Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Language of Sand

"We was a term she hadn't uttered in a while. For Abigail, there was no more we. To her, we meant her family, her husband and son. Her main frame of reference was as we:  We bought a new house. We're having a baby. We're going out to eat. Now all that remained was I. It was the second of only two one-letter words in the entire dictionary, the first being A. Each was defiantly singular. The language would be nothing without them. Abigail felt she was nothing without we. She missed we." 

When life as she knows it ends one night in heartbreaking tragedy, Abigail Harker seeks refuge at the lighthouse on Chapel Isle, a secluded island in North Carolina's Outer Banks. It was where her husband loved to go as a boy. Where she hopes to be able to grieve in peace. But the caretaker's cottage isn't exactly the haven she thought it would be:  it's isolated and rundown, very rundown, and it's also apparently haunted by Wesley Jasper, the former lighthouse keeper who experienced his own tragedy in 1902. And while many of the islanders are friendly and welcoming, some are not. And the words that Abby once loved as a lexicographer seem to have failed her. For there are no words to deal with her loss. Still, she's doing her best to keep moving forward. But then there's a rash of robberies on the island. And an approaching hurricane. And Abby begins to think coming to Chapel Isle might not have been such a good idea after all.
"Whether you stay here in Chapel Isle or take the next ferry home, it won't make a bit of difference. It's like trying to serve two masters. You've got the grief and you've got your life. The one you choose to serve is up to you."
 I loved this book:  the lyrical writing, the exploration of words and language, the quirky cast of island characters, and Abby's own reinvention of her life. Ellen Block is an amazing writer, and The Language of Sand is a magical story full of hope and heart. There's nothing I would change about it. Best of all, there's a sequel:  The Definition of Wind. 

Happy Reading!


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Bookish Art for March...

Lovis Corinth -- Girl Reading, 1888
I love books. I love that moment when you open one and sink into it;
you can escape from the world into a story that's way more 
interesting than yours will ever be.
--Elizabeth Scott

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A bookish confession...

I love disaster/survival books, both fiction and non-fiction. Reading about how ordinary people manage to survive in impossible situations from plane crashes to blizzards to massive power outtages has always fascinated me. Each story makes me wonder if I'd be able to survive something similar, and how I would go about doing it. So when I saw Jim Cobb's book Prepper's Survival Hacks:  50 DIY Projects for Lifesaving Gear, Gadgets and Kits at the library, I couldn't resist checking it out. And it's awesome!

Did you know a child's crayon can be used as a candle? Or that with a little Vaseline and some cotton balls you can make your own firestarters? Or did you know you can build a buddy burner out of some corrugated cardboard, melted wax and an empty tuna fish can? There are SO many cool DIY projects in this book; I want to try them all! I've been working on my own personal Bug Out Bag all week (which is just your basic 72-hour emergency kit packed in a backpack), and I think this weekend I might  try turning an empty Altoids tin into a candle. Or maybe my own small survival kit. So if you're secretly a prepper at heart like me, give this little book a read.

"Fair warning, though:  Not only can this stuff be fun, 
it can be downright addicting."

Happy Prepping!

Some of my favorite survival stories:
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
One Second After by William Forstchen
Stranded by Melinda Braun
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Trapped by Michael Northrup
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mist of Midnight

"All the while, someone here in England had also
claimed to be Rebecca Ravenshaw."

I love a good Gothic mystery,  especially when it has a touch of romance in it.  The plot of this one revolves around Rebecca Ravenshaw, a daughter of missionaries who was raised in India. Newly orphaned, she's just returned to her family's estate in England only to discover that there was another young woman claiming to be Rebecca Ravenshaw who arrived there before her. A young woman who subsequently died at Headbourne House and was hastily buried at midnight. Now everyone at Headbourne suspects that the real Rebecca is an imposter. And there's no one to verify her claim. Only a distant relative, Captain Luke Whitfield, who's handsome and charming, but not necessarily trustworthy; after all, he stands to inherit her estate if she can't prove she is the real Rebecca Ravenshaw. And if she does, will her fate be the same as the imposter's?

My thoughts:  I had a lot of sympathy for Rebecca's plight. Aside from Mrs. Ross, Rebecca's elderly chaperone (and Rebecca herself, of course), I didn't feel like I could trust any of the other characters in this book. Not even Capt. Whitfield. Which definitely added to the tension surrounding Rebecca's situation. I especially didn't like her French maid. And no one in the household ever seemed willing to tell her the whole truth about the imposter and what happened to her. Rebecca herself had a lot of pluck; I liked that she never lost her head even while she was losing her heart.  My only complaint is that this story didn't read as fast as I think a Gothic mystery should; in fact, there were times that it dragged a bit, but maybe that's just because I was so impatient for everything to be resolved one way or another. Towards the end, this book felt more like a Gothic romance than a suspenseful Gothic mystery, but overall, I ended up really enjoying Sandra Byrd's Mist of Midnight. 

Happy Reading!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Bookish Gold...

Looking for some bookish gold? 
Try one (or more!) of these eight "gilded" reads:


1. The Gilded Lily by Helen Argers
(Think Edith Wharton but with a happier ending!)

2. A Gilded Grave by Shelley Freydont
(This is a very fun mystery set among the moneyed elite of Newport, Rhode Island.)

3. The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray
(Set in 1871, this YA gothic revolves around two American siblings 
and the grand estate they unexpectedly inherit in England.)

4.  The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe
(Anita Hemmings must pass as white in order to attend Vassar College
in this well-researched historical fiction novel.)

5.  The Gilded Shroud by Elizabeth Bailey
(This is the first book in Bailey's 'Lady Fan' mystery series.)

6.  In a Gilded Cage by Rhys Bowen
(Spunky Molly Murphy is back to solve another mystery.)

7.  Gilded by Christina Farley
(This YA fantasy is set in modern-day South Korea and has 
an engaging heroine named Jae Hwa Lee.)

8.  The Gilded Age by Mark Twain
(No one makes fun of America and Americans like Twain!)


Happy Reading!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Reading Barbara Pym

Whenever I try to describe the plot of a Barbara Pym novel it never sounds like much. For example, Less Than Angels is about a group of anthropologists living and studying in London. There's Deirdre Swan, a first year student, Mark and Digby, two grad students hoping to get field grants, and Tom Mallow, the handsome one who's just returned from a two-year stint in Africa. And I mustn't forget Alaric Lydgate, also back from Africa, recently retired from the Colonial Service because of ill-health, and living next door to Deidre.  Tom lives with Catherine Oliphant, a writer, and is working on his thesis. Then he meets Deirdre. Who meets Catherine. Who meets Alaric. And none of them are ever the same again.

See? It doesn't sound like much, does it? But somehow, with her wit, charm, and keen insight into human nature, Pym can take the simplest of plots and turn it into a delightful story that sings. Less Than Angels is no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed this "simple" novel. But the best way to appreciate Pym's genius is to experience her writing and wit for yourself. So here are a few of my favorite Pym-isms:
"She sometimes felt, as she climbed the worn linoleum-covered stairs, that she was worthy of a more gracious setting, but then there are few of us who do not occasionally set a higher value on ourselves than Fate has done." 
"There are few experiences more boring and painful for a woman than an evening spent in the company of one man when she is longing to be with another."
"Deirdre, like Tom, was tired after the long walk and was glad when the time came to go to bed and dream about him. But dreams can seldom be arranged as we wish them, and Deirdre's were of Digby Fox, of all people." 
"The day was coming to its end, and although it had been tiring and upsetting it had at least been full and that, she supposed, was all to the good. Pain, amusement, surprise, resignation, were all woven together into a kind of fabric whose colour and texture she could hardly visualize as yet."
 Happy Reading!

Bookish bonus:  Since I pulled this book off my TBR shelf I get to count it as one of the ten books I'm reading for the 2017 Backlist Reader Challenge.
Books read so far:  3.  Still to go:  7.

Other Pym posts:

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A bookish journey to Zimbabwe...

Title & Author:  The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu
First line:  I knew there was something not quite right about Dumi the very first time I ever laid eyes on him.

Summary:  Vimbai is the best hairdresser in Harare and all her customers know it. Then handsome, smooth-talking Dumisani comes along and dethrones her. "To be dispensable is a woman's worst nightmare and I was beginning to live it."  Despite her jealousy, Vimbai can't help liking Dumi. She even offers to rent him a room in her house. And for awhile, she thinks their friendship might become something more, until she discovers the secret he's been keeping. "I shall regret the next thing I did for as long as I live."

My thoughts:  What I loved about this novel is how Huchu so deftly intertwines Vimbai's story with that of Zimbabwe's. Not only do you get to know these unique characters, but you get a taste of Zimbabwe, too--its language, customs, culture, problems and political woes. I thought it was interesting how so many of the characters in this novel were still influenced by the English even though they'd won their independence from Britain years earlier. Huchu doesn't dwell on the past, but the past influences these characters' lives in many ways.  There isn't a happy ending for anyone in this book, but it is so worth reading. Vimbai and Dumisani are two characters who will stay with me for quite some time.


Title & Author:  The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe by Douglas Rogers
First line:  I was five thousand miles away, drunk and happily unaware at a friend's birthday party in Berlin, when I learned that the first white farmer had been murdered.

Summary & thoughts:  This well-written memoir explores the other side of Zimbabwe's complicated history--that of the white farmers. Rogers focuses on two of them: his stubbornly independent and resilient parents. Born in Africa, they weathered Zimbabwe's War of Independence, raised their children, built up a successful tourist lodge in the hills above Mutare, only to see it all threatened by Robert Mugabe's second land grab in the early 2000s.  Rogers meets former soldiers and young guerillas, black farmers, members of the MDC party campaigning against Mugabe, old friends, and of course, other white farmers who have lost their homes and farms and are just struggling to survive.  What comes through most of all in this humorous yet poignant memoir is how much all of these people love their homeland.
"...my first love is Zimbabwe. This is where my heart is, this is where my blood is, this is where my roots are, this is where my children were born. My Zimbabwe..."
 This is an incredible story, and reading it right after reading The Hairdresser of Harare made it even more meaningful. Both of these books are amazing, and read together offer quite a picture of this complicated land.

Happy Reading!