November 30, 2008

Loving Frank - Nancy Horan

Loving Frank was a book I had seen in bookshops and had been drawn to - partly because of it's stunning front cover, a beautiful depiction of a stained glass light designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I then had a recommendation from Nutmeg who was reading the book for her bookclub and really enjoying it so I decided to go ahead and pick it up.

Loving Frank tells the story of the love affair and relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright, renowned American architect of the early 1900's and Mamah (pronounced May-Mah) Borthwick Cheney, a feminist scholar. Both Frank and Mamah were married at the time of their meeting - Frank was hired to design a house for Mamah and her husband, Edwin.

This novel is a fictionalised account of the story but Nancy Horan has used many sources in putting together her account of this story (a list of which she provides at the end of the book). The voices in the novel come through strongly - I had some rough ideas of the course of the real story before reading this novel but I have to admit that most of my knowledge centered around Frank Lloyd Wright - I knew he had had an affair and a long term relationship with a married woman whilst he himself was still married but I had never known anything about the identity of this woman and her place in the world. I think it is fantastic that Nancy Horan has chosen to centre this story not only on the relationship between Frank and Mamah but she has also given Mamah her own strong voice and story.

It was very interesting to have read this novel just after finishing Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. In Loving Frank a major focus of the story is the battle Mamah goes through, both with herself and people close to her, about the need for her to establish her own identity and profession separate from the men in her life and her children. For the time in which Mamah lived (the early 1900's) this was seen as quite a radical idea to pursue and one that Mamah was quite clearly punished by society for.

Loving Frank is a wonderfully written and expressed novel - definitely recommended.

November 26, 2008

Gift From The Sea - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I had never heard of Gift From The Sea before until I read about it in a book I read earlier in the year, The Piazzas of Florence, where the author quoted from it frequently.
Gift From The Sea is a gorgeous little book, first published in 1955 I think a lot of it's main messages remain relevant to women today. The book is basically a reflective piece of writing by the author or what it means (for her) to be a woman in "today's" society - the difficulties of finding a balance between work and home life, finding time for the different roles that encapsulate who we are but also finding time for ourselves to just be. I was taken aback by how much this book spoke to me in the present day when I realised that it had been written over 50 years ago!

The author talks about how rare it is to be able to find time to ourselves and how undervalued this time actually is:

If one sets aside time for a business appointment, a trip to the hairdresser, a social engagement, or a shopping expedition, that time is accepted as inviolable. But if one says: I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone, one is considered rude, egotistical or strange

This message is accompanied by one that demonstrates just how full we make our lives:

The space is scribbled on; the time has been filled. There are so few empty pages in my engagement pad, or empty hours in the day, or empty rooms in my life in which to stand alone and find myself. Too many activities, and people, and things. Too many worthy activities, valuable things and interesting people. For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives but the important as well.

I don't feel that the author necessarily talks about solutions for these issues but the read is a thought provoking one.

One Good Turn - Kate Atkinson

After finishing Case Histories I was very keen to read more of Kate Atkinson's books - and other people were also recommending this plan. One Good Turn was not a disappointment. I don't know what it is about this author's writing but she seems to be able to take the most mundane circumstances, events or even people and make them seem extremely interesting!

I'm not usually a murder-mystery reader but I loved this story of inter-woven plots and characters. A blurb from the author's website:

It is summer, it is the Edinburgh Festival. People queuing for a lunchtime show witness a road-rage incident — a near-homicidal attack which changes the lives of everyone involved: the wife of an unscrupulous property developer, a crime writer, a washed-up comedian. Jackson Brodie, ex-army, ex-police, ex-private detective, is also an innocent bystander — until he becomes a murder suspect.

One Good Turn sees the return of Jackson Brodie, the character we first meet in Case Histories. I have to say I didn't bond with Jackson as a character quite as well in this book - he seemed to just be in the way a lot of the time, but the new characters more than make up for this. I highly recommend these books - especially this one for the twist at the end which I did not see coming at all.

November 23, 2008

The Hour I First Believed - Wally Lamb

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb is simply an amazing book - my best read of 2008 without a doubt. I read (i.e. devoured) the 740 page novel within a week and after finishing it I immediately wanted to go back to the beginning and start all over again!

Wally Lamb is am amazing story teller - the level of empathy he creates in and demonstrates through his characters is at such an incredible level that I am expecting to run into these characters in my local street - they feel that real and alive.

The Hour I First Believed covers some huge social and political events in American (and indeed, global) history and contemporary society, the American Civil War, the Korean War, the Columbine High School shootings, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina to name a few.

The principle character in the novel is school teacher Caelum Quirk - an engaging and humanely flawed character dealing with not only his own personal and family history but also with the direct, immediate and long term impacts of the Columbine High School shootings on himself and his wife Maureen. Whilst Caelum was not present at the school on the day of the shootings Maureen (the school nurse) was and she was a direct witness to the violence inflicted on her students and colleagues. Whilst Caelum and Maureen are fictional characters Lamb does also write about real life people who were involved in this tragedy and names the students and teacher who were injured or killed.

The story follows the short and long term impact of this violent event on both Maureen and Caelum - how they deal with it as individuals and as a couple. As a social worker who has worked with and supported people following involvement in a violent or traumatic incident I was greatly impressed by the construction of trauma presented by Lamb and the holistic way in which it can impact on individuals, couples, families and communities, long after the trauma has occured.

The novel contains much more than just this main storyline - Caelum's family history takes on a much more central role in the second part of the book and it provides a view into how hidden trauma can impact on an individual's identity.

The novel is full of unique symbolism and metaphor - the role of butterflies and the praying mantis in particular - but to fully appreciate Lamb's techniques I will need to read this one again - the story had me too captivated the first time around!

If I am being completely honest and unbiased I would have to say that the second half of the novel probably didn't flow as well as the first half, but having said that, once I had finished the book I could see where the overlap and connections lay.

A brilliant read!

November 19, 2008

Weekend Away

We are having a much longed for weekend away in the vineyards this weekend to celebrate my dad's 60th Birthday. I'm sure some reading will also get done amongst the drinking and tasting!

Despite what I said in my earlier posts I just couldn't resist the new Wally Lamb book and I have now almost finished The Hour I First Believed. I will post my review of this one after the weekend but can I just say before then - totally amazing reading experience, one of the most powerful reads ever for me. I hope the ending doesn't let me down!!

Now I need to think about a book (or two) to take away for the weekend... I am thinking of taking One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson, just picked it up at the library this week after loving Case Histories and hearing several of you recommend this one. Or I could take along Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes, another library find which will be a different read for me I think.

Happy weekend reading everyone!

November 15, 2008

Case Histories - Kate Atkinson

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson is my second book completed for the New Classics Challenge and my first Kate Atkinson book read. I am really enjoying the New Classics Challenge because it is getting me to read books I have seen before and thought about adding to my "to be read" pile but for some reason or another they have just never quite made it into the actually being read pile.

Case Histories is a book about a series of seemingly unconnected stories, or cases, that are eventually connected in one way or another through the common link of a Police Detective turned Private Investigator, Jackson Brodie. I really don't know how to talk more about the plot without giving too much away except to say that the book is fantastic, one of those can't put down until you finish types. The separate stories are all told in such a way that you feel immediately connected to the people in them - you want to know how things turn out for these people and how Brodie can sort out his own life as well as those of his clients.

Definitely a classic story (or collection of stories) from my perspective.

November 13, 2008

Lighter, Brighter Reading

Even though I have been discovering and reading some fantastic books lately I have begun to notice a theme emerging - all the books seem to have death, destruction, trauma and grief contained within them. Now I have nothing against these sorts of books, I read a lot of them and enjoy books that don't skirt around reality but I'm feeling it's time for a little change - something a little lighter and brighter perhaps!

I purchased Wally Lamb's new book The Hour I First Believed last night and although he is one of my all time favourite authors and I have been waiting for this book to arrive for what seems like forever, I'm just not sure I can take on the subject matter at the moment.

So, I have also purchased The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs and I am thinking this book might be the one to take my reading focus to a lighter area - am I correct??

November 10, 2008

Man in the Dark - Paul Auster

I have not read any of Paul Auster's novels before but if they are written anything like Man in the Dark I think I will have to pick some of them up.

I've finished this short novel (180 pages) in two sittings and although I am left wanting more - more of the characters not necessarily the story - I am by no means disappointed.

Man in the Dark is told from the perspective of 72 year old August Brill, an American man currently living with his daughter Miriam and granddaughter Katya after a serious car accident in which one of his legs was shattered. The household is submerged in grief - August's wife, Sonia died just over a year ago, Miriam is still coming to terms with her divorce from Kayta's father and Katya's boyfriend, Titus has been murdered - the details of which become clear at the end of the book.

The book is told over the course of one sleepless night - in order to stop his mind from turning to personal tragedies and painful memories August (a retired book critic) tells himself a fictionalised story of a man by the name of Owen Brick, a magician who finds himself caught up in an America in the midst of civil war in present day times. The premise of the story is that the events of 9/11 have not happened and instead of going to war with Iraq America turned on itself after the 2000 presidential election. An interesting premise indeed!

An emotive, intriguing and absorbing novel - highly recommended.

In The Woods - Tana French

In The Woods by Tana French is not really the type of book I read anymore - gruesome, psychological thrillers with dead bodies detailed throughout - but I had read such good things about this book in the blogging world I just had to give it a go.

I'm really glad I did - even if I have had a few very strange and chaotic dreamy sleeps over the past few days!

The description of the book from the author's website

As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children, gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled shoes, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.
Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox – his partner and closest friend – find themselves investigating a case with chilling links to that long-ago disappearance. Now, with only snippets of buried memories to guide him, Rob has the chance to unravel both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

This book was engaging to the point of distraction and while I found the ending a little disappointing I am really looking forward to dipping into Tana French's new book - The Likeness - I'm just going to wait for a time in my life when I don't need to rely on such good quality sleep!

November 08, 2008

Weekend Reading

I will admit to watching quite a bit of trashy TV this weekend but in amongst all of that brain drain I have been doing some reading as well.

Looking back on my reading choice for this weekend I think I might have a valid reason for watching endless re-runs of "Will and Grace" and "Sex and The City". I have been reading In The Woods by Tana French - a psychological thriller of the highest order! I hadn't heard of this book or author before reading about it in the blogging world but it seemed to be getting a lot of praise so I picked it up from my library last week. I have not been disappointed. The writing is tight and yet quite lyrical for this genre of novel (at least to my recollection). I used to read this type of book a lot in my teenage years but as an adult I have tended to steer away from them - I think my area of work has had a lot to do with this decision. In The Woods is actually quite confronting to me at the moment as I am about to begin work in a forensic mortuary/medicine service in a little over a months time - but I just can't stop reading this book - it's just too good!

So, I have obviously needed the trashy TV as a little light relief - good to keep a bit of balance in one's life I think!

November 05, 2008

First Ever Blogging Award!

I was very excited today to meet a new blogging friend from Australia and to receive my very first ever blogging award! Awards are always exciting so thank you very much Suzie from Munch+Nibble.

Along with the award comes a meme;

7 things I did before

1. Played the organ and guitar (not well!)

2. Worked as a nanny

3. Drank vodka, lime and sodas

4. Bottle fed lambs

5. Rode a push bike

6. Write

7. Read

7 things I do now

1. Read

2. Pilates

3. Teach

4. Travel

5. Drink Pinot Grigio

6. Drive a car

7. Dream...

7 things I want to do

1. Travel around Italy in a Fiat

2. Live in Bath

3. Meet Jane Austen

4. Read

5. Write

6. Read some more

7. Live happily ever after

7 things that attract me to the opposite sex

1. Sense of humour

2. Genuineness

3. Loyalty

4. Intelligence

5. Gorgeous hands

6. Strength

7. The ability to laugh at themselves

7 Favorite Foods

1. Mashed Potato

2. Peaches

3. Strawberries

4. Chocolate

5. Pasta

6. Oysters

7. Watermelon

7 things I Say Most Often

1. A word I probably shouldn't print here

2. Seriously

3. Sure!

4. No worries

5. Love you

6. Ewok

7. Can I go home now?

And now the seven people I would like to tag for this award and meme:

1. Tamara at Thyme for Tea - the most creative person I know

2. Jill at Under The Dresser for her always funny and entertaining blogging

3. Iliana at Bookgirl's Nightstand for her creative book blogging and making

4. Andi from Tripping Toward Lucidity for her creative thinking and writing

5. Tanabata from In Spring it is The Dawn for her glorious photos

6. Nutmeg at Another Nutter for her thought provoking blogging

7. Bethany at Ex Libris for her many and varied posts that always get me thinking

November 04, 2008

Suggestions Anyone?

I am searching for the perfect read - not the perfect book (if one of those even exists) but just the perfect read for me right now. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

As I have written earlier, I have struggled a little since finishing American Wife which I thought was brilliant - it's been a while since a book made me stay up way past my bedtime to finish it like that.

I'm looking for a book with strong characterisation - don't really care about plot all that much - and it has to be a real page turner with some depth to it - something to draw me in and keep me there.

Ideas anyone??

November 02, 2008

Small Island - Andrea Levy

Small Island by Andrea Levy is a book I was reading for both the Classics and Orbis Terrarum Challenges. In regards to the Classics Challenge the book had been put forward as a future or "should be" classic and I completely agree.

The book is set in the time period just before, during and after WW2 predominately in England and Jamaica and there are 4 main interwoven and connected characters that tell the story from their perspectives.

Queenie Bligh is an English women living in London at the time of WW2, taking care of her fragile father-in-law while her husband, Bernard is in India for the war.

Gilbert Joseph is a Jamaican man who has fought as a member of the British RAF during the war and is now trying to establish a life for himself in London.

Hortense Roberts is Gilbert's new wife, a Jamaican woman with a teachers education behind her, joining Gilbert in London and Bernard Bligh, Queenie's husband.

The book is structured in a way that allows each character to tell their story of certain events in their own voice - each chapter is headed by the name of one of the 4 main characters. The book moves back and forth between the present and the past which allows for a beautiful building of the story.

This story is, on the surface, clearly about the extensive and overt racism that was perpetrated against black people by the English during this time period. Some of the scenes in the book are brutal and (I am sure) very realistic -depicting the harsh, senseless and ignorant beliefs of a whole community against another simply because of the colour of their skin.

As well as race relations the book also tells the story of relations between genders at this particular time in history and it is interesting to see some of the choices made, particularly by the women characters, in relation to marriage, relationships and work.

There are many other levels to this story however, the connections and relationships that are built between people in a time of trauma and pain and the ways in which relationships can be broken down, or simply revealed for what they really are.

I was completely absorbed in this book - I think it is a must read for every person and most definitely a classic.

November 01, 2008

Weekend Reading

I have been in a real reading mood this weekend - unfortunately life and other plans haven't really enabled that mood to be satisfied!

I must admit that we did have pay TV installed on Friday afternoon so that has probably eaten into a little more of my time than is healthy - oh well, I'm sure the novelty will wear off soon! I can't blame it all on the TV though - I've had a few family commitments this weekend which although necessary and important have taken me away from a new book I have become really interested in.

I started reading Small Island By Andrea Levy on Friday and I am really hooked. This is one of my books for Trish's Classics Challenge and I put it on my list mainly because I had heard it was one of those books that should be considered a classic and "should" be read. I don't usually follow the "shoulds" but I can definitely see where this one came from. Fantastic writing, great characterisation and deep issues being dealt with - looking forward to getting back to it...