well today, so not much else to share. I started reading the book Swamplandia! in earnest today -- mostly because all I've been doing today is sitting on the couch, with one of the four cats in constant rotation on my legs, watching the NBA Playoffs and reading. The book was quite publicized for a while, so even though it didn't seem like my usual fare, I grabbed a library copy for my Nook -- I'm about halfway through, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's a little odd.Very mystical and frankly, a bit sad. I'll see it through to the end, though.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

And I know I'll never be the same.

Today's song meme subject: day 04 - a song that makes you sad

There are actually a lot more songs, I think, that made me sad versus happy. Catchy and upbeat songs, I guess, make me happy, but sad lyrics always seem to stick with me more. Call me Miss Melancholy.

I discovered (or perhaps re-discovered) Gary Allan's "I Just Got Back From Hell" after losing my very dear cousin to suicide. Gary Allan lost his wife to suicide, and his song details his life and emotions after her death. It was (and still is) a very powerful song for me after losing Treen. I relate to it very much. I used to drive around in my car, listen to this song on repeat, and sob. It made me sad, but it also provided an odd sort of "been there" comfort -- someone else detailing the guilt, the sadness I felt -- and, after a while, the same "I can keep going" emotion. I still can't hear it without feeling sad, though.

Per the rules, a video:

I'm also including the lyrics, because I can:

I just got back from Hell
and I'm standing here alive
I know it's really hard to tell
Don't know how I survived
But I can't say that I'm doin' great
But I think I'm doin' well
That Devil's gonna have to wait
'Cause I just got back from Hell

Well, I just got back from Hell
And I guess to tell the truth
Well, I've been mad at everyone, including God and you
When you can't find no one to blame you just blame yourself
And I know I'll never be the same
I just got back from Hell

Forgive me if I had any part
If ever broke your heart in two
Forgive me for what I didn't know
For what I didn't say or do
And, God, forgive me as well
'Cause I just got back from Hell

Well, I just got back from Hell
And I need to make some plans
It's the last thing that I wanna do
But I'll do the best I can
I'm gonna learn to live again
But I think I'll sit a spell
Tell the world that I'm alive
and I just got back from Hell

I can't say that I'm doin' great
But I think I'm gettin' well
Gonna let the world know I'm alive
And I just got back from Hell
And I just got back from Hell
I just got back from Hell
Got back from Hell

I actually thought of Treen today. Kate and I were supposed to walk in the Charlottesville MS Walk, but it was rained out. We had already picked up my friend's dog for the walk, so we felt bad just turning around and coming home. Instead, we picked up sandwiches and took Athena for a small walk, to a pavilion/small historic site near my office. We were in the middle of a crazy rainstorm, with tons of wind, but we ate our favorite sandwiches with Athena at the ruins of a historic site as the wind swirled around us. It was the sort of "let's make something fun and memorable out of a bad day" thing my Mom always did when I was a kid. My cousins were always in awe of the crazy things my Mom did with us. Trina would have enjoyed today. Sometimes you make your best memories out of the unexpected. Miss you, cuz.